When asked to describe my experience on this trip by friends and family, I immediately say that it was equally the most intense, yet rewarding, mission trip I’ve been on so far.
This trip was unique and unusual in that it was something that SEU Missions had never done before. The idea was that a group of us would travel in a van to multiple states throughout the U.S. to do various kinds of ministry. I think back to last summer, when my co-leads, Riley and Brandon, and I first found out that we would be leading this trip. We were ecstatic, but knew that planning it would not be easy, and there would be lots of things to figure out such as finding ministry partners, securing places to stay while traveling, securing a van (which proved to be difficult), and more.
When it came to assembling a team and support raising for funds and supplies, people had lots of questions about the trip that we didn’t know how to answer, because we ourselves were still figuring out the details. But throughout the entire process, as hard as it was at times, we trusted in the Lord and rested in the fact that He had already gone before us, and He knew what the outcomes of this trip would be, even if we didn’t. And oh, did He surprise us!
Here are some stories from our month on the road, and how God moved in amazing and powerful ways.
A Return to Indiana, but first…Tennessee!
Huntington, Indiana – this small town was the catalyst for my growing passion for domestic missions, and it was my time here that inspired me to take the next step to leading a trip of my own. For those of you who don’t know, last summer Riley and I had the opportunity to join an all girls team for a 10 day mission trip to Huntington. (I wrote a blog about that experience which you can read about here.) We both felt so strongly about returning there with a team and making it our first stop.
Before we could get there, we had to make a quick pit stop in Tennessee. Our drive up from Florida to Indiana would have been almost an 18 hour drive, and for the sake of our team’s sanity, we knew we had to break it up and find somewhere to stay overnight before continuing our drive the next morning. A blessing came in the form of the Danskin family. Heidi and Matthew Danskin, close friends of our SEU Missions director, Steph Bernotas, were so gracious and kind and opened up their home to our team. When we arrived that night, they had a dinner ready for us and were so attentive to our needs. We had breakfast with them and their three boys the next morning, and were sad that we couldn’t stay longer and spend more time with them. It was people like them who helped the spread of the Gospel during the days of the early Church by opening up their homes to missionaries in need. Their hospitality followed in that tradition and meant the world to us, as we got to experience the Lord’s care and provision in a new way.
The Awakening Church + Hope Week
Our experience this year was much like last year, and in many ways even better. Walking into The Awakening Church on that first Sunday felt like being welcomed back home. We once again partnered with them in their second annual Hope Week, which is a week dedicated to serving and pouring into the community of Huntington. This includes the discipleship of the youth and young adults by exposing them to the joy of hometown missions, the importance of the local church, and the church’s role in the community. Our team stayed on Huntington University’s campus with the youth and young adults of the church for the week. Reuniting with them was so special because I got to see how much they had grown from the previous year. Each morning we would join together for a time of prayer and worship before getting into our lessons for the day.
“One of the most impactful experiences for me was when spontaneous worship broke out
during one of the morning sessions of Hope Week,” shared Rachel, a team member and friend.
“As our team was leading worship, I was able to see the Holy Spirit tangibly move right in front of my eyes. I saw His gentleness as the youth and young adults entered into the presence of God. I saw a reflection of Jesus caring for His children as the adult leaders and staff prayed over, comforted, and held the students. It was an emotional moment for me to receive the truth of how tenderly and kindly Jesus loves us. I was also reminded how much better and higher God’s plans and will are than ours. He is better than we could ever imagine, and desires us to experience His goodness in full!”
Although a large part of our ministry in Huntington included street evangelism and participating in service projects, it felt like the Lord was calling us to lean into the ministry of being present with the youth and young adults. Our team noticed that the youth and young adults were opening up to us in unexpected ways, and trusted us to give them godly counsel and wisdom.
Kara, another team member and one of my closest friends, shared one of her favorite moments.
“In an action-packed week spent with the youth, Riley and I had the opportunity to build a relationship with one of the high school girls. One evening, we began a conversation with her and she started to share her heart and some of the challenging situations she was facing at the time. The atmosphere around us was a little chaotic, so I grabbed the van keys and the three of us moved our conversation to the van. We were able to pray over her and her situation. It was cool to see the Lord use our van of all places. The place where our team had spent endless hours just days before — getting to know one another and praying over the places we would go — was transformed by Him into a safe space for someone else.”
It was a privilege and an honor to be present with the youth and young adults in this way. Through our time together, we saw the Lord not only minister to their hearts, but to our hearts as well.
On my first trip to Indiana, I met a man named Ralph while doing street evangelism (his story is discussed in my first blog). Ralph has one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever heard (which includes 45 years in prison and a cancer diagnosis), and it was through a simple conversation and listening to him that we were able to offer him the love and peace that comes with knowing Jesus. Last year Ralph came to church with us for the first time in years, which was on Father’s Day, and even brought his son with him.
This second time around, I was so excited to get to see Ralph again. I was sad to find out from our contacts that Ralph, after going to church for a few months, had stopped attending and was not in communication with anyone. I made it my goal to pray that the Lord would allow us to cross paths again before we left for our next stop. The Lord answered my prayer and one day while downtown, I saw Ralph sitting at a street corner and could not contain my joy and excitement. I walked up to him with my friend Bri and asked him if he remembered me. With a smile, said that he did.
As we talked, he opened up about some things he was going through and I continually made it a point to remind Him that Jesus is with him in the midst of his hardship and that he has a community of people backing him and waiting to welcome him back with open arms. He continued to smile but said he had a lot going on and was unsure if he could attend church again soon. I asked to pray for him before I left, which he accepted, and we even took a picture together.
Over the next few days, I would continue to run into Ralph. He was always happy and willing to speak with me for a couple of minutes before we both went about our days. Though Ralph is not currently attending church, I have faith that like the prodigal, he will one day return home to the arms of Jesus. God isn’t done with him, and there is still more to his story.
City Ministry in Philadelphia
When our time in Indiana came to an end, we loaded up our van and headed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where we would spend the next three days partnering with our contacts, Gabe and Sarah Brazle, who are husband and wife as well as mission catalysts for the organization Global City Missions Initiative (GCMI). Though Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love, there is much division and spiritual need.
We started each day at Gabe and Sarah’s house for coffee and devotional time. We would then go over the day’s agenda and preparations. The first day, we went to the store and bought a few gallon tubs of water ice (which I can best compare to a sorbet). We then set up a table at a nearby park and handed out the free water ice to children and families. It was heartwarming to see their confusion at why we were handing out free water ice on a hot summer day, and then their smiles as we told them that we were Christians and our desire was to serve them and their community. We even got to make balloon animals and do facepaint for the kids, who were so sweet and told us that they loved their face paint (no matter how bad of a job we did — we were by no means artists!). At one point, half of our group went around and started picking up trash around the park so that the kids would have a cleaner area to play in. Some parents noticed what we were doing and came over to tell us how grateful they were, and even asked for their own trash bags to help us clean up.
After a few hours, and once we ran out of water ice, we packed up and headed back to the house for dinner and a time of reflection on the day. It was during reflection time that we got to spend more time with Gabe, Sarah, as well as their three children, and hear their story and their hearts for the people of Philly.
The next day, we went into downtown Philly and did spiritual surveys. We split into two groups and walked into stores and shops, initiating conversations with people about faith. The idea of walking up to random people and talking to them about faith was scary at first, but once we started, we had so many great conversations with people and got to hear their stories and where life has brought them.
Riley shared one of her favorite moments from a conversation we got to have that day.
“One of my favorite stories from the trip is a conversation we had with a man named Harry. He was alone on a bench, and eager to have a conversation with our group. He explained that his religion is Messianic Judaism, so we were happy to be able to have fellowship with him and talk about Jesus. We also got to encourage and pray with him as he was recovering from a recent surgery. I loved getting to meet Harry in a place he calls home. Harry was not drawing attention to himself. In fact, it would have been easy to walk past him without noticing he was there. It was precisely that kind of person that Jesus stopped to sit with.”
Later that day, we set up a prayer tent near an intersection that was within walking distance from Gabe and Sarah’s house, and made signs that read, “We want to listen, we want to pray.” We also had a cooler of water bottles to give out to anyone who needed it. It was here that we encountered people from all walks of life and with some of the most heartbreaking stories.
Dayanara, team member and friend, shared that as the prayer tent in Frankford was being set up, a man covered in tattoos walked up to our group.
“At first glance, he appeared to be confused and had no clue why we were there or what we were planning to do. He asked, ‘Do any of you know a rehab center I can go to?’ Gabe immediately came over to speak with him and started to look up nearby rehab centers in the area.”
“While we waited, the man (whose name we later found out was Ron) helped us finish setting up our tent and later sat with us. He shared with us that he had just gotten out of the hospital and wanted to check into rehab to get free from his addiction. Sadly, this was a common theme we witnessed in Philly. We were able to pray for Ron before Gabe took him to a rehab center.”
“This opened my eyes to the fact that so many people are facing addictions of all kinds and just want to be seen, loved, and cared for. If God did not place us in that specific spot that day, I am not sure that Ron would have found someone to take him to a rehab center. I strongly believe that God uses us as a lighthouse and directed Ron to us so that he could receive hope and work toward freedom.”
We sat with many people like Ron that day and were reminded of the character of Jesus, and the love He has for all people.
If I were to share all of the stories from our short time in Philly, I’m sure it would fill pages and pages. This city is a beautiful conglomerate of people of all backgrounds and cultures that I am so grateful to have experienced in the way I did. We were not only welcomed graciously and lovingly by the Brazle family, but by the owners of Bengali and Middle Eastern restaurants, who invited us in and served us with the utmost care and hospitality. We were welcomed by the Muslim population, who were always so kind and willing to speak with us about our respective faiths, and even sent us on our way with water and snacks. It was a blessing to meet each person who calls Philly home — they never turned us away and allowed us glimpses into their lives.
Farm Living – Like a Mustard Seed Farm
After having breakfast with the Brazle family and saying our goodbyes, we started a one-hour drive to Perkasie, Pennsylvania, where we would spend the next three days with the Jones family on their farm. Kristin and Kevin Jones, who are long-time friends of our missions director, started Like a Mustard Seed Farm in 2020. They are passionate about regenerative farming and pasture-raising their own livestock, as well as growing their own vegetables. Their farm is their ministry, so they also host many events, such as story times for the kids of their community, and they give back to their community in so many ways through their produce, farm knowledge, and hospitality.
When we arrived, we were immediately greeted with lunch and smiles. Kristin and Kevin have three young children, and they were so excited for our arrival. As we ate lunch with them, we got to know more about the farm and their heart and vision behind it. Their biggest prayer is that the Lord would use their farm for His glory.
Over the next few days, we spent time helping them with an array of farm chores, including pruning tomatoes, weeding, replanting trees, collecting eggs, removing a fallen tree to clear the path in the woods behind their house, and much more. Throughout all of this, Kristin and Kevin drew our attention to what agriculture and nature reveals about God and Scripture, as there are many references to both through the Bible. Our time at the farm was definitely a change of pace from Indiana and Philly. However, we were grateful to be able to slow down and learn more about the Lord. He revealed the depths of His character through the work of our hands.
One morning, Kristin and Kevin gave us an hour to be in solitude with the Lord. I found a bench near the woods and as I sat down and started to read my Bible, I noticed a fawn running toward me! I held my breath and remained very still, desperately trying not to scare it away. It stopped when it saw me, and then ran right in front of me and back into the woods. That moment left me in awe and I couldn’t believe that I had witnessed it. I was immediately reminded of Psalm 42:1 which says, “as the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” That morning is something I’ll never forget.
Some more of my favorite moments on the farm happened at the dinner table. Every night, Kristin and Kevin would ask us what they called the “question of the day,” and we would go around the table and answer. These questions were sometimes fun, and other times serious and deep. We desired to serve and uplift the Jones family, and they reciprocated that by pouring into us and doing the same. They created a warm and inviting atmosphere and allowed each of us the opportunity to be as open and vulnerable as we wanted to be. They cared for each of us individually, and in that, I saw and felt the Lord’s love and care as well. Just as a gardener tends to each plant and flower individually, knowing exactly what they need, so the Lord tends to each of us and provides for all of our needs.
The last day on the farm was bittersweet. We had all learned so much about ourselves, each other, and God. We built such strong relationships with the Jones family and it was hard to leave them. Thank you, Kristin and Kevin (and your littles ones!) for your love and hospitality, for treating us like family, and for feeding us both physically and spiritually.
And thank you to Kara and Nate King, who opened up their home and hosted our team for those three days when we were in need of a place to sleep. We appreciate you all so much!
Last But Not Least, Connecticut!
Our final stop on the road trip was a town called Newington, Connecticut, where we partnered with LifeWay Church. SEU Missions sent a team to LifeWay about two years ago, and they were excited to have another team come back. When we arrived at the church, our contacts, Charity and Pastor Christine, came out to greet us and had dinner ready for us (they knew we would be hungry after such a long drive). They showed us around the church and instantly made us feel at home.
The next morning, which was a Sunday, we got up early and prepared to meet the church staff and congregants. We helped serve with the kids ministry, the greeting team, and the prayer team. At the end of the two services, we talked with Pastor Steve and went over our schedule for the week. Most of what we did throughout the week was practical service, such as cleaning out the church storage unit (which they jokingly call Area 51), preparing invites for the new sermon series, and putting together Kids Packs for the children’s ministry. We also filmed worship videos for the kids and shared our testimonies with the youth. We spent a lot of time with Charity, the administrative lead, who (like her name) was very generous and kind. She oversaw all of the projects and was there to help us with anything we needed.
Something that surprised our team was how eager some of the church congregants were to welcome us into their homes. One such couple, Gary and Kim, hosted us for dinner and let us come to their home every day to use their showers and laundry room since we didn’t have access to showers at the church. Another couple, LeeAnn and David, invited us over for a barbecue and enjoy a break by swimming in their pool. Stacy and Matt were so kind to give us their contact information and offered help if there was anything we needed at any time. It was gestures like this that made us feel so welcomed by the community. We were reminded of what it means to live in loving community with one another as the body of Christ.
Although the work we did here may not sound impactful to some, we learned the importance of the little things. We were constantly reminded by the staff how much it meant to them that we were able to help them with tedious projects that would have taken them a much longer time on their own.
Our eyes were also opened to how hard it can be to do ministry in a place like Connecticut, which is considered to be one of the least-religious states in the U.S. It can take years before a church or ministry will see the fruits of their labor, so our team was grateful that we had the opportunity to uplift and encourage the congregation. We continue to pray that they will keep pushing forward in a place that may not always be receptive or appreciative of their efforts and of the love that they have for their community.
The End of the Road
Those three weeks on the road were unlike anything we could have ever imagined. We encountered surprises at every turn, but the Lord’s hand and guidance were so clear. We made lots of memories, laughed and cried, and met people that have marked our hearts for eternity. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing.
What a privilege it was to have experienced something so special, and to have done it with a team of people who I consider to be some of my closest friends. And how wonderful it is that the Lord continues to reveal the depths of His character and love in marvelous and unexpected ways — no matter where we travel.
By Mia Golding, Student Writer
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.