By Janel Shoun on 6/14/2011
Youth today are more globally minded than any generation before them, but great passion does not always translate into great preparation. The real cultural challenges and logistical frustrations of international mission work can often be draining to mission-minded teens and young adults.
|These photos, by Jerry Atnip, are from the Ulpan Valley in Guatemala. The Missions Camp is modeled after these Ulpan Valley villages.
Lipscomb University’s missions department is working to transform missional thinking in the upcoming generation through its first Missions Camp
, to be held this fall, on a farm in Dickson County. Missions Camp will be a complete third-world immersion experience, starting this year with the simulation of a small Guatemalan village, a kitchen and two wood huts with tin roofs.
Campers will live in the rustic environment of one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, complete with minimal electricity, no running water and “natives” cooking tortillas. Daily activities are designed to open students’ eyes to another culture and the best ways to interact within that culture. Camp staff will speak Spanish, the meals will be Guatemalan food, and the dwellings will be furnished in keeping with the Guatemalan culture and resources.
Missions officials hope to expand the camp over the coming years with up to 10 cultural immersion installations and 800 kids attending each summer.
“Lipscomb’s Missions Camp will show future missionaries that international mission work is a careful balance between evangelism and meeting physical needs,” said Kristopher Hatchell, missions coordinator external affairs. “For many years our Christian community has focused on evangelism only. Now mission efforts often focus too much on providing food, water and shelter only. It needs to be a balance in-between.”
Hatchell, along with various Lipscomb engineering professors, representatives from the Institute of Conflict Management and community volunteers, has been working to carry out this balance in the Ulpan Valley in Guatemala inhabited by indigenous Mayans, many of whom speak only their native tongue Q’eqchi’.
Mission teams from the Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering and groups targeted to meet specific needs have been traveling to the Ulpan Valley since 2008 to carry out holistic, long-term community development in the region.
Engineering students installed a water transport system for two communities in the valley and built seven solar-powered cell phone recharger towers that have brought new income to the residents. Steve Sherman in the missions department headed the valley’s first two medical mission team visits, and Steve Joiner at the conflict management institute is working to negotiate water and land rights for the natives.
In fact, Lipscomb’s work in the Ulpan Valley has grown to the point that Hatchell will be leaving Nashville in August to live there for two years, just after he wraps up Lipscomb’s first Missions Camp, designed to show seventh- through 10th-graders what life in the Ulpan Valley is like.
Missions Camp will provide a complete missionary experience, requiring participants to raise money before attending and to recruit prayer partners. On the first day of camp, the Lipscomb campus will serve as a “mock” international airport, introducing students to the frustration of long-distance travel.
Lipscomb college students and mission staff serve as mentors to the campers, guiding them through the preparation process and attending camp with them.
“We want to embed the idea in very young students that the mission of God is not something separated from their future vocation,” said Hatchell. “Every moment – from working to install solar panels on a hut to receiving a care package from supporters ‘back in the States’ – will be a learning opportunity.”
Missions Camp was born from a similar camp with an African simulation that Stephen Meeks of Good Soil Ministries in East Tennessee holds each year. But Lipscomb officials plan to expand its camp significantly from about 20 students per year to hundreds. Other universities and organizations have simulated third-world learning areas, but they are mostly used for training college-age youth and adults, said Hatchell.
Currently there is not a comparable immersion experience in international missions available in Middle Tennessee, he said.
“I want campers to leave Missions Camp knowing that regardless of their talents or gifts, as Christians they are called to be servants of Christ wherever they are,” said Hatchell. “The principles of Christian love are the same wherever we are.”