To the ends of the earth: Mission trip spans the globe
After a year of traveling the globe, New Richmond graduate Linsey Thomas knows that God is at work in the world.
Thomas recently returned from "The World Race," a year-long Christian missions project coordinated by the "Adventures in Missions" organization in Georgia.
The missions organization sends out squads of 50 individuals to experience the world and assist various missionaries with the work they are doing around the globe.
After a seven-day training camp last May, Thomas and her squad members set out on the big adventure but they had no idea where they were going. All they knew was that the group would spend one month in each of 11 countries over the next year.
The squad members could only bring along one backpack filled with clothes, toiletries and belongings.
"You live with just that backpack for an entire year," Thomas said. "You live minimally and you rely on the Lord."
The missions workers could not pack cellphones or other electronic devices, with the exception of laptop computers that allowed them to update their individual travel blogs when they were able to find an Internet connection.
"They didn't want you to be focused on those kinds of things," Thomas explained. "They wanted you to focus on the mission you were assigned to."
Each participant was allowed to spend just $2 a day on food, which was a challenge at times but "very possible" to accomplish in most Third World countries.
Each squad was split into seven different teams and Thomas was the leader for her team of seven other young women. The entire 50-person squad would travel from country to country together, but the teams would then have individual projects they were assigned to once in a given country.
"The work you do is all over the map," Thomas explained. "The goal was to be very flexible, because the plans change all the time."
The squad's first assignment was Ecuador, where Thomas's team painted homes, worked with an inner-city church and conducted a vacation Bible school for kids.
The second month was spent in the jungles of Peru, where her team members sanded church pews, worked with young children and assisted missionaries who were stationed there.
The third month found the group in Bolivia, where Thomas and her team members worked in a hospital and an orphanage. They also worked with street children in the city.
The squad flew across the ocean for its fourth assignment, which was in Albania. The team members assisted Campus Crusade for Christ workers in that country, providing friendship and social gatherings for college students in the city. "It was a major change of pace," Thomas said.
For the fifth month, the missions workers traveled to Romania. They worked with Habitat For Humanity to build group homes for abandoned and orphaned children. They also assisted those caring for the children in whatever ways they could.
Month six found the group on another new continent. Thomas's team worked with an orphanage in South Africa during that time.
Mozambique was the seventh stop for the team members. While there, the group helped build an orphanage, spoke at church events and helped a local church with its ministries.
In the eighth month the group moved to Swaziland, serving food at a "Care Point" where many needy children received food. "The kids go to school and then they go to the care points afterwards, and for many this is the only meal they get for the day," Thomas said. "They may walk miles to get their food, and they're so hungry that they eat it with their hands." Even though the youngsters of Swaziland had little or nothing, Thomas said she was amazed at how joyful and appreciative they were. "You're heart just breaks," she said.
The ninth month's assignment was Thailand, where team members worked with the SHE organization, a group that assists women in the prostitution industry to try and break free from that lifestyle. SHE offers women a place to live, an honest job and schooling or daycare for their children if they agree to leave prostitution. Even with such incentives, Thomas said, many women wouldn't leave the business because it means they would have to take a pay cut. "It was very, very hard," Thomas said of her work in Thailand. "But God definitely protected us."
Next on the group's itinerary was Cambodia, where Thomas and others worked with children and young adults and also participated in evangelism. Some members of her team also spent a fair amount of time in the hospital while in Cambodia, not helping out but because they had contracted dengue fever. "That was the hottest month ever," Thomas reported.
The final stop for the team was Malaysia, where they worked with a children's home, painted, assisted refugee children and spoke at churches.
Looking back over her globe-trotting year, Thomas said she's thrilled to have been a part of such a challenging experience.
"God changed me in so many ways," she said. "It was the hardest but the best experience of my life. I'm forever changed."
Getting to know and helping those who are less fortunate was a pleasure, Thomas noted, but also seeing how God protects and sustains people in very difficult situations was equally as encouraging.
"I was excited to see the God of the Bible alive and at work today," she said. "There are miracles happening every day. The crippled can walk. The blind can see. God sure shows up if you allow him to."
The 2005 New Richmond graduate was so thrilled with her missions experience that she's signed up to work for "Adventures in Missions" for the next two years. She will help future squads to coordinate missions assignments in various parts of the world. Thomas will also serve as a motivational speaker, meeting up with squads throughout the year to encourage and motivate them to continue their work abroad.