Student Spotlight: Mark Naguib

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Naguib1Mark Naguib, a senior Molecular Biology and Philosophy double major, has an incredible story about the transformative nature of short-term missions borne out of his experiences on two medical mission trips to Nicaragua. Once a skeptic of the process, he remembers, “With short-term mission trips I had my doubts. What can I do as an undergraduate student? And I have always thought we should start here. There is so much need here if I want to serve God and my neighbor. But short-term missions were such a big part of the Lipscomb experience. So I prayed about it and talked to different people and I decided that maybe I should just let my doubts go, give it a try, and see what happens.”

Hannah Greiving, one of the Nicaragua team leaders, says, “He never let on that that was his way of thinking before he left. It was something that we didn’t even know he was working through until he started confiding in the group once we were down there. He wanted to have the experience and understand it before he opposed it, which I think really says a lot about his character. It was so interesting for somebody like him to specifically seek out a trip to almost prove his point that it wouldn’t work. And then it ended up being a life changing experience for me and him, and really the entire team.”

When I asked Mark what changed for him, he told me a story, originally written by Loren Eisely, called “The Star Thrower”. It goes something like this: there was once an old man who was walking along the beach the day after a big storm. Naguib2The beach was covered with starfish in every direction, as far as the eye could see. In the distance, the old man saw a young boy standing on the shore, throwing starfish into the sea. As the man approached him, he asked the boy, “What are you doing with those starfish?” The boy looked at the old man and explained, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean. They can’t get back to the sea by themselves and when the sun gets high in the sky, all of the starfish will die unless I throw them back into the water.” The old man looked at the boy and said, “There are thousands of starfish on this beach. You couldn’t possibly make a difference.” The boy looked at the old man, bent down, and picked up another starfish. He threw it into the water as far as possible, turned to smile at the old man, and said, “I made a difference to that one, didn’t I?”

Mark explained, “When I went to Nicaragua for the first time, I was the old man in the story. I was very skeptical; I felt like I was putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. But as the trip went on, I realized that maybe I’m not supposed to be the old man. Maybe I’m supposed to be the boy in the story, to try to make a difference by being intentional about the way I interact with people. It wasn’t until I was coming home from my second trip to Nicaragua, recognizing how much I had learned from my experiences and how much they had impacted me, Naguib3that I realized I’m actually the starfish in the story and Nicaragua is the one that picked me up and threw me back into the water. If it wasn’t for my experiences there, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I am a more humble person and am aware of how much work God is doing in the world, how much work God is doing in me.”

His team saw this shift occur in Mark, but nobody saw it as clearly as his team leaders. Hannah explains, “What I think he learned from that first year was taking time to do the important things down there, and that wasn’t necessarily always work in the clinic. A lot of students go for the experience but don’t really take it in. He made sure to stop and take it in, but he had to learn that from his first year. A lot of it was him humbly approaching a lot of different things and not expecting anything out of it. I think he learned that when good things happen naturally people learn the most. He really helped a lot of people think through things differently which helped our entire group.”

Mark’s starfish revelation led to a total transformation in the way he views short-term missions, not as an ineffective way to serve others but as a foundational teaching experience in the Christian faith. Mark says, “A lot of times we try to look at how much we can do for the country and the people of Nicaragua. I think it might be better to try to think about being intentional with what you are doing and try to plant and water the seeds of God’s love in everybody that you meet. You need to learn and grow as much as you can and try to see God everywhere. When I think back to my experiences in Nicaragua, and in life in general, I learned a lot more by witnessing other people at work, in their service and in the way they love each other.”