“But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.’” (Jeremiah 1:6-7)
When God called him to be His prophet to the people of Israel, Jeremiah was “only a youth”. Yet God used him to speak to the Israelites in a very personal and profound way. Today, God is calling young people to step out for Him and to follow His leading for their lives. Here at Reach Beyond, we have had the privilege of facilitating and being a part of the journeys of many young volunteers, in both overseas and UK-based internships.
One of our interns, John, now 26, who hails from Chicago in America, recently completed our two-year CHILI (now FAST TRACK) placement in a Central Asian country closed to the Gospel. John worked on water projects in a number of different villages, helping to clean and protect community water springs and install clean water systems, as well as passing on the skills and know-how to maintain and manage these systems long-term. One of these projects was carried out in a very remote valley community, with 25,000 people and no known Christians. Despite many setbacks, including washed-out roads and broken-down trucks, we can praise God for the successful completion of this project.
As well as learning how to effectively organise project work by interacting with the village leadership, John also took part in many significant conversations while visiting people from the community, including sharing the gospel with one family they were staying with, and also with a small group in a local home. Discussion about why they were in the country proved a useful starting point; the answer that God had told them to was understood and respected, as the importance of obeying Allah is highly emphasised in Islam. The team gave Bibles in the local language to some of the most curious listeners. They also gifted a Koran to one devout Muslim, who had never read it, in order to facilitate comparison between the two. We pray that these seeds may grow and produce much fruit.
When his internship came to an end, John wrote a final update to his supporters and to us here at Reach Beyond. We found this report very encouraging. “After investing so much effort in the people, language and culture, it was really difficult to leave.” He describes the transition from experiencing the country as a “foreign, uncomfortable and lonely place” to “familiar, joy-filled and relationally rich … a place I love and will truly miss”. Our hope is that John’s story of success among setbacks and cultural adaptation will inspire other young people to encounter this themselves.
Another overseas intern, Rachael Holsgrove, brought skills and expertise from her Masters degree in water management. She worked on a variety of community projects centred in the city of Shell, Ecuador, which gave her the opportunity to practically apply her knowledge. Rachael later commented, “I have used almost everything I learnt during my Masters, as well as learning many new things!”
One of her personal highlights was designing and constructing a strawberry planter for the community greenhouse. Rachael also worked on designing protection for an exposed water source in the middle of the jungle, installing a mechanical pump in a well, and visiting the town of Chillanes in the mountains to install a water sensor unit in a tank (where she wisely took the opportunity to photograph the incredible views – see above!). One of her longest-running projects was designing latrines for the remote community of Loma de Pacay, which included taking measurements and drawing detailed plans. The construction of Rachael’s toilets will be completed by the New Year.
However, like John, Rachael has also faced her challenges. These ranged from home-sickness to struggling to adapt to a foreign language. Blogging her way through her internship, she saw the humorous side of one escapade in particular: “I managed to buy a whole chicken and get it home before realising it still had both its head and feet. Needless to say, that was a bit of an interesting surprise!” In her spare time, Rachael polished up her Spanish and explored nearby areas like the tourist-orientated spa town of Baños.
UK interns Seth and Amy were both based at the Millside Centre in Bradford. Seth, 19, helped to teach basic English to refugees from all the over the world, who come to the Millside Centre to seek work and health support, and welcomed participants at Red Cross sessions. He was able to gain experience in an office setting and engage his creativity by helping with social media from the perspective of a mission organisation. Seth also made valuable suggestions for showcasing an interactive stall at Christian events where the work that Reach Beyond does was publicised. His own reflection: “I felt I developed my skills and experience while giving back to Reach Beyond as an organisation.” He appreciated our friendly and welcoming staff team, and enjoyed the contrast of social media and computer work with his usual hands-on approach.
Amy, then 22, from Harrogate, volunteered during her term break. Already involved with the charity organisation Just Love at university, she helped our media and marketing team with research on international congregations, among other things. Like Seth, she highlighted the importance of a giving attitude. “It’s quite simple – in small ways we can offer care, support, and a smile to people who may not find that anywhere else.” We’re honoured that she noticed this at the Millside Centre – “no singing-and-dancing community action plan, just a bit of love and attention”.
As I write this blog piece, my own thoughts on volunteering at Reach Beyond are springing up like mushrooms. I’ve been surprised at how quickly I’ve come to feel at home here – the smell of curry drifting about the office (Bradford is the UK’s curry capital, after all!), the re-centering that takes place at 12 noon each day when we stop work to read the Bible and pray, the thrumming network of contacts and projects and links and communication that stretches out from the Millside Centre like a benign spider’s-web. The staff meetings and prayer times when prayer requests and updates on Reach Beyond projects in Ecuador, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Ghana, and Central Asian countries, ranging from radio stations to the installation of water systems, come rolling in, and most names spill over my head because I don’t know the people; news from offices based in the US, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, and more; a plethora of local churches, media conferences, and missions organisations that I’ve never heard of . . . But I keep joining the puzzle pieces, one by one, and feeling proud of myself when I do!
This upcoming summer of 2019, there are two exciting overseas internship programmes taking place throughout June and July, in addition to our ongoing two-year FAST TRACK placement. Our VOICE internship in Romania offers training for young people interested in the usage of media and storytelling in mission work. In the final stage of the internship, you would use your new skills to share the gospel with some of the least-reached people groups in the world. The HANDS internship, based in Ghana, is aimed at students following a health-related course of study, and provides a unique opportunity to gain experience in medical work and children’s ministry at a remote clinic.
Whether you’re a young person interested in media or health related missions work yourself, or whether you simply know one, we at Reach Beyond want to encourage you to spread the word about the opportunities this organisation has to offer for young people. Perhaps, as you read this, you feel a calling to partner with us in reaching the unreached – a calling to reach beyond cultural and economic barriers by meeting people’s physical and spiritual needs, to share the gospel with people who desperately need to hear it. If that’s the case, we’d love to hear from you!