Four OBU students and one faculty member travelled to Kazakhstan May 17-June 16 with the purpose of pointing local college students and business leaders to Jesus.
Dr. David Houghton, dean of the Paul Dickinson College of Business and professor of business, served as mentor. Students Danielle Young, Hanah Sheppard, Chase Lanphear and Alec Daugherty served on the trip.
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. OBU's Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach mobilizes, trains and oversees GO Trips.
The team was stationed in Ust-Kamenogorsk, which is in the northeast part of the Kazakhstan. The modern city boasts 300,000 citizens and has a diverse culture that represents Asian and European influences. Although downtown Ust-Kamenogorsk could be compared to Oklahoma City's downtown area, there are numerous buildings with Soviet-era architecture.
The team spent much of their time at Kazakh-American Free University (KAFU) attending lectures and talking with students. The students' main purpose was to share Christ, but the trip also served as a cultural exchange for KAFU students.
KAFU began through a partnership with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Kazakhstani government. Although it is a secular school, Christian influences have been woven into its mission through partnerships with faith-based organizations. These partnerships influence the university to teach servant leadership material to students and faculty, and encourage them to pursue kingdom work.
OBU student Hanah Sheppard enjoyed spending time at KAFU. "The most rewarding part is that my team and I made good, genuine relationships with the students who worked with us," said Shepard, a junior anthropology major from Aledo, Texas. "We learned a lot from each other."
For team leader David Houghton the trip continued a journey he began in 1999. Houghton has close ties with KAFU and was excited to see the progress the school has made since his last visit in 2001. He previously served as a consultant for KAFU and also taught classes.
"I became involved [with KAFU] because I believe that universities train leaders," Houghton said. "Kazakhstan's leaders are being trained in places like KAFU, so it was a strategic decision on my part to work with them. These were very similar reasons for why I entered academia in the first place and why I feel called to OBU specifically."
For Houghton, the most rewarding part of the trip was seeing the growth of his early work in Kazakhstan as well as the church's growth. Houghton went on to tell the story of a student whose life was changed while she was attending KAFU. Through the work of KAFU, she was exposed to Christian beliefs, became a believer and then shared Jesus with her family.
"Her dad, mom and sister all became Christians, and her dad now serves as the pastor at a local Baptist church," Houghton said. "The church has grown in miraculous ways and the student, years later, after earning her masters at Southwestern Seminary, now serves the youth of their church today."
Although the team easily connected with students, it was a challenge to share the Gospel with them. Kazakhstan's two main religions are Russian Orthodox and Islam, and locals do not openly talk about their religious beliefs.
OBU student Danielle Young loved getting to know the students, but found it hard to share her beliefs with her new friends. "It was quite difficult for us to share the Gospel," said Young, a junior international business major from Okmulgee, Oklahoma. "So, we tried to live out our beliefs by our actions. We had some good conversations about our beliefs and I believe we were able to leave a few of the students thinking."
While in Kazakhstan, the OBU group learned about different cultures and how to be a light in a foreign place. OBU student Charles Lanphear, a sophomore international business major from Kansas City, Missouri, learned that when you step out of your comfort zone and serve Jesus in a new place, it strengthens your faith.
"It not only changes the lives of the people you share the gospel with, it also changes your own life," he said. "It gives you the chance to appreciate different mindsets and cultures, which is good training for life."
Young agrees that traveling on international trips helps students understand the complex world, and its cultures. "It gives God an opportunity to use you in ways you may not have been aware of," she said. "I believe participating in a GO Trip helps students find out more about themselves."
For more information on GO Trips at OBU, visit the Global Outreach Web pages or call (405) 275-2850.