We have all been touched by the coronavirus in one way or another. The changes encompass every aspect of life, from homes to workplaces to universities. For the class of 2020, the traditional pomp and circumstance of graduation, a long-awaited celebration of years of rigorous study, will be replaced with an anticlimactic online event. Even funerals for loved ones can’t bring us together physically. Last week I conducted an online funeral for my uncle who died from COVID-19. We mourned his passing even as we thanked God that my mother’s life was spared when she contracted the virus while caring for him.
With all of the changes and continued uncertainty in the world, this may be the perfect time to consider doing something unconventional. Not sure if you want to continue online learning for another semester? Why not take a gap year to serve as a missionary? Have you graduated only to discover that COVID-19 has erased your job prospects? If ever there was a time to share the good news about Jesus, this is it! Current events are awakening existential questions in the hearts of millions around the world. Now more than ever, the world needs the beautiful “feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom. 10:14-15).
Forbes recently listed four reasons why a young person should take a gap year:
1. To gain a better understanding of the world you live in. One study revealed that 94 percent of students going abroad for a year reported an improved ability to communicate with people from other backgrounds, and 93 percent said they had greater understanding and appreciation for other cultures. These are important skills, not only for career success but for effectively sharing Christ’s love.
2. To figure out your real goals and the best way to achieve them. Seventy-seven percent of the students in the study stated that their gap year helped them find their purpose in life, and 75 percent reported that the experience helped them get a job. At AFM, we have witnessed the truth of these benefits in the experience of many student missionaries over the years.
3. Learn about yourself and the future you want without spending a small fortune on tuition. Overseas experience is often an effective and less costly way to hone in on what you really want to do with your life. You will learn skills that textbooks and classrooms can’t teach you.
4. Get work experience that will benefit you through volunteer or international study opportunities. AFM student missionaries have the opportunity to serve as Bible workers, health workers, teachers, and helpers in a number of other areas. These experiences are invaluable when they return to college and prepare for their lifelong vocation.
I would add to this list another spiritual reason to consider taking a gap year:
5. Develop a deeper relationship with God by learning to trust Him in new contexts and working with Him to share the gospel in hard-to-reach places. There are people all over this world who do not have ready access to learning about Jesus. You can make an eternal difference by going and being a personal presence, introducing them to their Creator and Redeemer.
I asked Tiffany Steinweg, a graduating violin performance major from Andrews University who taught violin at our music school in Thailand, what benefits she saw in taking a gap year for student missions. Here is what she said:
“It gives you a chance to do something practical where you can apply things you’ve already learned even if they aren’t directly related to your major. You learn things in practical service that you can’t learn from college classes, especially relationship skills and innovation/problem- solving skills. Being immersed in a foreign language and culture really humbles you and forces you to rely more on God in everyday life. It gives you more understanding and empathy for people from different backgrounds, a life skill that will help you wherever you end up. And if you have ever wondered whether God is calling you to be a full-time missionary, it’s a great way to get a taste of what that would be like, especially if you are in a place where you get to work alongside career missionaries.”
We live in very challenging times that have created many opportunities for the gospel. There is a growing thirst for the word of God, and there has never been a better time to consider participating with God in His Gospel Commission. Will you consider going?