By Heather Mead
Last semester, two groups of students were busy fundraising, praying and excitedly waiting for summer, when they would embark on their trips to Egypt and Burkina Faso (northwest Africa) to do mission work.
Then it happened.
Hundreds of miles away, in the countries where their groups were supposed to serve, lives were turnd upside down with more than 800 killed in Egypt. Out of necessity, alternate plans were made.
Riots broke out in Burkina Faso in April 2011 and the college the team was scheduled to travel to, the University of Ouagadougou, closed.
“They were having student protests, and military and police protests for higher wages,” English professor and MIA team leader Rebecca Belcher-Rankin said. “There were still gunshots in Burkina Faso when we were in Ghana.”
In April, two weeks before the trip was scheduled to take place, MIA director Jennifer McClellan told the group it unsafe for them to go to Burkina Faso. As a result, the team had to find a new location for their mission trip.
“Luckily, since our trip was under Missions in Action, Jennifer McClellan was able to contact missionaries in Africa,” team member and junior Margaret O’Neill said. “We had several countries in southern Africa interested in us.”
These countries included Swaziland, Ghana and Malawi. A week later, group members found out about their new destination, Ghana, which was chosen because of its low cost.
“Looking back, it was really obvious to see it was in God’s plan all along,” junior Matt Gargiulo said. “God steps in the most when we basically have the least control.”
Belcher-Rankin was disappointed with the change at first.
“I love Burkina Faso and I know people there. I also felt disappointed because they were having trouble because of the protest, shootings and deaths and it was making university work hard,” she said.
Instead of helping students at the University of Ouagadougou with researching their theses, the team instead worked with children in churches and schools in Ghana.
Through school programs, the team taught the children English songs distributed books and acted out Bible stories.
“The plans kept changing while we were there,” sophomore Katie Mount said. “It really taught us to trust in God and go with the flow. The changing was frustrating, but it all worked out really well.”
The trip to Egypt was relocated to Rwanda for a similar reason.
“We couldn’t go to Egypt because of the riots against the president in January 2011. It wouldn’t have been safe for us,” junior Liz Kuhns said.
Jennifer McClellan, MIA Director, called the team and asked its members to meet after chapel on Feb. 1. Dr. Dean, faculty sponsor for the trip, then explained the location of the trip would change, although the new location had not been decided.
Jennifer McClellan received an unexpected call the same day from Rwandan missionary Spencer Baggott, who needed college students to introduce children to churches and show them that the Church of the Nazarene is thriving in the United States.
“It was neat that the day they decided we couldn’t go, we got a call from Rwanda,” junior Cal Samuelson said.
McClellan talked and prayed with the leaders of the trip and Baggott to decide if the group should go to Rwanda.
Team members felt disappointed in the beginning, but their outlook quickly changed.
“Jennifer McClellan said that even though it wasn’t our plan, it was God’s plan,” Kuhns said.
“God used my interest in the pyramids, the history of the country and Islam to spark my interest in Egypt and that took me to Rwanda,” Samuelson said. “It was really in God’s will to lead us to Rwanda.”
The team was also thankful to go to Rwanda because the country was safe.
“The biggest difference between the two trips was that our Egypt trip entailed lots of physical labor and being exposed to Muslims,” junior Olivia Cheatham said. “[In Rwanda] we visited Christians and did more evangelism.”
In Rwanda, the team put on church services and played, did crafts and sang with children. They also interacted with the other members of the church.
“We had a four-hour choir practice with the congregation,” Kuhns said. “They taught us their songs in Kenya Rwandan and we taught them our songs in English.”
Originally, the plan for the trip to Egypt had been to go to an orphanage and to Garbage City, a town outside of Cairo. In Egypt, Christians are outcasts who go to this town with Cairo’s trash and recycle it. They also use the trash to make items and then sell them in order to make a living.
Although the change of plans came as a surprise, those involved know that God had a purpose in it.
“While changing the location for mission trips stretched our faith, I rest in the fact that [God] knew all along this was going to happen and He has never failed to provide a new plan,” McClellan said.