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Summer Journeys Lead to Spiritual Growth

September 27th, 2010

By Gabrielle Ryan; originally published in PHC Herald 9/10/10

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722

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Junior Ryan Gilles gives a Zambian child a ride

While most PHC students traveled to their home towns for a summer of rest, summer jobs, internships, or more classes, a few other students took a break from the grind of classes and homework to head overseas. Some sought language immersion, some went for mission work, and some were led on a spiritual journey.

Senior Aaron Kamakawiwoole spent two weeks in Strasbourg, France for Dr. Montgomery’s apologetics program. Kamakawiwoole was one of only two PHC students who participated in the program; the other attendees included pastors from across the United States and family members of students.

“I wanted to go the summer after I took Dr. Montgomery’s [Principles of Biblical Reasoning], but it didn’t work out,” he said. “I had another chance this past fall to think about it and submit my paperwork. I basically sat down one night and said, ‘Aaron, if you don’t take this chance, you won’t have another shot.’ I had a shot, and I took it.

“I think the most rewarding part about the whole trip was when Dr. Veith took us through T.S. Eliot on the first Friday we were there,” he continued. “It had been the first time that I had studied Eliot in-depth. Really deep, thought-provoking, life-changing stuff.”

On the other side of the globe, freshman Adam Smith saw his initial summer plans turned upside down. Instead of traveling across the luxurious Spanish countryside with the rest of his youth missions team as he had planned, he found himself in a poverty-stricken town in Guatemala witnessing to gang members.

“I had been to Spain before, so I was not accepted for this team, in order to make room for others who hadn’t gone,” he said. “It was a major disappointment, and I struggled with resentment.”

When Smith was offered a place on a normally all-adult team to Guatemala, he reluctantly accepted.

“In hindsight, it was absolutely the better place for me to be,” he said. “But at the time I made the decision, it really just felt like a second choice.”

Evening approaches in Zambia, Africa

As the trip got closer, Smith began to be a little more excited about the days ahead of him. He had some previous knowledge of the language, so he could communicate decently with the people. He found his greatest surprise was to see joy and simple faith going hand-in-hand with the extreme poverty around him.

“I take so many things for granted,” he said. “These people were living in houses made out of the worst material imaginable, but they had more joy than most people in the U.S.”

One of the most impacting moments of Smith’s ten-day trip happened one afternoon when he had the opportunity to spend time with the village children, playing games and “just doing kids’ stuff.” That afternoon, one particular child latched onto him.

“When it was time to leave, he handed me his ‘bling’ from around his neck,” Smith said. “I don’t believe this boy was a Christian, but just the selflessness of the entire people is unforgettable. It touched my heart.”

When senior David Barber traveled to Russia for independent language and culture studies as well as mission work, he saw this same simple, selfless faith displayed. Along with his host family in Moscow and their congregation, Barber spent a portion of his free time working on reconstructing a local church.

“The faith of these people is so remarkable, in spite of such persecution,” he said, “It’s not because they have greater doctrine or a new insight; their faith is so very simple. They earnestly believe that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He’ll do. When He asks them to drop everything and follow, they actually do it.”

Sophomore James Nelson’s ten-day trip through Israel and parts of Jordan was a spiritual journey, as he did not go for academic reasons.

“It wasn’t an internship or anything like that,” he said. “I guess you could say it was more for my spiritual health.”

The trip was organized by the Student Leadership University that Nelson has been involved with in previous years. The team was led through Jordan, to Jerusalem, and through Galilee, visiting the traditional tourist sites such as the Jordan River, Jerusalem, the Garden Tomb, the valley of Armageddon, and Galilee.

“It was such an incredible experience,” he said. “To be able to see the places that I know my Lord saw. We took communion right outside the Garden Tomb, and I pretty much got goosebumps when our leader reminded us that we had all flown from America and walked across the country to see nothing, really… because Christ is not in the grave anymore.

“We got to hear about Jesus calming the waters while we sailed on the Sea of Galilee and hear the Sermon on the Mount while we gathered at the Mount of Beatitudes. On this trip, Scripture really came alive.”

Nelson noted that aside from the deep history and Biblical importance of Israel, he had another motive for going on the trip.

“International relations have always interested me; and no other region of the world interests me as much as the Middle East,” he said. “I actually hope that I can eventually affect American policy in regards to it.”

Gilles on an overlook by Zambia's beautiful scenery

PHC junior Ryan Gilles spent six weeks in Lusaka, Zambia with Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). Gilles determined to take the trip after attending a CCC conference in 2008.

“One night of the conference, the speaker challenged us to commit something to God,” he said. “I decided to dedicate one summer during college to missions. Doing it this summer made the most sense. I looked at the possible trips on the CCC website, and this one just jumped out at me.”

Gilles and the CCC team made a daily trek to the University of Zambia’s campus and conducted street evangelism. Their main focus was on building relationships with the students so that there would be a friendly foundation for witnessing.

“God showed me a lot about what it looks like to really give yourself to a ministry,” he said. “It was amazing to see the looks on people’s faces, realizing the answer to questions they’ve had all their lives. It was just indescribable.

“I found the real adventure of life while I was [in Zambia],” he said. “It wasn’t being in Africa, not eating caterpillars for dinner, not bungee jumping off a bridge at Livingstone. It’s about seeing the Lord work in crazy ways. And that it can happen anywhere.”