By Alexis Motschall
The Tower (Grosse Pointe, Michigan)
“This isn’t normal” and “It’s not typical.” These were the two phrases that initially went through Olivia Wouters’ ’16 mind when she was thinking about taking a gap year for a mission trip — but these two phrases didn’t hold her back from making her final decision.
After a two week mission trip to Puerto Rico in the summer of 2015, Wouters learned about the gap year trip with the Adventures In Missions organization, she said.
“My mission trip to Puerto Rico was really eye opening,” Wouters said. “It just let me know that there’s more out there than just going to college right away.”
According to the Adventures in Missions website, the organization is a Christian ministry that sends thousands of people through youth, college and adult mission trips with a focus on prayer.
“Before my trip I wasn’t really religious, and to be honest I was a little hesitant to go on a really religious mission trip,” Wouters said.
Wouters went on the mission trip with Madelyn Fabry ‘16, who convinced her to give a religiously affiliated mission a shot, Wouters said.
“I went into it trying to have an open-mind, be optimistic and willing to change,” Wouters said. “I’m not gonna lie, in the beginning of the trip, I felt really uncomfortable at times. We had to be extremely vulnerable and be willing to talk about anything and everything.”
In the first week Wouters and Fabry ran a Vacation Bible school at a woman’s house for children in poverty, and the second week they ran a camp for the kids to learn about God, play games and hang out, Fabry said.
“You go into a mission trip thinking, ‘Oh, it’s going to be this amazing thing’ but it’s really hard work sometimes, and you have some really awesome experiences to, but sometimes you go into it thinking it’s going to be this certain way but it’s definitely not what you expect.” Fabry said.
The night before she left Puerto Rico, Wouters decided to get baptized, she said.
“Throughout the trip, I felt myself transforming and growing in my faith,” Wouters said. “I don’t think I can tell you exactly what it was or if there was a specific experience, but I came home completely changed.”
Fabry was the one who baptized Wouters in the Caribbean Sea, Wouters said.
“Madelyn had a huge impact on me, I wouldn’t have even been on the trip without her,” Wouters said. “Her faith has always been an inspiration to me and I am so glad that she was able to baptize me and witness me strengthen my relationship with God.”
It was in late July after the Puerto Rico trip when Wouters decided to tell her mom about taking a gap year for another mission, she said.
“I told my mom and I was like, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and she was like, ‘Are you kidding? You’re crazy!’,” Wouters said.
As Wouters and her mom researched the gap year mission, Valerie Wouters-Seagram said that she saw the determination grow in her daughter.
“Her desire has not shifted at all,” Valerie said. “She has stayed really focused and this is what she wants to do.”
At the end of her junior year, Wouters said that she was stressed about where to apply to college and what to study.
Wouters said that the influence from the summer mission and a love for travel aided her decision of doing the gap year mission after graduation.
Wouters’ mission is through the “World Race” branch of Adventures in Missions, which brings together groups of people between the ages of 18 to 22 who wish to go on a mission as a gap year, she said.
“I will travel with a squad of about 50 people but will be split up into a small group of six to eight people, and do ministry with them in a separate location from the rest of the groups,” Wouters said.
This June, Wouters said she will go to a training camp at the Adventures in Missions headquarters in Gainesville, Georgia. Here she will be introduced to all of the participants in person who are leaving in August.
“I haven’t met any of them (gap year participants) yet,” Wouters said “But we have a Facebook group and we have been talking.”
On Aug. 4th, Wouters will leave for her nine month trip where she will go to three different countries and spend three months in each country, Wouters said.
“The first country I will be going to is the Balkan Region (Peninsula in Southeastern Europe),” Wouters said “And then the Phillipines, and South Africa.”
Wouters said she will not know what specific regions in the countries she will be going to until closer to the traveling dates.
“I like the mystery. I don’t know where I’m going to be going in the Balkan Region yet,” Wouters said. “We find out, at the latest, a month before we leave, so I kind of have to trust that it’s gonna all work out.”
Although the specific mission work will not be determined until later, Wouters said there is typically work in helping the local neighborhoods. In the past, the organization has worked with sex-trafficking victims in Asia and served at orphanages as ministry locations.
“I love adventure and traveling and obviously this is a nice way to do it, but I’m more excited for the ministry and how it will change and grow and affect me,” Wouters said.
Wouters will be able to contact her family through Skype and Facetime, depending on how much internet is available in her current location, she said.
“I was thinking before I leave we’re (her and her family) going to have a giant party and celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the holidays,” Wouters said. “Just spending as much time as possible with them.”
Although she will contact her friends and family back home frequently, Wouters said she is going to disable her phone service so she only uses the limited Wi-Fi.
“Part of the experience is to be disconnected, if I’m still always texting people from back home I feel like it’ll prevent me from growing in my faith,” Wouters said. “Being away from home, it (texting) will make me feel like I’m missing out on all this stuff, when the point of this is to experience new things and adventures.”
Wouter’s mom said she thinks the summer mission was just enough of an introduction to what is to come.
“She has a spirit of adventure and passion for everything she has ever done,” Valerie said “She’s never really let fear hold her back from things.”
Fabry said she got chills when Wouters told her of her gap year decision.
“She’s really giving and she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Fabry said. “She’s super approachable so I think that will help her when she’s talking to people and making friends.”
Fabry said she will be asking for advice from Wouters when she gets back, but her own advice to give is in urging Wouters to be confident in her trip.
Fabry advised Wouters to “just to be really bold and get out of her comfort zone, to make the most of her experience,” Fabry said.
Wouters has been fundraising in selling bracelets through the organization Threads of Hope, she said.
“There’s a thinner (style of) bracelet and they’re two dollars each, and then the thicker ones are four dollars,” Wouters said.
Fifty percent of the profits go to fund Wouters’ trip, and the other 50 percent goes back to the people of the Philippines where the bracelets were made, she said.
So far, Wouters has sold 150 bracelets, she said. Anyone interested in purchasing a bracelet can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To follow her journey all the way until her May 2nd return to the states, Wouters will be writing a blog, she said.
“I’ve been sharing that (the blog) with my family and friends, and anyone can read it and see where I’m at and how I decided to do this,” Wouters said.
Visit http://oliviawouters.theworldrace.org for a personal narrative on Wouters’ gap year mission trip with Adventures in Missions.
Image Credit: Olivia Wouters