Filled with friendly, gracious people who value hospitality, Thailand is known as the "Land of Smiles." An eight-member team from OBU traveled to the Southeast Asian country on mission to share their own smiles with third-culture kids gathered there.
Southern Baptist mission representatives who live and serve in East Asia gather periodically for times of training and retreat. While the parents participate in meetings, volunteers bring Vacation Bible School and childcare to the meeting site for the representatives' children -- the task for OBU's Global Outreach team. During the meetings, missionaries are encouraged in their faith and walk with Christ after a mental, physical and spiritual drain of many months of focused service in East Asia.
"We invest in them by nurturing their spiritual lives as well as evangelistic and discipleship skills for their return to minister in East Asia," said Nathan*, an equipper of new missionaries in East Asia. "OBU investing in the lives of these worker's children refreshes the children as well, which in turn refreshes the family for further service."
Without OBU's investment in the children, the group of workers in East Asia would not be able to nurture, encourage and invest in the entire family during the time of retreat, Curtis explained. By strengthening the entire family, the OBU team enabled missionaries to be strengthened for long-term service.
The team was one of nine OBU-commissioned groups to participate in missions adventures during the summer 2012 semester. OBU's mission encourages students to integrate faith with all areas of knowledge and to engage a diverse world. More than 60 OBU students, faculty and staff embarked on summer Global Outreach (GO) Trips, sharing their faith around the globe under the leadership of Dr. Joy Turner, director of global mobilization.
Some of the OBU team members initially did not feel their mission trip assignment was very exciting, but they quickly learned the value of their service.
"I always thought that missions work looked all alike, but really it's just whatever needs done to contribute to the Kingdom (of God)," said Cherry Donnelly, the team's leader, who serves as secretary in OBU's Division of Music. "That's what is at the heart of missions, not a particular job description."
Prior to the trip, OBU student Christopher Thrutchley said he felt "left out" of the exciting summer trips awaiting his classmates: hiking the Amazon River area, doing medical work in South Asia, living in African villages and more.
"And I was just going to do daycare in a metropolitan Asian city," said Thrutchley, a sophomore from Broken Arrow, Okla. "Even though I knew I was going where God wanted me … I felt left out. However, upon arriving and seeing the faces of the [mission workers] and their families, hearing their stories, and living alongside them for eight days, my attitude completely changed. I became convinced that I was on the most productive trip of them all, because what my team was doing would have a lasting, refreshing impact on long-term workers all over East Asia. No longer did I feel left out. I felt ecstatic!"
Heather Johnson, a sophomore from Duncan, Okla., said her first impression of Thailand was darkness, which overshadowed the smiles she saw. She said she felt physical darkness as the city where they served sat in a valley surrounded by mountains. But she also felt spiritual darkness as she watched local people make sacrifices to Buddhist idols.
"My heart was completely broken," Johnson said. "Very few people there know about God or anything to do with Him. It was so sad to see how lost they were, even though they were smiling and happy. Their happiness was so futile, and it was so depressing seeing that and knowing that they did not see how fleeting that happiness was, and how pointless it was to sacrifice (to idols)."
The trip served not only to expand the team members' worldviews, but also they learned the value of service and gifts. Working with a team from the Metro East Baptist Association in St. Louis, Mo., team members collected items to provide care packages for the representatives' families, as well as birthday gifts for each of their children. They collected food items and supplies not commonly found in foreign countries. Donnelly said each team member was allowed by the airline to check two bags, so each checked one bag full of the care package supplies.
"The gifts provide a constant reminder as the workers return to East Asia that numerous Oklahomans serve alongside them in prayer," Curtis said. "There is no limit to the encouragement Oklahoma's investment will produce as these families seek to spread new life that is paved with new hope in Christ."
Donnelly said the most rewarding part of her trip was meeting the Southern Baptist representatives and hearing their personal stories.
"I love learning what their struggles are and how God worked through them," she said. "It helps me to learn how to pray for them."
Johnson said the trip gave her a greater appreciation for living in a place where she is surrounded by like-minded believers in Christ.
"It also helped me to see how urgent it is for us to spread the news (of Jesus)," she said. "There are so many people out there who do not know about Christ, and as a believer, that breaks my heart. Knowing the joy I have found in my Father makes me want to share the wonderful news with those who do not know it."
Click here for more information about OBU's Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach.
*Name changed for the security of mission personnel and the people with whom they work.