Emily McCormick had simple expectations about her freshman year Spring Break: she wanted "to be with God and friends," she said. Well, she got what she was hoping for, plus a whole lot more!
McCormick was one of 19 students and five faculty and staff members who departed from the Reinhardt College campus at 4 a.m. on Friday, March 2, headed for the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport to board a plane that would carry them more than 1900 miles away from home.
Yes, it was Spring Break week, and these men and women were traveling to Maracay, Venezuela as participants in Reinhardt College's 2001 Spring Break Mission Trip to the Evangelical Seminary.
Their assignments were to scrape and paint various buildings, their minds were focused on serving God and others and, though they did not yet know it, their hearts were about to be filled with memories that they will hold forever. McCormick, daughter of Hank and Bonnie McCormick of Cumming, Ga., views the mission trip as a rare opportunity in life in which she was fortunate enough to participate.
Though she had never been on a mission trip before, McCormick said she does love to travel, and all the details of this trip "just fell into place -- like it was exactly what God had planned."
"I was so excited because it gave me the opportunity to serve God, travel, be with friends and do something meaningful for others, she said.
McCormick said she and other members of the group felt well prepared mentally and physically for the trip, but it was an emotional factor she had not anticipated.
"There was a language barrier, but I never felt like we couldn't communicate," she said. "The love of God transcends all. We developed our own language: Spanglish! Now that we're back, though, I feel as though I left a part of myself in Venezuela...we became very close to the people we worked with there."
Reflecting on her time and experiences, McCormick said, "it put things in my life in perspective. The priorities of those people were so different from ours here in America. I would advise anyone who gets an opportunity such as this to be open to the idea."
Reid Brewer of Rome, Ga., son of Mark and Lisa Brewer and the late Linda Brewer a junior majoring in middle grades education, has now participated in two international Spring Break Mission Trips and, therefore, has the unique capability of being able to compare and contrast two contextually similar experiences that took place in different settings: Honduras and Venezuela.
"The two major differences I noticed were that Venezuela's culture was much more urbanized, and the food was more Americanized," he said. "Maracay was a town similar in size to Macon, Ga., and the town we visited in Honduras was a rural community with very few residents. And while we ate a lot of corn and beans in Honduras, Venezuela offered a lot of fried foods.
Brewer agreed with McCormick that Venezuelan cultural priorities appeared to be quite different than those in America, and said he feels international mission trips provide an excellent opportunity for both hosts and guests; to see each other as individuals rather than just "nationalities".
"This is when ministry really happens -- when the line between host and guest blurs," The Rev. Dr. Ted Staton, college chaplain, said. "And it is then that we can learn one of the most valuable lessons in life -- that even though people belong to different cultures, countries, religions and/or races, one simple fact holds true: we are more the same than different."
Dr. Aquiles Martinez, assistant professor of religion and a native of Venezuela, said the return to his homeland with a group of first-time visitors reminded him what a valuable experience traveling and living in a foreign country can be.
"It is one thing to read about other cultures, but something different to live them and learn directly from them. The more we know and experience in our life journeys, the more we grow as human beings and the closer we become to the Lord," he said.
What advice are students, faculty and staff able to offer others who may be considering participating in a Mission Trip? I believe it was best expressed by McCormick: "Sometimes the most profound memory of your life begins as an opportunity you hadn't been looking for."
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