In Their Own Words

September 2, 2008

Over 160 Baylor students went out this spring and summer on University-sponsored mission trips. Teams from departments such as communications studies and religion and schools such as social work and engineering and computer science shared the skills they learned in the classroom, and the faith that motivates them, with men, women and children in countries as far flung as Ghana and the Czech Republic.

Students also traveled to work with the deaf in Honduras and to meet with survivors of war-torn Rwanda. In the following pages, Baylor students describe in their own words the impact of those experiences on their walk of faith and on their desire to utilize their education to serve others.

Today we began camp! This is one of the biggest highlights of the year for some of these people so it is truly a privilege to be here. I get to take care of a little girl by the name of Angie. Angie is a very strong-willed child who doesn't have any language at all, so the communication with her has been challenging. At one point today, I looked over and Angie was running out of the gates of camp and into the busy street. Of course, I couldn't call her by name because she's deaf, so I had to run after her as fast as humanly possible before she could get to the street. Once I got her, she wouldn't agree to come back in the gate; she can also be very stubborn. It reminded me of how I am so many times with God. He calls me by name and runs after me when I'm running in the wrong direction. Because I'm stubborn, I still won't trust him completely until I realize that my way is wrong and God's path is best. As much as I think I know, I'm constantly reminded that God knows 100 times better than me. 
Bethany Fowler, senior, communication sciences and disorders/speech pathology major
Trip: Honduras, Deaf Ed team

My most memorable mental snapshot is definitely from the AIDS hospital: the first girl we saw laying there in the corner of the room, all alone. She was sleeping on a paper-thin mattress, yet did not even make a dent in it. She had only one thin blanket and an IV hooked into her. It was too painful to look at; embarrassingly, I remember not being able to look her in the eyes because it was so hard. She looked so hopeless and miserable. What broke my heart the most was finding out later that she was only 13 years old and an orphan. I will remember that image for the rest of my life.
Abby Taylor, senior, early childhood 
education major 
Trip: Rwanda, Youth Sports team

Paul Farmer started a hospital in a remote area three hours outside of Kigali. ... This hospital is out in a remote area where there were little to no medical services. It is both strikingly beautiful and peaceful. At Farmer's hospital, they provide teaching about patients' illnesses and diseases, issue medicine, and offer counseling in both the inpatient and outpatient facilities. I walked down the hills surrounding the grounds of this remarkable facility and knew this is what a hospital should be. It was respectable and valued its patients. It was not like the horror stories I've heard about medical facilities in developing countries. ... [T]he most wonderful aspect of this hospital is that out of 210 employees, only five are from the West. This outstanding hospital was run by indigenous people, the majority of whom were once patients themselves. Seeing this hospital rekindled my desire to pursue a route in social work. 
Morgan Caruthers, senior, religion major 
Trip: Rwanda, Religion team

We left the kitchen and heard singing in the distance--it was coming from the classrooms. We walked towards the room to find a classroom of boys clapping and singing. We pressed our way in, so that we could stand among them. My heart nearly burst with the truest joy that I have ever felt. I am surprised that I could stand as I was so overcome. Words cannot capture it. They clapped and sang in Kinyarwanda (the native language) and we clapped and danced. Then they began to sing "Jesus Loves Me" in English. My eyes filled with tears, and the joy streamed out and covered my face. I didn't know whether to clap or stand or dance or just kneel. The energy in the room was tangible, almost suffocating. It was akin to the spiritual high that I used to feel on the last night of church camp, except this time I was in a concrete schoolhouse on the hills of Rwanda surrounded by singing African street children. Before we left I was told that heaven sounds like African Children singing... today I found that it was true.

Courtney Drew, master of divinity/master of social work candidate
Trip: Rwanda, Social Work team

So, today was a bit harder. We went into La Mencia, which is an extremely poor village. There was barely any place for us to set up, and there were pigs roaming around everywhere. But, of course, we made it work! We started off well, but soon things got really chaotic and we realized we forgot all of the language materials for everything. ... I almost started crying when I realized we forgot to pack it. I was so mad at myself and frustrated... but before I even realized it, Amanda began signing the kangaroo language story (even though we didn't have the book with the pictures) and Christy began acting it out even though she didn't have props! I really believe that the deaf learned more language on Thursday than any of our other villages because we had to improvise and think of new games to play with them. The deaf learned so much on this day. It amazed me. ... In the midst of being frustrated, I realized that God didn't need our language activity to accomplish what He had planned and in store for the people in La Mencia... He is so in control that He could do everything perfectly on His own without me. But, how incredibly lucky am I that the God of the universe has given me this opportunity to serve Him and love on these Honduran deaf people? To Him be the glory ALWAYS! 
Bethany Fowler, senior, communication sciences and disorders/speech pathology major
Trip: Honduras, Deaf Ed team

Right across the border from Tanzania is a small village that would go unnoticed by the usual tourist except for an event that occurred there during the 1994 genocide. The six-hour drive was filled with storytelling, occasional sing-along to a cappella versions of "Hey, Jude" or any song from "White Christmas." There was waving that occurred to the school children who yelled gleefully the Kinyarwandan word for white person whenever they caught a glimpse of our bus. ...
The closer we got to our destination, the quieter we became, until finally we glimpsed the red brick Catholic church and a large sign saying, "Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial Site." Underneath was a simple statement, "In April 1994, 26,000 people were killed at this place."
Silence. Complete and utter silence. ... 26,000 people killed. At this one location. ... That number is larger than my hometown's population. I tried to imagine the residents of my hometown strewn across the steps of the church, inside the church on its altar, the pews. ...
There is an image of God reaching down from heaven on one of the walls. The majority of the picture is missing, all you can see is God's hands and his ever-flowing white beard, and I have to ask, "Where were you God? Did you cry and scream as they cried and screamed?" ...
Then you notice the pile of shoes and clothes on your right. These shoes belong to the victims. To those 26,000 who died in that one event. Those 26,000 who were killed by their neighbors. I see children's shoes, mother's shoes, grandfather's shoes--shoes I would have worn. That my family might have worn. ... 
When you go around the corner past the shoes and the clothes, a long line of tables greets your eyes. They look like movie props from perhaps a famous pirate movie. Or even Halloween decorations. But instead, they are the remains of those who died.

And at first I only see skulls. I only see bones. I see the legs, the arms, the pelvis. Then I think of the little children I had played with the day before. I think of the women with their babies strapped to their back who wave cheerfully as we drive by. The old woman who shook my hand in greeting as we stopped to ask directions. And now, they have faces, those bones. And I see where they're cracked in certain areas. A face smashed in on one side, half a jaw hanging off. And I can imagine it. But I can't cry. ...
Complete and utter silence. We file back into the van. Some are crying, others in shock. The ride back takes three hours. We are silent for at least two of these hours--almost as if we are having our own memorial service in our little bus.
Brianna McClane, junior, history/journalism/public relations major
Trip: Rwanda, General Ministry team

A question was asked of our group the other night, "What do we do now?" ... I have felt privileged to sit at the feet of the Rwandese and learn about forgiveness and living with those who have wronged me. The Rwandese are the ones with the power. We are responsible to listen. Listen to their stories, to their hearts, to their experiences. The Rwandese gifted us with the fragile gift of their stories, and we are now responsible carriers. Their stories are now a part of our stories. Rwanda is now a part of each of us. We are responsible for never letting this part of ourselves die. Our power is in our ability to cultivate this story within ourselves. To share our story with people we meet. Our power is in this telling of the stories. Telling not only our friends and families, but our senators and representatives, people with the ability to change policies and foreign aid. This is power because it is no longer the story of just the Rwandese people, but it is our story, it is now the story of the American people.
Heather Deal, master of divinity/master of 
social work candidate
Trip: Rwanda, Social Work team

I've really come to realize that God is showing me my calling through this trip. I see now that I am meant to be in the medical field. The pre-med classes had really discouraged me, but this trip has given me a new look at it all. I may end up being a physician's assistant instead of a doctor, but health care is my place in this world for sure.
Amber Flack, sophomore, pre-business/pre-med major
Trip: Honduras, Deaf Ed team

I love driving through the Rwandan countryside--the sights, the smells, the emotions evoked. I wish my eyes were cameras to capture the things I see, but even this would not create a true picture--the smells and sounds and sensations and tastes cannot be captured in photograph or explained in words. In order to have the full experience you must be here, in the van, feeling the wind and smelling the mix of earth, fire, cows, fertile vegetation, and sometimes rain. I love the history of things and buildings and places. I see the hills and the land and the dwellings and wonder what they have seen or felt. Could they feel the suffering of the people there? What stories do they hold? ... When the people look up from their work with their intense, questioning eyes and pause for a moment from their lives to watch us pass, what do they think? What have they seen? No matter what I see or hear about Rwanda's history, I can never fully understand. I wish I could just lie amongst the vegetation for awhile and try to soak up what the land has to tell--the tales it holds.
Laura Wilgus, senior, social work major
Trip: Rwanda, Social Work team

In many ways, I feel I could not be more of a stranger in Rwanda. With my light complexion, American citizenship and English language, I in no way look or sound like the nationals of this country. However, I have been struck by the hospitality of the people here. When I think about meeting a Rwandese for the first time, I do not feel that I am a stranger. Instead, I feel that I am a sister and that I am loved. In their embraces and smiles, I find true Christian hospitality, which transcends cultural and linguistic differences. In the humility of their kindness towards me, my mind begins to wonder. What if you came to the United States and the tables were turned? Would you find the same welcoming embraces, the same hospitality, the same love? My hope is yes, but my experience tells me otherwise. As I pack my suitcase for my trip home, I will tuck this lesson in hospitality in between my souvenirs and my dirty laundry, in hopes of welcoming others as I have been so welcomed here. 
Jennifer Scarborough, Master of Divinity/Master of Social Work candidate
Trip: Rwanda, Social Work team

I cannot even believe that the trip to Honduras that I have been anticipating for months is already over, but what I have in place of that anticipation is now joy, satisfaction and many indelible memories. My trip to Honduras with Signs of Love was the most incredible experience of my life and will continue to hold a huge place in my heart. We were able to travel into eight rural villages and reach even more people at our three-day camp in La Ceiba. We offered language programs, recreation and games, Bible stories, arts and crafts, and access to better hygiene, diet and health care than what many of these people were used to having. But what I saw from these people was love, laughter and pure joy from our presence there in Honduras. Through what we saw as the simplest activities, we also saw more happiness than we could have ever imagined. The greatest gift that we could give these people was not language or fun times, but to let them know that they are worthy of love and that God loves and cares for them more than they will ever know. My perspective on my attitude and the way I am living my life has dramatically changed, and it was the biggest privilege to be able to serve others and hope that I am sharing the love of God with them. As a result of this trip I have learned how to love unconditionally and to find joy in every opportunity that God blesses me with, even when life seems tough.
Lauren Sherman,
senior, communication sciences and disorders/speech pathology major
Trip: Honduras, Deaf Ed team