story by Taylor Wheeler • photos submitted
As the 2015-16 school year came to a close, seniors all over the Wiregrass packed their suitcases to head off to exciting senior trip destinations—Cozumel, Cancun, Disney World, South Korea.
South Korea? Not exactly a typical destination for a senior trip, but South Korea was exactly where the Providence Christian School graduating class of 2016 was headed this May on a short-term mission trip. And while it may not be typical, it is incredibly fitting for the Providence seniors. “The school’s vision is ‘Equipping students. Following Christ. Changing the world’,” says Emory Latta, Head of School at Providence and a chaperone for this year’s mission trip. “What better way to do that than to have our senior trip match the vision of the school?”
Plans for the trip began last year, and the senior class of 2016 worked hard all school year to make it a reality. “All Providence seniors are able to participate in the mission trip,” says Emory. In order to finance the trip, seniors were responsible for raising the money themselves. Seniors sold concessions, coffee, shaved ice, popsicles, doughnuts and Chick-fil-a biscuits to fellow students, provided childcare at Wiregrass Church and sponsored their school’s homecoming dance all to raise funds for the trip. They also sent letters to family, friends, church members and local businesses to solicit donations. “It is a truly unifying experience for the class,” says Emory of the responsibility of seniors to make their trip financially possible. “They are working together toward a common goal.”
Providence has established a relatively recent tradition of using their senior trip as a mission experience. The school’s first senior class (the school was founded in 1995) wanted to do something as a group—“a last hoorah,” says Emory. They actually took a cruise, “but when they got off the boat, the consensus was that we wanted to find a way to match the school’s philosophy with the senior trip,” says Emory. After a prayerful few year’s hiatus, a parent suggested a short-term mission trip. The first senior mission trip went to Trinidad, sharing the gospel with children at orphanages. The next year’s destination was Sweden, where students immersed themselves in the culture by staying in locals’ homes and interacting with their Swedish peers. “Students got to see a post-Christian culture,” says Emory, with many of the synagogues and churches standing empty or housing mini-malls or coffee shops.
The next senior trip was to China. “That trip involved less ministry,” says Emory, “but it was good to visit a country that had just opened its doors to visitors and groups like ours.” Then followed two years in England, where seniors participated in the ministries of three churches in the town of Bury St Edmunds and also practiced relational evangelism with British teens at coffee shops, playing guitars and sharing Jesus with them. The three senior classes prior took trips to the Dominican Republic and were led by Dana Gunter, a member of the Providence faculty who before landing in Dothan had been a missionary in the Dominican Republic with her husband.
This year, the class of 2016 and trip director Kevin Belden utilized the services of Mission Differently, an organization that helps churches and youth groups find short term mission trips that help create lasting change not only in the places they visit, but in their own lives as well. Mission Differently gave the Providence seniors several options for a mission trip, “and South Korea seemed to be the one that needed us most,” says Emory. “The doors opened to that choice.” The majority of South Koreans practice Buddhism, but 15-20% of the population are already Christians or favorable to the idea of Christianity. “The country is one of the fastest-growing areas of Christianity in the world,” says Emory. “South Korean churches are very welcoming to groups like ours.”
Providence seniors prepared for the trip by participating in a weekend training session in March to learn the vacation bible school-type material they would be teaching to South Korean children at their mission churches. The training was tailored to help overcome the language barrier, teaching the seniors songs that used hand motions and training them to use visual aids that help share the gospel to children who did not speak English. The ten-day trip led the seniors across the International Date Line (a first for Emory—“I’ve never left on a Wednesday and arrived the Tuesday before.”) and into the cities of Incheon, Seoul and Suncheon, South Korea. The seniors were divided into three teams that ministered to different churches in Suncheon. A typical mission day included working with elementary age students in the morning and tween/youth in the afternoon. There was also time for worship, devotionals and personal time, as well as some cultural sightseeing. The seniors’ home away from home was at a partnering church, where they slept on mats on the floor of the fellowship hall.
Mission trips like the one to South Korea not only benefit the citizens of the mission destinations, but the Providence students themselves. “They get ministered to as they are ministering to others,” says Emory. “They are going to places where children may not have shoes, but yet there’s joy,” Emory says. “That makes a big impact on the students.” A common refrain from students returning is that they got more out of it than they gave, and that may be more true than they realize. “It creates confidence and humility and fearlessness that they can take with them to college and their career that you can’t get any other way,” says Emory. In addition, Emory believes that overcoming all the hurdles of taking a big trip like this—planning, fundraising, leaving home for a unfamiliar, foreign place—will help Providence students respond with courage if God wills them to travel for His purpose. “It opens doors in the hearts of these students to what God may call them to do,” says Emory. “The world is bigger than just here.”