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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Friday, April 12, 2024
The Echo
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J-term trips abroad remain impactful despite COVID-19

Participants share their stories

This past J-term, many students and faculty members were given the opportunity to go abroad or travel domestically on several different missions and recreational trips.

J-term trips are offered for a variety of different experiences: to fulfill a class requirement, to provide missions work, or both.

Some of the trips offered fulfilled a class requirement: Literary New England, a biblical study tour to Greece, a Hawaii science class and a Lighthouse Ministries trip to Spain. Other Lighthouse mission trips included Honduras, Kosovo and Central Asia. Here is a breakdown a few of the trips. 

Greece

A group of 42 students traveled to Greece on a study tour hosted by Footstep Ministries. The trip itself was an academic course in the Bible, theology and cross-cultural learning fulfilling the classes “Biblical Literature II” and “Historic Christian Belief.”

While the trip was not a mission trip, the Greece team still sought to represent Christ well and experience God’s presence in their daily activities and team relationships.

“Students reported seeing God at work in their relationships with one another, in the ways the biblical sites we visited reinforced the reality of biblical accounts, and in deepened appreciation for the holiness of God and the beauty of God as Father, Son and Spirit,” said Greg MaGee, professor of biblical studies and Greece team leader.

COVID-19, however, was a challenge for their trip and greatly impacted their travel. Before departing, students had to schedule COVID-19 tests and get negative results within a narrow window. Unfortunately, four students on the team tested positive and were not allowed to travel into the country by Greek law.

MaGee said it was an interesting experience to travel in a country with much stricter COVID regulations than those in Indiana. Proof of vaccination was required in museums, restaurants and many shops, along with mask requirements in many indoor and some outdoor spaces.

Traveling back to the U.S. required another negative COVID test result, and six students tested positive. Because of this, they had to be quarantined for five days in Greece before their departing flight.

“Since the students had mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, it was quite a shock when they found out that their stay in Greece would be extended,” MaGee said. “They also had to stay in a special quarantine hotel. The rooms were nice, but the food they received from the hotel was usually not very appetizing! The quarantined students and I were very happy to finally get on the plane back to the U.S.!”

Lighthouse Trip: Kosovo

Another smaller group of students traveled to Pristina, Kosovo, where their mission was to support the work of the Greater Europe Mission organization. While there, the team’s main focus was to plan and host two teen youth camps for the youth groups the full-time missionaries work with.

Jessie Woodring, Olson Hall Director and co-leader of the trip, mentioned how the team aimed to be learners while in Kosovo and join the work of God there rather than assume that they knew exactly what the mission needed.

Woodring connected her experience of how God worked in Kosovo to that of how a wood stove functions.

“While we were there, we stayed in a few homes that were heated by a wood stove,” Woodring said. “This meant that we had to constantly feed the fire and depend on each other to stoke it well. This metaphor translated into the work that we were doing. God had already started the work in Kosovo, and it will continue long after we leave, but we had the opportunity to stoke the fire. It was a privilege to be a part of a greater story.”

Like many other trips, their travel did not come without obstacles.

Woodring admitted that COVID-19 did distract from other important aspects of the trip, but she was ultimately able to see God’s provision through the unexpected circumstances. Despite the challenges with COVID-19, she was glad that the trip was able to happen.

“If you are considering a Lighthouse trip or an international experience, I would highly recommend that you explore your options and pray about it,” Woodring said. “Even if it feels outside of your comfort zone, it might end up changing your life the way it has changed mine.”

Lighthouse Trip: Central Asia

A smaller team of four students were able to make the journey over to Central Asia. Due to safety reasons for the Christians and missionaries in the country, the specific location cannot be disclosed.

While there, this group’s mission was to teach English in a local school, volunteer at a Christian international school and be a part of a conversation club with local English students.

According to team member and senior Ashley Anderson, nothing about the trip went as planned — even before leaving. The team endured delayed flights to the country and even faced a COVID-19 case, leaving the team with one less member to travel with them.

When they arrived in the country with a 12-hour time difference, the team was exhausted. But surprises continued to come from some of the schools being shut down to power and water outages where they were staying.

Anderson said that the trip did not go according to plan A, B or C. She even joked that their trip leader, Russ, liked to say that he stopped counting after plan J.

“For me, this trip took an unexpected turn when I tested positive for COVID 5 days after we arrived in the country,” Anderson said. “I was disappointed and frustrated. I did not understand why God would send me on a mission trip to catch COVID.”

Despite this, Anderson was able to see God’s hand in it all. She mentioned Isaiah 42 and how she felt God was holding her hand and keeping her while she felt his presence in ways she never has before.

Anderson felt blessed in this experience as she was able to quarantine with missionaries that had also tested positive. She had the time to engage in their stories and hear how they loved their neighbors and their country.

A profound experience Anderson noted after leaving isolation was spending time with some of the local students there. They sat for three hours, shared three pots of tea and talked about everything from politics to family dynamics.

“For me and my teammates, that dinner was a glimpse of heaven,” Anderson said. “People of different tribes and tongues fellowshipping, feasting and enjoying each other’s presence.” 

Traveling back was also challenging. Like other trips, the team had to receive a negative COVID-19 test to return to the U.S. On top of it all, their flight home was delayed and then canceled, leaving them in the country for a few more days than expected.

Anderson said that much of life, especially mission work, will look something like her trip — there will be disappointments, 100 changes to the plan and lots of trusting in God and holding his hand and walking in faith, but it will also look like amazing moments of grace, fellowship and growth.

Back in Upland

There are many people working behind the scenes at Taylor to make sure these trips can happen.

Jen McKim, assistant for Taylor World Outreach (TWO) and Taylor Student Organization (TSO), is a key member in the functioning of Lighthouse trips. Her role is to help with all of the logistics of the trips from organizing travel arrangements and processing donations to keeping track of documents and trip requirements. Additionally, she aids in communicating with the in-country hosts and provides general support to the Lighthouse trip leaders.

McKim said COVID-19 had been challenging for the program this year. The number of participants in the program were considerably lower than in years past, and COVID testing requirements for travel made planning trickier since there was a small window from Christmas break to the teams’ departures.

“God worked in miraculous ways through it all…” McKim said. “Even though we did experience delays for some of our students on their return home due to COVID, we were able to work together, trust the process and allow God to work through all those involved in bringing our teams home.”

Many students touched on how impactful Lighthouse trips are in their lives. As McKim pointed out, Lighthouse trips are not just a trip in January, they are a whole semester investment of time, energy and commitment.

McKim also said Lighthouse trips offer a full experience for students and leaders where hearts are often changed and possibilities of future involvement in the global movement for Christ are realized.

“If you know of anyone who was in the program on our Central Asia, Kosovo, Spain or Honduras teams, please reach out to them and ask about their experiences,” McKim said. “They would love to share how God moved in such unexpected ways. And be sure to keep an eye out in the student announcements and TWO social media about our Lighthouse Sharing Session evening coming up soon. All of our teams will be together in one place sharing videos, experiences and more from their trips!”