"I Never Thought I Could
Change Someone's Life"
One student missionary shares her experience serving God
This year Andrews University sent out 23 student missionaries to serve in various capacities in various places. The mission of the Office of Campus Ministries is to prepare students for ministry no matter what their career goal. To engage, enrich and inspire students and challenge them to not only be spiritually fed, but to feed others; a challenge to truly encounter the Creator.
Junior Joanna Rivera chose to serve as a student missionary for a year (which ended up being more than a year) in the Rocky Mountain Conference in Colorado. Her role was the administrative assistant to the youth department. In honor of Missions Emphasis Week, January 25-29, we talked with Joanna about her experience as an SM.
Tell me a little bit about what you did at the Rocky Mountain Conference.
This conference is based in Colorado but also includes parts of Wyoming and New Mexico. Our goal in the youth department was to make it easy for kids to come closer to God, so we would brainstorm ideas and ways to make that happen. We did many, many different things—from putting events together for youth, coordinating mission trips, planning summer camps, putting on Pathfinder/Adventurer camporees, preaching at academies and churches, and really just spending time with the conference youth in any way we could.
What excited you the most about this opportunity?
I was most excited about experiencing something new and different in my life. I had originally planned to go overseas and serve in a different country but I felt God calling me to stay in the U.S. and so I did. It was really exciting to feel God leading my life.
Excitement surely isn’t the only thing you felt; did anything about this placement scare you?
I would love to tell you that I was super ready and pumped for my mission but there were many things I was scared of. Probably what scared me the most was not knowing exactly what to expect. Just knowing I was stepping outside of my comfort zone made me nervous, but I also knew I’d be challenged in this position in ways I couldn’t predict. I also wondered how my relationships with my friends and family would be affected after being gone for a long period of time. Additionally, I had this idea that in order to be a student missionary I needed to have a strong walk with God. I was worried my walk was not strong enough and as a result, God would not be able to use me.
Despite your trepidations, I’m sure you learned a lot during this experience.
Absolutely! One of the most memorable lessons I learned was that God can use you anywhere. It doesn’t matter in what part of the world you are; if you want to serve others, God will find a way. God does not expect you to be perfect to be a missionary. If you have the desire, he will use you. I also learned that vulnerability does not necessarily mean weakness but on the contrary it can bring out your strengths.
Jumping into the unknown is bound to bring surprises. What surprised you about your time as an SM?
I honestly never thought that I could truly change and impact someone’s life. After reflecting on my time as a missionary, I was able to see how God used me to help others. I realized the power of youth ministry and how influential a single person can be. I also did not expect to be a student missionary for two years. I had originally planned to stay for one but after taking time to think and pray about it, I knew I needed to stay longer to fulfill my mission.
Two years, wow! You probably made friends for life there in Colorado.
Yes! I will never forget the leaders I served with in the youth department. They mentored me throughout my time there and provided me with support and encouragement. Not only were they my mentors, but they became close friends to me as well.
What did you find most challenging about this appointment?
To be honest, I found it rather difficult to keep up with my spiritual life and at the same time giving it my all as a missionary. It become very difficult to lean on God during the tough times in my life. I found one of the toughest things about this experience was to keep the missionary mindset in a familiar secular context. I may not have had bed bugs or witch doctors in Colorado, but instead I was challenged by having everything so accessible around me and trying to stay focused on my mission in the midst of it all.
Let’s talk about the good stuff! You must have some pretty amazing memories of your time in Colorado.
Of course! One of my favorites is from the beginning of my first missionary year. For the first few months I lived in the conference’s retreat center where we hosted summer camp and other youth events. I lived way up in the mountains and experienced one of Colorado’s historic rainfalls. It flooded terribly, with about 12 inches of rain each day for multiple days. It destroyed houses and there were even deaths as a result. Thankfully, I was at a high enough elevation that it didn’t affect me as much as it affected towns just a few miles away. It is one of my favorite memories because we were able to go down and help transport people through roads that had been destroyed and help with communication since there was absolutely no power. In addition, our camp was able to help the town nearest to us by providing a place for the kids to attend school since their school had been washed away in the flooding. We developed wonderful relationships and shared God’s love in a way I never imagined.
It sounds like you had a life-changing experience.
Definitely. I feel God present in my life now. I never in my life had to rely on God so much until the past couple years as a student missionary. Having this experience has taught me the power of relying on God and allowing him to lead my life.
Colorado is just one of many places around the world where Andrews students are called to serve. This year students are stationed in Chile, the Philippines, Peru, Egypt, Brazil, Hawai’i, Palau, Thailand, Poland and more.
To learn more about being a student missionary or supporting the student missionary program at Andrews University, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 269-471-3211.
Support means more than just financial contribution; you can also help by praying, recruiting, writing letters of encouragement to current SMs, inviting past SMs to speak in your church, and sending care packages to those currently serving.
If you feel called by God to be a part of the student missions program at Andrews University, please choose one of the options below.