College students go deep with God
KANSAS CITY – Russ Savage Jr. has been on short-term mission trips to Peru, Belarus and Mexico, but a recent five-month stay in a closed country in North Africa challenged him to the depths of his soul.
“Over there, no matter what I had to do, all that mattered was that I first did it through Christ,” said Savage, 20, a member of First Baptist Church of Platte City, where his father serves as pastor.
Savage was on the field from January through May in the Fusion program offered through Midwestern Baptist College, SBC. He was one of nine Fusion students de-briefing in a classroom at Midwestern Seminary May 18. The group freely shared how rigorous their service was, and Savage, in an interview with The Pathway, talked about what it was like.
“In the morning, I would just die to myself and say that’s the only way I’m going to be able to function in this place where it’s such a struggle for me to even carry on a conversation with someone,” Savage said. “It’s incredible how much God was able to change me and how much He was able to draw me close to Him. As I come back, I can just hold on to that and cherish it.”
Brittney Whitley, 19, whose home church is Faith Baptist of Washington, where her father serves as pastor, agreed with Savage. While the five men worked in mountain villages, the six women worked as teachers of English as a second language in a university setting in another closed African nation. Whitley described her experience in the Muslim culture as one where she was in desperate need of Christ.
“I need to be in God’s Word, because it’s the only thing that’s going to keep me going today,” she said. “It’s just intense. You have to be in the Word.”
Fusion is designed to train college students for one semester in mostly localized mission work before sending them to the uttermost parts of the earth for the second semester. Savage and Whitley returned to Missouri with a different look in their eyes after their 145-day trial, according to Fusion Founder Scott Brawner, dean of students at Midwestern Baptist College.
“We’ve sent these kids to the hard places,” Brawner said. “What we have found is, to be effective, they need to be in a place that’s going to challenge them physically, emotionally and spiritually. So when these kids first got there and saw how radically different those places were just culturally from the United States, it forced them to rely on their relationship with God.”
Savage said he came into the program looking for a challenge.
“Fusion provided this opportunity for me to escape off this path of the world and to be transformed into what Christ wanted,” he said. “So I jumped on the opportunity.”
Savage and his fellow student missionaries studied Arabic in their country for the first half of the semester. That prepared them to go on hikes to villages in the mountains for the rest of their time, working to coordinate points where radio broadcasts of the Gospel can penetrate even more Muslim communities.
“The Holy Spirit is moving throughout the world, and God’s calling out His people from all the nations, and it’s not dependent on our Americanized version of standing on the corner and preaching the Gospel,” Savage said. “We have to find out where the Holy Spirit’s working and find out ways that we can plug into that. One good example is the radio frequencies. God is already speaking to these people, getting His message out.”
Savage learned about the importance of Christian community and fellowship as his team went about its business as rock-climbing tourists.
“It’s not a constant spiritual high,” he said. “It’s a reality with God. You do go through the hard times over there, and you do go through the good times, and it’s more real life with God. I realized how necessary He was, how crucial He was, and how He’s the only thing that matters to me.”
Whitley and her teammates had more opportunities to share the Gospel due to the curious nature of the Muslim students on campus.
“We were there from 8 (a.m.) to 2:30 (p.m.), and they just put us in different departments like medicine and psychology,” she said. “They would let us teach classes or help teach classes, and then after class we would just hang out with the girls and try and make friends and build relationships to be able to talk to people. In the first two months, we really made our contacts that lasted us the trip.
“God just opened doors. I even had a few people ask me, ‘You’re a Christian, aren’t you? Tell me about it.’ So I was able to talk to them. I was even able to speak to a couple of men about Jesus.”
Whitley said that when she was 14, she went on a two-week mission trip to Niger that “broke her heart” for Africa. Her Fusion experience strengthened that call to the point where she now says she has been transformed.
“Now you can’t sit back and just get a job, not read your Bible, not pray, and go to church once a week,” she said. “It’s so much more than that now to us.
“When I’m home for the summer, I want to be involved in my church. I want to be helping these youth to lead them to do the same things that I’m able to do this year. I don’t think there ever should be a point where I’m just sitting around anymore.”
Brawner said that the Fusion students in the May 19 graduating class are heading into the summer with the responsibility of adulthood resting on their shoulders.
“They look different,” Brawner said. “They carry joy with them because they have now seen and experienced what God has done in the world. They are now expected to go and serve the church.”