BROWNWOOD – September 18, 2015 – Five Howard Payne University students and two faculty members that traveled to South Africa during the summer were reminded that God is at work – in huge ways – around the world.
Led by Dr. Melody Maxwell and Dr. Derek Hatch, both assistant professors of Christian studies, the students spent two weeks touring the country, volunteering with Christian organizations and worshipping with more than 2,500 Baptists from around the globe at the 21st Baptist World Congress. They joined more than 60 other individuals from Baptist churches across the United States in serving through the South Africa Ministry Network.
The trip is a component of Dr. Maxwell’s International Missions Practicum, a capstone course for cross-cultural studies majors. The students spent the semester before they left learning about short-term missions and the history, culture and people of South Africa.
“One of the most exciting aspects of the trip was seeing things that we had learned about in class,” said Rachel Ellington, senior from Garland, mentioning sites such as the Apartheid Museum and Lesedi Cultural Village. “The world is a much bigger place than I thought. God is much more creative and the church is much more diverse than I ever dreamed.”
The group spent the first week working with the Refilwe Community Project near an informal settlement north of Johannesburg. Refilwe is a multivalent Christian organization that focuses on child care, community care and skills development.
Dr. Maxwell said the HPU group got to experience a bit of many of the ministries Refilwe has to offer such as farming, child care, kids clubs and more.
“It was a really incredible opportunity for us all to see how God was at work and how we could participate in God’s work,” she said.
The next several days were spent participating in the Baptist World Congress. The host of the event, the Baptist World Alliance, is a fellowship of Baptist believers comprised of 42 million members from 121 countries and territories.
“Experiencing the Congress really expands your boundaries and understanding of the global church,” said Dr. Maxwell.
Scripture was read or presented in approximately 25 different languages during the worship services.
“The Congress’ location on the African continent promised to bring a great deal of diversity to its attendance,” said Dr. Hatch. “I think it really made good on that promise.”
The students were required to seek out people from other cultures to learn about life and Christianity around the world.
“Getting to share life and experiences with people from all over the world was such a remarkable and eye-opening experience for me,” said Mikayla Warren, senior from Salado. “The trip was full of a lifetime of stories and memories and friendships.”
Among the things they learned from leaders of the South Africa Ministry Network was to embrace a “pilgrim’s posture.”
“People go on pilgrimages to seek the presence of God in other places,” said Dr. Hatch. “We weren’t going to bring Christ to South Africa but to encounter Christ in South Africa. He was already working there.”
The Congress served as a good reminder of Christ’s actions around the world.
“It’s really powerful to worship with brothers and sisters in Christ, saying the Lord’s Prayer in your own language and hearing everyone in the room do the same,” said Dr. Maxwell. “It’s fascinating to watch the room explode with dancing and singing and music from different cultures. It’s a privilege for us to be able to travel with, learn from and serve alongside the global Christian community.”
Lance Rhodes, senior from Corsicana, said the trip reminded him of his calling and passion for missions.
“This course rekindled the previously forgotten passion in my heart to go among the nations and proclaim the glory and the grace of Christ,” he said.
Additional students on the trip included Cristalyn Fitzgerald, senior from Burleson, and Paul Warren, May 2015 graduate from Salado.
Photo cutline: While in South Africa, HPU students and faculty met up with HPU alumni Dr. Chris and Mrs. Cindy Liebrum who were also attending the Baptist World Congress. Left to right: Cindy Liebrum, Cristalyn Fitzgerald, Paul Warren, Lance Rhodes, Mikayla Warren, Dr. Derek Hatch, Rachel Ellington, Dr. Melody Maxwell and Dr. Chris Liebrum.