VERONA, Mo. (BP) — Some children are raised in and by the church, and Jane Wise* was definitely the “church’s kid.”
So when Jane was called to serve as a missionary in Bangladesh, it was natural for her church in Missouri — Verona Baptist, a small congregation with a big heart and a generous spirit — to become involved, too.
As a senior at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., Jane was required to spend six months studying abroad. Just a year earlier in 2008, the International Mission Board had launched Hands On, a program that mobilizes students ages 18-29 to serve overseas four months to one year while receiving college credit.
Jane’s professors encouraged students to consider only the most unreached locations. As she studied the list of Hands On service opportunities, one in Bangladesh stood out for reasons she couldn’t explain — but she knew it was the Lord’s leading.
“It just had a little paragraph description of Light of Hope Center and the beggar girls, that you teach them life skills — it was like a school,” says Jane, now 25. “I remember I wrote that down as my No. 1 that day.”
Jane served in Bangladesh in 2009 at the Light of Hope Learning Center, a day shelter where impoverished girls receive an education, health care, moral training and life skills.
“It’s a game-changer, because otherwise [the girls] would always be stuck maybe in a garments-type factory work…. It’s just giving them an opportunity to provide for their families and have a different life,” Jane says.
She and another Hands On student did a wide range of tasks during that semester — managing the center’s finances; teaching the girls art, science and English; doing the girls’ laundry — all the while adjusting to a new culture and keeping up with their own college assignments.
“She fell in love with all of those girls and the work that they do there,” says Shannon Morris, wife of Verona’s pastor Lendall Morris. “… She had three months to go until she graduated from college, and she wanted to stay there with the girls at Light of Hope Center.” Jane’s parents practically had to “make” her come home, says Shannon.
When her Hands On assignment was over, Jane began praying about ways to get back to the center in Bangladesh after graduation. She was encouraged to return as an independent missionary — financially supported by the contributions of friends and family.
Verona Baptist has a congregation of roughly 100; Jane has been a member since she was in junior high school.
The congregation saw a commitment develop in Jane through the years as she became involved in ministry and short-term mission trips. The church “knew that she was headed for something that was going to be God-driven,” says John Weldy, a lifelong member.
When Jane returned from her Hands On service in Bangladesh, her passion and heart for the work “was just contagious within our whole congregation,” Shannon explains.
So when Jane needed financial support to go back, they “jumped on board,” adds her pastor. Some members gave a one-time gift, others gave monthly gifts.
Despite being a small church with limited finances, Verona didn’t let that stop them from helping. Churches should put God as their first priority and commit to serving others, says Lendall, because God will provide what is needed.
“You just have to go — and it’s not a leap of faith, it really isn’t,” he says. “We say, ‘Oh, I jumped off the deep end, I’m taking the church off the deep end’ — no. You’re going and telling the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, and God is going to honor that.”
By the end of 2010, Jane was on her way back to Bangladesh.
A few steps further
Verona did more than just fund Jane’s living expenses, though. The congregation prayed for her, sent her care packages or supplies for the center and kept in contact — Jane sent out monthly email updates, church members emailed her notes of encouragement and she and the congregation had a Skype call one Sunday.
“… Hear[ing] her relate what she saw God do in those young girls’ lives was just a very fulfilling experience,” Weldy says.
And Jane had much to share — some of her work during her two years at the center included visiting slums to share Bible stories using mhendi (henna). She eventually was asked to fill in as the center’s director while her supervisor, Geri Hennerman,* spent time in the United States.
This role necessitated someone handling the center’s financial support while Hennerman was out of the country.
When Lendall first considered taking on the responsibility, he was unsure of how the church would react — but he was pleasantly surprised by their positive response. For a year, the church managed a bank account of the center’s funds and kept track of its financial statements.
“To us here, it was a no-brainer,” Lendall explains. “It wasn’t that difficult.”
Shannon believes it’s the job of all churches and believers to step up and get “hands on” with missions.
“Many years ago, I thought that there had to be something special to be a missionary, that maybe somebody told you you could do it. And I was wrong,” Shannon says. “If you’re saved and you’re a disciple of Christ, you’re a missionary. And it doesn’t matter what your age is, you can do something as far as reaching other people for Christ…. We’re His hands and feet, so you have to go.”
Trust and obey
Jane says her time in Bangladesh deepened her faith and trust in God — especially in difficult circumstances.
She had to adjust to the sweltering heat, a monotonous diet of mostly rice, language and cultural barriers, being stared at constantly for being a foreigner — and even occasional dangerous situations.
In one slum where Jane was sharing Bible stories, she became especially close to a woman who revealed that her husband was beating her. Jane found a local women’s shelter that could help and passed along the shelter’s contact information. When the husband found out what Jane had done, he was irate.
“As we were walking out of the slum, he got on his motorcycle and he kind of tried to run us down,” Jane says. “Then he said, ‘If you come back here, I’ll break your legs.'”
It was an idle threat, but one that kept her from that particular slum for a while.
Jane is now back in Missouri and Verona has ended its time of handling the center’s finances. Though the church’s — and Jane’s — direct involvement is over, their connection with the Light of Hope Learning Center isn’t.
Jane’s fiancé, whom she met while working at the center, is from Bangladesh. Even if the couple decides to live in the United States, Jane knows they will visit his family there and she’ll be able to reconnect with the girls at the center.
As for Verona, missions remains a priority — at home and overseas. When the Light of Hope has a need, Lendall knows that “without a doubt” the church will rise to the challenge.
The connection to the center was not just Jane’s involvement, Lendall emphasizes — the church’s “heart just got burst wide open” for those girls.
“They’ll forever be a part of our hearts,” Shannon adds.
To get in touch with the Light of Hope Learning Center directors about how you or your church can get involved, email [email protected]
Southern Baptist projects supporting Light of Hope include One Life’s “One Girl’s Shelter” project (onelifematters.org/projects), Global Hunger Relief (World Hunger Fund, worldhungerfund.com) and Baptist Global Response’s Child and Youth Education Fund (baptistglobalresponse.com/projects/view/the_light_of_hope_center).
View “More precious than jewels — begging for a better life,” which features more Light of Hope photos, related video and audio, prayer requests and additional ways to get involved in this and related ministries, at commissionstories.com.
Students interested in serving in Hands On, a program that mobilizes students ages 18-29 to serve overseas for four months to one year while receiving college credit, can learn more by visiting imbstudents.org/handson.
*Name changed. Laura Fielding is an IMB writer.