FORT MYERS – Some pastors might think recruiting students for a new Wesley Foundation ministry would be enough of a connection to forge in two college semesters.
|Florida Gulf Coast Wesley students Chris Mosteiro, above, and Kaitlyn Brandt, below, visit with children in Zimbabwe during a mission trip to Africa University. Photos from Chris Mosteiro.|
But Rev. Christy Holden, pastor of the campus ministry startup at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), also wanted students to feel the connection of a mission trip outside the country. With the help of Derrick Scott III, director of the Campus to City Wesley ministry at the University of North Florida and Jacksonville University, students from FGCU spent two weeks visiting Africa University in May.
Holden said she had been to Africa University years ago and was thrilled that four young adults – three from FGCU and one from the Wesley ministry at Florida State University – were able to experience a transformation similar to one she felt when she first visited the Methodist institution in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Scott also went on the trip.
“It was an experience where I felt completely moved by the Spirit,” Holden said, adding that at the time, she didn’t know how to put her newfound inspiration to work.
“Now, all these many years later, it became incredibly clear what I wanted to do.”
Last summer, Holden was busy meeting with students at Florida’s youngest state university. Regular Wesley worship services started in January and attracted about 15 students on a regular basis, though dozens more participated in various Wesley activities, Holden said.
Later in the year, Holden began thinking of how meaningful and eye-opening mission trips can be to college students, but she wasn’t sure where the young group could go. Then she contacted Scott, who told her he was organizing a trip to Africa, and she suggested teaming up.
“For us, that was so exciting,” Holden said. “Even for this small startup group, there’s something we were able to do.”
She said Dr. Tapiwa Mucherera, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, helped smooth the way for the trip by providing contacts at Africa University. Students here had to raise about $3,500 each to pay for the journey, and local churches helped with the costs, Holden said.
During their stay in Zimbabwe, the Florida students socialized with students at Africa University, learned about their studies and way of life, and worked on service projects at the Fairfield Children’s Home and a church in a rural area.
Kaitlyn Brandt, a junior and FGCU Wesley member last spring, was one of the students who went on the mission.
“It was definitely eye-opening,” said Brandt, a member of First UMC, High Springs, who has been working at Warren Willis Camp this summer before starting classes at Florida Southern College this fall.
|Students and leaders from Florida Gulf Coast University and Campus to City Wesley Foundation groups enjoy spiritual renewal along with an African sunset during a spring mission trip to Zimbabwe.|
|Wesley Foundation students and leaders from two different campus ministries make Methodist-operated Africa University their mission destination.|
“I noticed that they [Africa University students] don’t go to college until a little later than we would,” she said, noting that students she met were in their late 20s.
“They walk a lot more than I feel like we would be willing to.”
She said she worked with students from Africa and Florida on construction of a church sanctuary in a rural community, as well as visited a Methodist-supported hospital and school.
She and Holden said they were impressed with the African students’ perspective that higher education and career training should be used to make communities better places for everyone to live.
"They very much see higher education as a resource and tool … to change the world for Christ and make the world better,” Holden said.
Rev. David Fuquay, director of Higher Education and Campus Ministry for the Florida Conference and former Gator Wesley pastor at the University of Florida, said leading a mission trip abroad in the first year of a campus ministry is no small feat.
"Launching a new campus ministry takes a lot of hard work and bold vision,” he said in an email.
“Christy Holden displayed both when she first cast the vision last summer for a [mission] trip. … As she began to meet students and organize the Gulf Coast Wesley Foundation, Christy helped those early student leaders dream big about what was possible for this new ministry. I'm so proud of the work she has done over the past year and look forward to even greater things in the coming year.”
Holden said she hopes the Fort Myers and Jacksonville campus ministries continue to work together to make life-changing opportunities available to young adults.
“It was really a partnership born in grace,” Holden said.
-- Susan Green is the editor of the Florida Conference Connection.