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SEU Missions — Saying Yes to the Call and Raising Up Student Leaders

SEU Missions is a missions movement here at SEU that exists to see a generation of students rise up and take part in the story that God is writing all over the world. To go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus to every nation, tribe, and tongue— ministering to the broken and reconciling the lost. This year SEU Missions is sending out 40+ student-led mission trips across six continents and 40 countries, believing the story of God will continue in redemption and hope. 

Months of preparation and training take place before these trips are sent out to ensure everything is done with the department’s core values of kingdom, honor, and excellence. Part of this preparation looks like what we call “Training Camp.” Every year, for one week, the SEU Missions family gathers to dream, pray, learn, seek, and listen to the voice of God and His heart and vision for each trip. This week means so much to all the leaders and students involved. The experiences, lessons, and stories shared have become the undercurrents that propel us to go out into the world with love and compassion,  the mission to heal, uplift, and reconcile. 

With the stories and testimonials we are about to share, we invite you to glimpse into the heart of SEU Missions and its student leaders.  

The Heart of Training Camp 

When thinking about the heart and vision for training camp, we turned to the director of SEU Missions herself, Stephanie Bernotas. “Training camp encapsulates the heartbeat of SEU Missions,” she said. “The workers don’t have to be so few. And we’ve got hundreds of students willing to say yes to the call, so we want to train them well. We firmly believe that university students are uniquely equipped to lead the way in cross-cultural engagement, and as a student-led organization, camp is where it starts.” 

Because training camp is meant to teach us to be flexible and adaptable preparing us for anything that may occur on the missions field, there were days and nights when we had to sleep outside in tents and hammocks, eat with our hands, share our testimony on the spot, navigate simulated conflict such as flights getting canceled and luggage being lost to running out of funds on the field, and learning how to lead team debriefs. We also did tons of fun activities like play crazy youth group games, worship for hours on end, and an activity called the Geoleader Olympics where we were split into teams and competed against each other in various challenges. 

But if you ask any of us what the most meaningful part of training camp was, I think it’s fair to say that most of our answers would be about personal encounters with the Lord. “Even more than training elements, we believe it’s clear in Scripture that a passion for the gospel comes out of a personal encounter with Jesus,” Stephanie said. “So we create intentional space just for that. We’ve seen students walk away from training camp each year permanently marked and changed, ready and equipped to lead their fellow students in the same direction.”

From missional simulations to outdoor adventures, community building, and leadership sessions to anointing fellow leaders, and nights by the fire to baptisms in the springs. All of these elements of training camp are prayed over and strategically placed. 

Lives Changed 

Lovina Botone first attended training camp three years ago as a student volunteer. For the last two years, she attended as a geoleader, a title given to those who are in charge of leading trips. 

“Training camp is a week that has changed my life for the better,” she said. “Each year has been different and impactful, but this year specifically helped seal the voice of the Lord and his vision for my life. I will forever remember the moments that the Lord marked me, anointed me, and sent me out to His people in every tribe, nation, and tongue. I am forever grateful for the moments spent at Weeki Wachee Gardens (where the camp is held). Moments filled with glimpses of heaven and of the Lord’s heart for His people around the nations.” 

Callings Found 

Similar to Lovina’s first camp experience, first-year junior, Noah Kendall, attended this year’s training camp as a volunteer and ended up leaving with more than he could’ve ever imagined.

“Before training camp, I really had no idea what God wanted me to do as a career. I knew that I had been called into filmmaking, but I didn’t know in what setting. Fast forward to GoCONF (a missions conference put on by SEU Missions to celebrate this year’s trips), my friend came up to me and asked if I wanted to volunteer in the kitchen at training camp. So I said, ‘Sure!’ off to training camp we go! I really did not know what to expect because I am a first-year student and I didn’t know anyone in the missions department. Little did I know, God would use this weekend to change my life.” 

During a worship night, Noah was asked to lead a trip to Kenya. “That weekend at training camp will be one I will never forget because God changed the course of my life through it. He gave me more than I could ever ask for— a family and a purpose derived from His great love.” 

Training camp not only provided us with the opportunity to deepen our relationship with the Lord but also allowed us to deepen our friendships with each other. We were able to hear each other’s stories and learn from each other. Isabel Hertz is an example of someone who was willing to be vulnerable and invited us all into that vulnerability. 

“Often at training camp, someone will volunteer to pray in the language of their family and share a little about their heritage. It gives us an opportunity to listen and learn from other cultures, some of which we’ll be experiencing on our trips. I come from a Jewish family,” she shared. “So, Steph asked if I would lead in a Shabbat blessing before our meal on Friday night. I often get nervous talking about Shabbat with people outside my family. I’ve not always had the easiest time sharing culture with other people who don’t come from the same experiences I do. 

“But it was something entirely different for me to share about my heritage at training camp. I got to speak about what Shabbat means to my family. I got to teach everyone how to say “Shabbat shalom” the way my dad taught me. And then before we ate, I got to speak a Hebrew blessing over everyone. It was so special.” 

This moment had a lasting impact even weeks after training camp. “The following Fridays, those same people at camp would greet me with “Shabbat shalom” on campus,” Isabel said. “This is a phrase that I’ve heard before from strangers with emptiness or taunting. But not this time. Because this time, the people saying it understood what it meant. It seems so simple, but it made me feel so seen. We’re not only learning how to minister overseas, we’re learning how to love and care for those around us. If a moment of listening and learning a simple phrase made me feel so seen, I can’t wait to see what the Lord does with listening ears on the mission field this year.” 

Joy and Hope Restored 

This next story is longer than the others, but one I believe deserves to be read in its entirety because it is a testament to the goodness and faithfulness of God and His power to redeem and restore. This is Caleb Parsley’s story: 

“Training camp came at a time in my life when I was going through some of the darkest moments I have ever faced. Coming out of summer and into the new school year, I found myself exhausted physically, mentally, and spiritually. It was a confusing time and I eventually got to a point where I had to face the reality that I was depressed. I was in a state of extreme isolation, avoiding every event and responsibility I possibly could. It got so bad that I even avoided talking to people. Very few people knew. I felt alone. The enemy had such a hold on my life.”

“When the week of training camp came around, no part of me wanted to participate. I wanted to stay home and be alone, continuing my pattern of isolation. Thankfully, I had no choice. So, I sucked it up, packed up, and went. That first day of training camp was actually one of the hardest days of my life. The moment when everything broke down was during the cha-cha slide.  While everyone was laughing and dancing, I couldn’t even find the ability to fake a smile the way I had been for the past few months. I stood up and inched along to the song, hoping no one would notice what was going on inside. I eventually had to leave the group, and I broke down. I called my dad and I remember saying, ‘Dad I can’t even smile. I’m honestly forgetting how to talk to people at all.’ I cried and told him that I needed to leave. I felt I needed to be alone. I felt I didn’t have the strength. I felt it was doing more harm than good for me to be there. I now know these were all lies from the enemy.

“After making the decision to leave, I reached out to Stephanie and Ahmed (SEU Missions director and coordinator) to talk about it, and they listened to the Holy Spirit and told me to give it at least the rest of the night before I made my final decision. I somewhat reluctantly agreed. They prayed for me as I cried underneath all of the weight I felt. After the prayer, we walked into the main room to join everyone for the nightly service. Someone was sharing a personal testimony who, almost verbatim, spoke the same words that were just prayed over me right outside. God told me, “I see you. I hear you. I am with you.” 

“That night, I was scheduled to play keys for the worship portion of the service. I felt comforted in this because it allowed me to focus on something other than what I was going through. However, God wouldn’t let me ignore it any longer. About halfway through the service, four of my closest friends walked up on the stage and asked to pray for me. Despite being my closest friends, they had no idea what was going on other than what they could see on the outside. I didn’t share any of it with them previously. And yet, they prayed over me as if they knew every thought going on in my head. This is how I know for certain that the Lord was speaking directly to me through them. He reminded me again that He is with me. He told me I am His beloved son. He told me He is not a God of depression, He is a God of supernatural joy and peace. I sobbed under my breath as my friends prayed life over me. I could feel life returning to my soul. It truly felt as if I was dead and was being raised back to life.”

“The final two days of training camp, I felt joy that I hadn’t felt in months. I was able to talk, laugh, smile, dance, and sing all without having to fake a second of it. I was able to baptize some of my friends, and God was speaking to me the entire time, reaffirming the call of ministry He has on my life, telling me I am not tainted, I am clean. I am not judged, I am loved. I am not finished, I am just getting started. 

“God used the moments and the people at training camp to completely change my life and alter the direction I was headed. Because of those few days of getting away from the routine of life, I was able to just sit in a place where God could do His work and I couldn’t run away. It is something I will never ever forget, and I praise Him for what He’s done every single day.”

Thank you Caleb for sharing your story and for testifying of His love and care towards His children. 

Embracing the Mission

Cassie is a second-time GeoLeader, and after leading the Silk Road trip, she felt called to lead another trip— this time to Egypt. Training camp for Cassie is an opportunity to seek God and connect with others passionate about missions in an intimate way. Training camp is my absolute favorite week of the year. It’s like a summer camp mixed with laughs, memories, and most importantly the presence of God. The Lord solidified so much for me at camp. At night, the chapel is filled with the praises of His people and when you are in a room with people who are hungry for a move of God, a breakthrough is bound to happen. I remember looking around the room and thinking: who are these people? My friends are also messengers of the Gospel all over the world.” 

The Power of Community 

JC is a GeoLeader leading to Japan this year, who was impacted not only by the practical knowledge gained but also by the people who came to speak. “As a senior, it was a bittersweet week. Training camp is always a peaceful time, where you can meet with God and new people who have a burning passion for missions every year. Hearing other people outside of missions, like student body president, Maddie Krills, speak helped me realize that having others speak about leadership and team building is extremely beneficial to missionary students. Training camp has a family-first feel and a community-driven vision for spreading the gospel around the world.”

Inspiring Leadership

It wouldn’t be fair to talk about training camp without highlighting the two amazing leaders behind the planning and execution of this year’s training camp: Claire Phypers and Daniel Sipes. Claire and Daniel, who recently graduated from SEU with their undergraduate degrees this past fall, were student leaders on the missions team who were entrusted with having complete control of the planning and scheduling of camp to ensure the best experience for all involved. 

They assumed the role of “camp counselors” and served as examples of inspiration and dedication, infusing the camp with a contagious energy that fueled our collective sense of purpose. Their care and thoughtfulness permeated every aspect of the camp, from the daily schedules to the late-night discussions around the campfire. It’s the extra mile they went to ensure that each participant felt seen, heard, and equipped for the journey ahead that distinguishes their leadership.

When asked what training camp meant to them individually, Claire shared, “This year was truly one of the highlights of my college career. Never have I felt more empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead and more dependent on Him in all things. Being in a room full of people who are on fire for the Kingdom and on their knees for the Nations is beyond refreshing and pushed me closer to the Lord in ways I didn’t even expect. I think one of the biggest blessings of being a “camp counselor” was seeing the GeoLeaders intercede for one another and build up a culture of encouragement no matter what we were doing. Every night of planning, every spreadsheet, every goofy skit — it was all worth it. Training camp made people feel like they belong, and it was an absolute honor to be a part of welcoming GeoLeaders into the SEU Missions family.” 

Daniel said, “Training camp was so incredible this year. I have never been more stretched as a leader to the extent that I was stretched during training camp. God taught me so much about delegation, being adaptable, and keeping Him the focus of my work. It was so amazing to see the Holy Spirit in moments we’d been planning for months, and equally incredible to see how the Holy Spirit moved in moments we had no hand in planning. I cherish all the conversations, times of prayer, “aha!” moments during teachings, and hangout time that I got to experience and observe. The Lord’s hand was evident over so many smiling faces in moments like these.” 

Claire and Daniel, thank you for your leadership — we are all better leaders because of it. 

Going Out into All the World

There is so much more that can be said about this experience, and so many other stories that can be shared. And I can confidently say that I resonate deeply with them all. Through it all, one thing is abundantly clear: the impact of Training Camp goes far beyond the confines of the week itself. It’s a launchpad that propels us into a world hungry for hope and healing. Each story, every shared moment, the meticulous planning and care for detail, and the heart behind it all form the foundation upon which our missions rest. These moments are the building blocks for a movement that transcends borders and cultural divides. 

As our trips prepare to go out through the spring and summer, may the stories we share from the field be a testament to the profound impact of this collective experience. Together, as a generation rising to be the hands and feet of Jesus to every nation, tribe, and tongue, we continue the story God is writing all over the world—believing in redemption, spreading hope, and being a living testament to the transformative power of love.

And may we never forget that the vision is Jesus, and always will be. 

Written by Mia Golding & David Jarrett, Student Writers and GeoLeaders

Edited by Emma Stern, Student Writer and Assistant Team Leader 

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About SEU Missions

Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff travel the globe each year through SEU Missions. Each student-led mission trip has a specific purpose with one overall goal — to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.

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