Southeast Asia recently attracted four OBU representatives, who were drawn by the opportunity to learn about the country's culture and to teach English to university students. The OBU team included students Gabby Garcia, Katherine Gilbert and Danielle Kimbrough, who were led by Dr. Gina Kraft, assistant professor of kinesiology at OBU, during the May 31-July 1 trip.
Members of the OBU team discovered a great dichotomy that defines much of Southeast Asia's people: For a people overshadowed by decades of civil war and the resulting unrest, they extend a genuinely warm greeting to visiting tourists. The people welcomed opened doors for the team to forge new friendships and find opportunities to share both their language and their Christian faith.
"I think the biggest thing you see while in Southeast Asia is that the people are hurt and are still hurting … but the people continue smiling," said Gilbert, a sophomore digital media arts major from Sapulpa, Okla. "I feel like it reflects the country's state. There are beautiful places that match the beautiful people, but there are places that need help just like the people need the Gospel."
The trip was organized through OBU's Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach. Each year, dozens of students, faculty and staff take Global Outreach (GO) Trips which enforce OBU's mission to transform lives by equipping students to pursue academic excellence, integrate faith with all areas of knowledge, engage a diverse world and live worthy of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.
As the team's sponsor, Kraft said she watched the OBU students grow and develop as they learned to interact in a different culture and matured in their interactions with Southeast Asia university students.
"They went from shy and unsure to confident and excited," Kraft said. "They grew in confidence as they taught English, they grew in confidence as they worked to build relationships, and each success built on that confidence and increased their excitement."
A major goal of the trip, Kraft said, was to help generate connections between full-time cross-cultural workers who live in the country. In Southeast Asia, 95 percent of the population is Buddhist. As the OBU students taught English-language courses, they involved the cross-cultural workers in their lessons, which directly encouraged students to engage and build relationships with the workers. Kraft said the OBU students aided in telling "the Greatest Story Ever" -- the story of Jesus -- while identifying students who were interested in learning more about the Gospel message.
"We were blessed with the opportunity to share the Gospel," Gilbert said. "Though we are free to share the Gospel in Southeast Asia, many of the schools will not allow groups like ours to come onto their campus and share. Thankfully, we were able to intertwine the Gospel in the lessons we taught."
"The most rewarding part was being able to experience the culture and create relationships with the students," Gilbert added. "We were able to learn a lot about Southeast Asia and where these people have been. This gave me the knowledge on how to pray for this country and the people."
In retrospect, Kraft reported the trip was a great success because of the number of students who heard the truth of the Gospel, because of the relationships built between the full-time cross-cultural workers and those students, and because of the personal growth and development in the members of the OBU GO Team. Gilbert echoed the value of all aspects of the endeavor.
"I think it's extremely important for OBU students to participate in GO Trips," Gilbert said. "God changes you in more ways than you could ever anticipate. Sharing the Gospel with those who really don't know is life-changing, but for me the biggest part was experiencing the culture. It gave me a more passionate desire to share with these students."
"It's not all sunshine and fun times," Gilbert added, noting the challenges of any international journey. "You go through a lot of difficult changes and obstacles. I wouldn't trade that pain for the world because I know God is molding me for being in His will and choosing to go."
For more information, visit OBU's Center for Global Outreach Web page.