[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]
At 23, Stevi Davis has not only seen the wider world, she has worked in it. She has taught English in Chile, put on puppet shows for children in Jamaica and repaired buildings in Venezuela.
Since her first trip to Jamaica in high school, Davis has been on at least 10 mission trips to several countries including Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela.
Now, Davis says, she wants to work in the mission field for life.
“After my first trip at 16, I knew somehow that I wanted to be involved in helping people in other countries,” she said.
Most of the mission trips Davis has taken have been organized through the Rock, her church in Columbia. The Rock is sponsored by Great Commission Ministries, a world-wide missions organization and network of churches that are trying to reach young people, said John Drage, the Rock’s minister.
Drage said the church is primarily attended by college students.
Davis spent this summer in Valencia, Venezuela, on a program organized through the Rock. There, she and 10 others helped support the Iglesia Gran Commission de Valencia (Great Commission Church of Valencia) in the town and helped its members with anything they needed. They renovated the nursery room of the church, taught seminars on first aid, dental health, nutrition and skin care and helped church members reach out to the rest of the community.
While in Valencia, Davis was struck by how poor people are.
“They can’t afford lots of things,” she said. “They don’t have access to lots of things we do.”
In particular, Davis noticed that the church had a lack of Christian books. She had grown up with access to popular Christian books such as the “The Purpose Driven Life” and “My Utmost for His Highest” at her church, but the people she was working with had little available to them.
“We can run down to the local Christian store or order books on the Internet, but people in (parts of) Latin America don’t have those options,” she said.
Davis started talking to them about what their needs were, and when she returned to the United States, began raising money to send Christian books in Spanish to the church in Venezuela. Her goal is to send the books by December.
Mission workers do many things, but the work is always centered on two types of service. First, Davis said, there is a focus on physically serving the people with whom they interact.
Second, Davis said, through their work, she and her colleagues have tried to cultivate relationships with people to spread the Christian message.
Davis has found that the two types of service are rewarding in different ways.
“It’s easier to measure the physical service,” said Davis. “You can see what you’ve built or painted. You can count how many packages of vitamins you gave out. But connecting with people makes the most lasting changes in me. I can look back on conversations I had with people, and remember what I learned from them. Hopefully, those conversations were meaningful to them, too.”
And learning to relate to people of other cultures so that she is able to have those meaningful conversations is one of the most important aspects of mission work, Davis said. Means of communication, such as body language and figures of speech, are interpreted differently in other cultures, and it is the challenge of the mission worker to overcome cultural and language barriers to make sure they are communicating.
Because she studied Spanish in school, Davis has been able to converse with Spanish speakers. But many of the people she’s met have studied English and have been eager to speak in her native tongue, she said. She said she always carries a picture of her family with her, because she is often asked about them. Usually, the conversation just flows from there.
Drage has been accompanying groups on similar mission trips for 14 years, and he said he is amazed at the impact mission trips can have, especially on young people who go on them.
“I’ll personally never forget the first time I went to Honduras,” he said. “I grew up like all these college kids in suburban America. None of us are poor by any means. We’ve never gone without. When we can take somebody to another part of the world and show them how the rest of the world lives, that is one phenomenal experience.”
And Drage said he thinks Davis’ experience has had a great influence on her life.
“Stevi’s life is totally different now that she’s started to go on these trips,” he said.
Davis, who is still living in Columbia, is continuing to raise money to buy Christian books for the church in Venezuela and is helping plan more mission trips for the Rock in the upcoming year.