College students gain ministry insight through international missions

Katie Coleman


After several days of outreach efforts in Tekax, Mexico, a team of Southwestern college students assisted in starting a new church plant in the nearby village of Pencuyut. Encouraged by two salvations that took place in the church’s first Sunday morning service, the group was eager to conduct a mini church service in a local park that evening.

However, on the way there, their van broke down along a rural road several miles from the village. “It became very obvious that the devil did not want us in that village,” says Bachelor of Arts student Phillip Ditto. “At that point, we could only rely on the Lord to get us there.”

After finally arriving 45 minutes later than they intended, the team was disappointed to find that, aside from a small group of children, everyone they had invited earlier that day had already left. Determined to make the most of the time they had, the group continued with activities for the children, while others set up sound equipment. As they played music, several men emerged from nearby houses, though they maintained their distance.

Not waiting for them to come closer, Ditto and Mexico missionary Shelby Boyd decided to approach them. After inviting them to an impromptu church service, Ditto preached a sermon he had prepared. “As I shared the Gospel,” he says, “I noticed how attentive each man was. They were hanging on to each word spoken.”

After concluding his Gospel presentation, Ditto gave an invitation to accept Christ. Without hesitation, all 13 men who had assembled raised their hands, indicating their readiness to give their lives to Christ.

“I could see the truth of the Gospel resonate with these guys. Many of them were getting teary-eyed as we were talking,” Ditto says. “The Holy Spirit could be felt right there amongst us. It was something I had never experienced in my life.”

This experience was a highlight of the College at Southwestern’s fifth annual Mexico mission trip. The team of 17 students ministered to the Mayan people of the Yucatán Peninsula, Jan. 6-13. Partnering with missionaries Shelby and Pat Boyd, students led local believers in discipleship training and assisted in planting a new church in Pencuyut.

“We had the benefit of going back to work with the same missionaries who have served there for more than 20 years,” says Senior Professor of Christian Ethics Bill Goff, who served as one of the trip’s faculty leaders. “It was a great opportunity for the students to serve with missionaries who are loved by the whole area and have built many long-term relationships.”

This was the first international mission trip for many of the college students, but it was Master of Arts student Nikole Monk’s third year to go to Tekax. Monk, who hopes to serve long-term in Mexico after graduating from Southwestern, says the trip provides a great opportunity for her to do ministry in a Latin American country and develop language skills.

“I love returning each year because it is a place that is striving to know the Lord, but there are also many surrounding villages and cities that have not been reached yet,” Monk says. “There is a lot of great work being done now, but there is still a lot to do to spread the Gospel.”

Although most students spent the evenings ministering in Pencuyut, part of the team remained in Tekax to assist Goff’s discipleship training sessions by caring for the children of the families. On Saturday evening, Bachelor of Science student Stefanie Simmons had a unique opportunity to teach a group of women from a research paper she had written about the role of women in the church and family.

“I never thought God would use this paper to minister to women in Tekax, and I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be teaching it,” Simmons says. “Especially as a pastor’s wife, I know how, as women, we want to do everything, but we can’t. I am glad I got to share my experience with these women.”

Associate Professor of English Sarah Spring, the trip’s second faculty leader, says that even though not all the students plan to do long-term missions, this trip provided opportunities for everyone to use their unique spiritual gifts for ministry. “It was amazing to see where our students plugged in. Everybody found their calling or what their future ministry might be, whether that be church planting, evangelism, or working with children,” Spring says. “No matter what your ministry ends up being, this trip is an invaluable experience.”