Being the Change, and Being Changed

During the past several weeks, I took the opportunity to visit Seventh-day Adventist university campuses in North America during their respective mission emphasis weeks. I was blessed as I listened to young people describe their joy in extending their Christian witness and action in ways that produced both a global and a local impact.

The positive impact student missionaries (SMs) make when they use their gifts and interests to assist frontline workers in unreached projects is indisputable. Our family had a front-row seat to the vital role SMs play in ministering on the AFM Central Thai Project. The Mariscal siblings from Ecuador, for example, not only brought their teaching skills to Peace Music Academy (PMA), they also brought their passion for running. Prior to going to Thailand, they had formed an Adventist runner’s club that included competitive runners from all over Ecuador. In Thailand, they started entering local races, and their enthusiasm was contagious. Eventually, they worked with the Sorensens to host a 5k run out of PMA, and this community engagement is still serving as an effective connecting tool today. Through PMA, people have committed their lives to Jesus, and churches have been planted. This would have been impossible without our SM music teachers who enable the ministry of the school. And our homeschooling SMs were critical in providing for our children’s needs, preparing them for successful reentry to the U.S. Now one of our sons is preparing to return as an SM himself!

But there is more to the blessing of student missions than making a global impact. There are local implications as well. Adventist universities understand the importance of being a presence for good in the local community. They have established partnerships with NGOs and businesses to provide opportunities for students to get involved and leave their imprints in local streets, shelters and prisons. Such involvement gives students a taste for service through acts of kindness, leaving them with a hunger for more.

This was the case for Janelle. Over lunch at the university cafeteria, she shared how, from an early age, she had been involved in mission, both at home and far away. As she began to feel the call to further service, her pastor encouraged her to contact AFM. After going through the application and four weeks of training, Janelle was on her way to the Philippines to a region where there are a number of unreached communities. There she started touching people’s lives one at a time through medical work.

Janelle had many experiences she treasures in her heart, but one lesson she brought home redefined who she is. High in the mountains there was no digital signal, and people really focused on others when they spoke. The locals had developed an unusual gift for keen perception. They notice even the marks on her face, the changes in her voice, and the subtleties of her mood. When they were talking with her, it was as if she were the only person in the world. As she was touching their wounded flesh, they were touching her heart.

Janelle’s personal relationship with God became more finely tuned as she experienced His power and presence in moments of great need, like when evil spirits tried to enter her dreams and rob her of peace and rest.

Janelle is now back in the U.S. with a wealth of experience, ready to touch her world as she continues her nursing studies. As I sat with her at the cafeteria, she told me that she misses the people and hopes to go back. The lessons she learned there have made her a better friend and member of her community. As she interacts with the people around her, she gives them the same gift she received while serving globally—the gift of being fully present.

Serving globally offers multiple advantages to local engagement. It provides deeper self-understanding and develops tools for greater dependence on God. It provides increased empathy and capacity to work with people from diverse backgrounds, and it provides skills that extend effectiveness and marketability. In the case of Breanna Thornton, PMA’s first violin teacher who is now completing a doctorate in violin performance, it helped her to get accepted into the Global Leadership Program, which further extends her influence both at home and abroad.

Is God tugging on your heart to give Him a year overseas among the least served people on earth? He is inviting you to change people’s lives and to be changed in ways you can’t imagine. Please contact us at

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