Where's My Ground?: Preparing and Planting During ORU Summer Missions
By Adam Palmer and Ashley Riggs
To look at Aiko and Kyoka was to see nothing out of the ordinary. They were just a pair of teenage girls hanging out in Tokyo after school. Until they encountered Jesus through an ORU summer missions team.
"The spirit of intimidation was oppressively strong,” says Haley Gray, a 2017 ORU graduate and member of Team Japan. “It was then that the Holy Spirit told Clare that there was no wrong person to share the Gospel with.” The "Clare" in question was Clare Holt, another member of the team.
And it was at this time that Haley and Clare met Aiko and Kyoka. The two pairs of young women struck up a conversation, which led to a Spirit-empowered moment to share the gospel. Both Aiko and Kyoka accepted Christ and almost immediately became a semi-permanent fixture with Team Japan.
"They changed so much and it was just through hanging out and doing life with us," says Rachelle Rummage (2017, Advertising & International Community Development), a leader of Team Japan. "There was a transformation in their lives where they just started laughing and smiling and they'd never really had community before. There was this freedom that was so attractive."
“For the rest of our time in Tokyo, they met up with us whenever they could,” Gray says. “We were able to minister to them even more and get them connected with a local church. It is amazing to think that two lives have been changed because of a small step of obedience.”
Aiko and Kyoka had found their ground.
Fittingly, the entire theme of this summer's missions efforts was "Where's My Ground?"
"'Where's My Ground' was meant to be a reminder, but it was also a challenge," says Augustine Mendoza, Director of Missions at ORU. "What are you standing upon this year? What are the promises you're standing on? What is the truth you're standing on? What is the reward you're standing on? What is your expectation?"
These provocative questions get at something deeper, though. "We plant ourselves and whether we know it or not, we're standing on something," Mendoza says. "There was a level of depth that we went to. The students decided to embody what it means to live missionally, not just go on missions. They internalized it, so when they went out, they knew what they knew."
Living missionally became the cornerstone of the summer missions experience for many of the team members, including Peyton Luke (2017, Convergence Journalism), a leader of Team UK.
"In missions, we're a short-term strategic investment into a long-term kingdom work," Luke says. "Preparation will determine our outpouring, so we're prepared with ministry and skits and testimonies. But if that changes, we're good with that. Because our ultimate goal is to serve who we're working with."
Team UK's desire to serve became its own gospel sermon in a roundabout way while they were on the ground. Literally. The team was assisting with a gardening project at a local educational institution, tilling the soil just outside an area for students with learning disabilities. While watching them from inside, with no knowledge of who the team was or why they were there, a student turned and commented to a member of the staff: "They are serving their God."
Where's My Ground indeed.
Some students found their ground in unexpected places while abroad, but part of that can be chalked up to the kinds of students who went on the trips in the first place.
"These students weren't here to chill or cross something off their to-do list before graduating," Mendoza says. "80% of our students this year, it was their first time going on a missions trip period. So they came in with expectation of wanting big things and not being hindered by previous experiences, thinking they knew what it would be like. They were wide-eyed and ready to go. And it paid off on the field. They were hungry and ready and they had fun."
These were students who were looking for God to do big things as they went, and not just in the people to whom they ministered, something that Liz Keating (2018, Nursing), a leader of Team Bolivia, saw firsthand:
"I think my favorite part about the trip was the growth that I saw in my own team," she says. "We were all going expecting miracles, but I thought the biggest miracles would be in our own hearts. We saw amazing breakthrough and healing. The Lord was doing heart surgery on people, setting them free and breaking chains on people's lives. The team was so open and vulnerable and willing to grow and learn and let the Lord heal. It was great to be part of that process and see what happens when you surrender to the Lord."
For others, like Troy Francis (2017, Computer Information Technology, minor in Business), summer missions was as much about discovering their ground abroad as it was at home. A leader of Team Malawi, Francis found that the lessons he was learning about being a good team leader would also translate easily into his life after ORU.
"Having student-led teams is such an amazing opportunity that most college students in America don't get," Francis says. "I'm super-grateful for that, and I know in a sense it's given me a lot of advantage in life. I've learned so much through the teachings the office gives throughout the year and the way they steward the leaders and teach what it means to lead a group of your peers. I've taken a lot from the program and from the trip. Some day it may give me an advantage. And I know the Lord will use that.
"How to build community and to cast vision is really important for anyone who wants to excel in life and outside ORU," Francis continues. "Spiritually, missions helps you grow a lot, but it also helps you practically in launching into post-grad life. Missions is a small part of how ORU has prepared me for going into the corporate world and into life."
"You're there and you're learning things," says Keating, "but you get back and you don't even realize how much you'd learned until you're here and processing what you were feeling. It's a journey, it's not just, 'We went to Bolivia, it's over, it's done, and now back to reality.' This is a life process. God continues to move."
There's also a sense among the team leaders of 2017, that, just like ground, in order to be useful, they first had to be broken.
"God did not call us for our perfection but for our obedience," says Luke. "Sometimes you can feel you're going into the unknown and you're under-qualified, but you can rest in the fact that God put you there for…that purpose, so no matter what happens, that will be honored. You're only responsible for your obedience, not the outcome."
"My identity is not in my performance," says Keating, "and God didn't choose me because I would be the perfect leader and make the perfect decisions all the time. He knew I needed to be the leader in spite of all my flaws. I would be frustrated when I would mess up, but it would always come back to, 'What does He say about me?' It's a lot more freedom because you're not trying to perform or strive. I could be who I was and learn from that."
The ground of summer missions was fertile and it was ready to be either tilled for planting or utilized for no little plans.
"If you want to build bigger," says Mendoza, "then you have to dig deeper."