Blazers bond with people of different cultures and reaffirm their own
Freshman David Cano remembers seeing Hakim emerge from the bustling crowds of the Indonesian marketplace and timidly approach the outskirts of the tent. His shorts were ragged and his shirt was dusty from clouds of dirt kicked up by a passing cattle herd. Nervous and hot, Cano wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and approached the boy with a flyer from his church in hand.
"Hello," he began. "My name is David, and I am from a church in the United States. I would like to talk to you about some life changes you might want to make in your religion."
Hakim was the first of many Indonesians Cano would greet with pamphlets and messages of Christianity during his month in Jayapura, the capital of the Indonesian province of Papua. For all of July, Cano and a youth group from his Pentecostal church traveled through Jayapura and offered the people there both food and faith.
Traveling so far from home to spread religion can be a faith-building experience, as several Blazers know from their time spent as missionaries abroad. As these Blazers bonded with people of different cultures, they also reaffirmed their own faiths and strengthened their relationships with God.
Before traveling to Indonesia, Cano was a quiet and withdrawn member of his church. While he regularly attended Sunday school, he rarely participated in discussions and knew less about his religion than he should have, he says. The youth pastor of his church suggested the mission trip to Cano's parents as a way to get their son more involved. At first, Cano was intimidated by the idea of living in a completely foreign environment for an entire month. But his parents persisted, and Cano began to see the trip as an opportunity to learn more about his faith.
Unlike many of his friends from church, Cano was not born a Pentecostal. Originally from Peru, Cano joined the church with his family shortly after moving to the U.S. Soon, he grew to love his faith and developed a desire to share it with others.
Math teacher Karen Brandt's urge to take part in missionary work stems from the significant changes her faith has made in her life. Ten years ago, Brandt was struggling to recover from the physical and emotional effects of a car accident. She believes that, without her faith, she would not have been able to pull through those challenging times. Though she was in great pain and could not attend church easily, she read the Bible and found great hope in its words. "One of the passages that helped me the most said basically, 'God is always there. If you pray, He will answer,'" Brandt says.
Brandt signed up to join her church's trip to Puebla, Mexico this February to share the peace that her belief in God has brought her. "With all the impact God has had on my life, this mission trip is the least I could do. I know this trip will be life-changing," she explains.
As Cano stepped off the plane in Jayapura, he, too, knew the month ahead of him would be like nothing he had ever experienced. Although he had occasionally helped distribute religious flyers to mailboxes in the U.S., he had never directly approached anyone about converting to Christianity.
During the four weeks in Indonesia, his group split its time between delivering food and clothing to nearby orphanages and approaching people in the street with pamphlets describing Christianity. Hakim's receptive attitude helped Cano become accustomed to approaching strangers.
Hakim's family was Hindu, but he no longer believed in his religion; he did not understand the need for so many strict rules and rituals. After discussing the Gospel for an hour in the marketplace, Hakim and Cano became friends. Hakim was intensely curious about Christianity; he had seen other missionaries in the streets before, but none had approached him as Cano had. Whenever Cano's youth group was at the market, Hakim would take a break from selling his mother's herbs to ask a new question about Cano's religion. By the end of the trip, Hakim was determined to become a Christian.
Senior Synthia Mariadhas experienced a similar connection with the people of El Oasis, a Seventh Day Adventist orphanage in Mexico, when she traveled there with her youth group last summer. "Right after I got there, two girls ran up to me and hugged my legs and wouldn't stop talking. It was because of us all being Christians that we could easily talk and be happy," she says. "In the real world, it's hard to just go up to someone and start hugging them, but there it was okay."
Establishing meaningful relationships like the ones Mariadhas and Cano made is important to the overall experience of a mission trip, says John Hevey, a pastor and mission trip organizer from the Friendship Baptist Church in Sykesville, Maryland. "When people live together, they get to know each other as neighbors. This atmosphere makes it easier for people to reach out and get to know God better," he says.
Since her return from Mexico, Mariadhas has become extremely close with the members of her youth group and makes time to attend more church activities than she did before. She assigns herself "projects" every day to improve herself, such as giving up rap music and praying every morning. "I just can't get enough of that feeling I had in Mexico, where everything is perfect, where I don't have to think about the problems. It's just God and nothing else. I have started viewing the world so differently," she says.
Three days after she returned home, Mariadhas wrote a letter to one of the girls in El Oasis thanking her for the kindness her village extended to Mariadhas's church group. "I told her that we may have impacted their lives, but after seeing how accepting they were of us, that place was the closest thing to heaven I've ever been. They completely changed my life," she says.
Cano returned home with a new understanding of his religion. He feels that his missionary work has brought him "one step closer to Christ" and that his friendship with Hakim has broadened his understanding of his faith. "It really helped me understand that being religious is not just going to church and singing," Cano says. "It's more about helping others so they can follow in your footsteps to pass on the kindness to someone else."
Cano knew Hakim for just under one month and will probably never hear from him again - the rural area where Hakim lives rarely receives mail. Years from now, Cano may forget Hakim's skinny legs or toothy grin, but he will never forget the bond of faith the two shared in the marketplace.
Katy Lafen. Katy Lafen loves the Beatles, the Rutles and Spinal Tap. More »