Russell has worked at Andrews University since 1985. He is currently department chair and associate professor in the Department of Religion & Biblical Languages.
I have the privilege of teaching missions and world religions and also leading at least two mission trips each year to Honduras and Lebanon, plus other countries (from 1990–2000 I led an annual mission trip for three weeks to Romania), during Christmas Break and Spring Break. In fact, I have been leading the mission trips to Honduras and Lebanon since 2000. This Christmas will be our 20th team to Honduras (some years we have gone more than once). I have also participated in other study tours to many countries during the summer. Additionally, I have taught in Brazil, Romania and Lebanon and presented professional seminars and workshops in Lebanon, Egypt, Honduras, Kenya and Zimbabwe. I’ve directed field schools of evangelism in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Fiji and Honduras.
The mission trips are in partnership with Pioneer Memorial Church youth missions. The Hogar de Ninos (children’s home) in Honduras is part of REACH International, an NGO that we have been partnering with since 1990. The annual mission trips to Lebanon are in partnership with Middle East University and the Bouchrieh Adventist Secondary School.
In Honduras, we have about 50 children and youth at the Hogar de Ninos. Each December we conduct a Friendship Camp for these children and about 100 more children from the neighborhoods as well as provide food assistance for the local community. The Friendship Teams we take to Lebanon conduct campus evangelism for the 600+ students at Middle East University and the local elementary and secondary school, assist in the Syrian refugee school, and much more.
My parents were lifelong missionaries—their lives inspired me. I was born in Egypt and grew up in Lebanon so I was privileged to experience a more global perspective. I have been continually inspired by our partners in service globally, especially in Lebanon and Honduras. The inspiration came from God, who plants a love for all in our hearts. I really expected to go to the mission field long-term, but when that did not work out, I spent a lot of time praying for God to open doors for me to support missions in some way.
I used to want to change the world. Now I want God to change me as I live in His world. I’m learning to trust God and be flexible! Our purpose is first of all to serve the place where we go, but God is so generous that he gives us many extra blessings in return. Mission is never for our sake. It is for God and His glory! But we are richly blessed by serving others. God doesn’t save us to make us comfortable. He redeems us to make us comforters––for a beautiful but broken world.
I have also learned that every single person has value and potential; it’s a privilege to help individuals discover what God can do for them. For example, we are sponsoring a girl to get a college education in Honduras. Though she comes from a very humble background, she is excelling now that she has an opportunity.
Above all this had made me far more aware of my own shortcomings and only increased my desire to be more like Jesus. It has helped me realize that in our changing, shrinking world, global perspectives are essential.
Through missions I’ve had the privilege of meeting individuals with incredible experiences such as: eating lunch with a pastor in Romania who spent seven years in prison under Communism; sharing an evening in the home of my friend Bassam Fargo, a pastor from Iraq who was kidnapped twice by extremists; seeing children from the Hogar de Ninos graduate from college when they would never have had a chance without REACH International; eight churches planted during evangelistic meetings in Honduras; joining a volunteer team cleaning up after the flooding in Niles, Michigan.
Through the Friendship Teams, students have changed majors, found a career choice, gone on to further service, discovered their gifts, experienced the joy of soul-winning, developed leadership skills, and even found a marriage partner! More importantly, we have been able to support caring ministries in countries that lack resources or personnel. For example, in Lebanon, the school builds their academic calendar around the Friendship Team visit. It is a profound privilege to work with the finest young adults. My life has been so enriched by the hundreds of Andrews students who have been on the mission teams each year.
The most important results are changed lives—somewhat intangible and hard to assess. Only eternity will reveal what God has done. But it is awesome to see some echoes of eternity here—a child’s song at the Friendship Camp, a student baptized from campus ministry, a young adult choosing Jesus, the impact on Andrews students who are mission team members, over the years 17 team members have gone to serve globally for long-term missions… these first fruits. Success is in God’s hands. I just need to be faithful in service.