Each year, Lancaster Bible College rounds up teams for missions trips – we call them Journey Teams here – and send our students all across the globe on various service projects. This year was no exception, and in May, a group of students and faculty members prepared to go to South Africa. The team was gearing up to serve at Aurora Primary School, a small Christian boarding school run by missionaries. Serving on the team was early childhood education major Kristen Groff (‘21).
“To be completely and totally honest, I didn’t want to even go on a Journey Team trip,” said Groff, recalling her initial feelings on the subject. “I had never been out of the country before and did not have the slightest desire to do so. But the education department requires it to graduate, so I went into the trip with the mentality that it was just something I needed to check off my “to do” list to get my degree. It wasn’t until the plane touched down in South Africa that I began uttering a simple prayer: “Okay Lord, I’m here. Use me where You want me.””
God answered that prayer in an unexpected way.
While the team of professors and students were serving at the school, a teacher resigned unexpectedly, leaving the care and instruction of approximately 100 students in the hands of a severely understaffed school. “On our last day when we found out that a teacher had resigned,” explained Groff, “I went to God feeling very troubled and with earnest expectations for Him to provide some sort of comfort, understanding, or explanation as to why this happened. I spent that entire afternoon wrestling with God, feeling completely unsettled, and praying that simple prayer I had been offering up since I arrived.” She approached Dr. Bob Dodson, associate professor in the Education Department and leader on the trip, and asked if she might be able to stay behind to fill in as teacher.
They talked it over, spoke to Groff’s parents, sought counsel from the resident missionaries and prayed about it. In the end, “We only had about twenty minutes left to change my plane ticket!” said Groff. “But the way that the pieces fell into place were entirely orchestrated by God.”
In total, Groff stayed in South Africa at the school for another month. She filled in as the second and third grade teacher and took it all in stride – though she admitted that it was quite challenging at times. “There was an overwhelming amount of challenges that I faced teaching in another culture,” she explained. “There were subtle, basic differences that I had to catch onto quickly. For example, in America, we use decimal points in our numbers. So for the number 4.6 we would say “four point six”. In South Africa, they would write it 4,6 and say, “four comma six”. Even little things like how they write the date is different!”
Despite the challenges, Groff said she doesn’t regret her decision to stay behind. Because of the recent high turnover rate of teachers, she explained that some of the kids struggled with trusting authority figures. “My students in the second and third grade class had been through a few other teachers already that school year,” she said. “Each morning to begin our school day, we would have a little devotional time. It usually lasted about 15 minutes and the students were not entirely interested. But on one morning, our devotional time ended up extending for two hours because the students had so many questions and wanted to share so many things!”
Groff walked away from the trip a changed person. “I had the privilege of experiencing the school and this particular mission field after the team left and it taught me an incredibly valuable lesson,” she said. “As Christians, we should be integrating ourselves more and coming alongside of missionaries on a daily basis, not just once a year for a two week trip, but committing to praying for them, encouraging them and supporting them.”