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Shelley Spalding, a history and Spanish major at Western Kentucky Univerity, knew she was going to take a trip this summer that could help hone her skills in her second language. The trip she decided to take, however, taught her much more than that.
Spalding — the daughter of Gary and Luanne Spalding (originally of Springfield) of Lebanon, and a member of River of Life Church in Springfield — wanted her summer trip to have meaning to her, not just personally, but spiritually.
“I was choosing between studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country like Spain or Argentina,” Spalding said of her original plan. “I thought about how I’ve never done an international mission trip. I’ve never really taken time out and done something hard for the Lord.”
She didn’t come to that conclusion immediately, though. After attending a Cru — formerly known as the Campus Crusade for Christ — conference, Spalding still wasn’t convinced that a six-week mission to the Dominican Republic was right for her. That is, until an unlikely influence stepped in.
Gandalf, from the Lord of the Rings book series.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time given us,” read the quote penned by author J.R.R. Tolkien.
After giving it some more thought, Spalding decided to use her summer to put her Spanish education to use for the benefit of others.
Though she said she’s not fluent in her second language, Spalding said she can comfortably carry a conversation in Spanish, which proved to be quite necessary. With a large portion of her time being spent around Haitian students — whose primary languages were Spanish, French and Creole; never English — at universities in Santo Domingo, she estimated that she held “one or two” conversations in English during her entire six-week trip.
“Dominicans love Americans,” she noticed almost instantly. “They were quick to say, “You’re an American? Come, sit down with me and talk.”
And talk she did.
College ministry, which has become a common practice in the United States, is virtually non-existent in the Dominican, and Spalding spread the message of her faith, while helping to build a local ministry at colleges there.
She said she prepared herself for the poverty she knew she would encounter, but that her month-and-a-half there was still a challenge.
Members of the mission team suffered various illnesses, including Spalding, who was out of commission for a few days with a stomach virus. The work itself was tasking as well, which gave her a renewed outlook on what missionaries do.
“I have a lot of respect for missionaries now. Six weeks was enough to get a tiny taste of what they go through and it was really hard,” she said.
“I knew it was going to be hard, because I talked to several people who have been on Cru summer projects,” Spalding added. “But international missions are even harder, because it’s difficult go up to random people in America and start these conversations, but doing it in a place with a culture you don’t know is that much tougher.”
She said she was able to power through the difficulties of the trip with the support of the local community and River of Life Church.
Spalding hopes to take part in another mission in the near future, and would like to see others do the same.
“I think if you’re Christian, you should have an open mind to it,” she said. “Hopefully, I get to go somewhere again before too long, whether it’s the Dominican Republic or somewhere else, I’d love to do it again.”
The trip was the second to the Dominican Republic by the Cru program at WKU. The group sends roughly a dozen students from Kentucky and surrounding states on a mission each summer. To find out more about the program, visit www.cru.org.