WMU collegians at Olympics build cross-cultural friendships
ATHENS (BP)--Short sentences, broken English, speaking louder and gestures are all methods for attempting to communicate cross-culturally. It is, however, possible to miss the obvious amid the various contortions.
A team of college students sponsored by Woman’s Missionary Union could tell by the expression on the official’s face outside the Olympic softball venue in Athens that they weren't communicating. They missed the obvious: He too was an American, working security for the U.S. women's softball team.
"They had just finished playing and we were trying to get autographs," said Melody Maxwell, a WMU student ministry associate and the team's co-leader, "and we were trying to ask him if he could help us out. He finally told us in plain English that he could. We'd been trying so hard to communicate with so many people of different nationalities throughout the week we didn't realize the guy spoke English."
The six collegiate women and their leaders did more than just speak to people; they built relationships and sowed lots of spiritual seeds in a venture that marked the first time in WMU’s long history for sponsoring an international missions trip specifically for college students.
"At one point early in the week we made a list of all the different people we'd talked to and we came up with 25 to 30 different nationalities," said Kimberly Cole, 20, of Brandon, Miss., and a student at Minnesota State University. "It was awesome because we realized that we were having the chance to touch the whole world with the message of Christ right here in Greece."
The team used ballooning in the park and volleyball on the beach, they went with garbage collectors to pick up trash in a neighborhood and tried other types of creative ministry approaches to engage people in conversation.
Conversations eventually moved to recording contact information that will make its way to either missionaries or national believers for follow-up. One of the most important lessons the six girls learned is that ministry opportunities continue even when not formally planned.
"We wanted them to understand that every meeting with a person is an opportunity to share Christ's love," said Kym Mitchell, design editor and team leader for WMU's student resource team. "Simply engaging people in conversation can lead to opportunities to minister. We wanted them to learn that they can take that home with them and apply that concept right where they are."
That includes shopping. The group returned repeatedly to one specific location and, on each visit, spent time talking to the woman who owned the shop. She wept on the last day when the team stopped in to say goodbye.
"This was an awesome experience," said Christie Ganley, 21, of Bonifay, Fla., and a recent graduate of Mississippi College. Ganley will soon leave for Peru where she'll serve as a Journeyman missionary with the International Mission Board. "You could tell we connected with her. I just have a passion for the peoples of the world, and here at the Olympics they come to you."
Taking collegiate women on international trips is a new approach for WMU and one it will continue.
"We have something for young ladies all the way through high school but then they all move into an adult grouping," Mitchell said. "We decided about a year ago that we wanted to have something that specifically focused on collegiate women, and this trip is the beginning of that vision.
"One of our purposes is to train women of all ages to share the Gospel around the world and at home. We'll continue to do international trips and trips within the United States. It gives them the opportunity to understand ministry from many perspectives."
More information can be found at www.missionsinterchange.com, a website launched by WMU offering collegiate women a place to discover opportunities for missions and ministries on campus, in communities and around the world.