My Journey to Gainesville, Georgia
By Allison Tran
What’s up friends?! My name is Allison; I’m a youth here at SJCAC and wanted to share about my journey to Gainesville, Georgia this summer.
I started this journey with Adventures in Missions (AIM) thinking that I would be going to Peru this past summer. Because of COVID I was given the alternative option to take a domestic trip to Gainesville, Georgia. Originally, I applied for this secondary trip because I had already fundraised. As the time got closer for me to leave, I was extremely excited to be surrounded by new people who would push me in my walk with the Lord. I was excited to experience missions in this country, be in a new state, and draw closer to God’s heart. When I got there, I sat alone one morning and struggled. I realized that I had signed up for this trip without fully asking if God wanted me there. As I began asking Him what His intentions were for me, the words I received were, “There is a purpose. Just wait for me”. I shared my feelings with a teammate and she prayed over me. The only words I remember from that prayer were “The Lord has more in store for you than you can ever imagine” (paraphrased from Ephesians 3:20). I honestly doubted that statement when it was first spoken to me. But thanks, God, You came through and that You did have so much more for me!
Going into this trip the summer before my Senior year in High School, I knew I would arrive back home and be overwhelmed by college apps, choosing a major, and selecting colleges to attend the following year. My mind had been set on becoming a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) for older people for a while before my trip, but hearing testimonies from past youth scared me. They were always mentioning to me that a lot of people they knew or even they themselves changed their majors in their early college years. I was fearful that I would be so invested into pursuing this career when it really was not what God had set in store for me.
During this trip, the main ministry focus was on the PIER foundation. They are an organization that equips adults with special abilities with Christ-centered encouragement, life skills, and resources to be a positive impact in their communities. Through being there and serving a specific group that I would love to minister to in the future, as well as through speaking to the Lord about my college decisions, He really confirmed that SLP was what He wanted me to do. Serving with the PIER provided me with role models and mentors who are doing what I want to do in the future. I always knew that incorporating Jesus into my future profession was the way to go. The life coaches at PIER really lived that out for me and encouraged me to do the same even as a student. I was not expecting the Lord to meet me in this way, but like I mentioned before, He had more for me than I could imagine. Thanks, God!
My team was another big way God showed up on my trip. AIM sets up little group chats for each team before the trip so that teammates can start “talking” to one another. I was with my Peru team for about 8 months before transferring to the Gainesville team. During those 8 months, we did Zoom calls, sent letters, texted back and forth constantly, etc. All of us girls got super close and I was super excited that I would be serving with them this summer. So when I was transferred to my new team, I was super disappointed. We had one month to get to know one another before launching, and in that month, I realized how scared I was to meet them. A lot of them didn’t respond to my texts or just seemed uninterested. When we met at the airport, it was like God took all these fears away and as if I had never even had them. My team of 9 other youth from across the country honestly changed my life. They are more than I could have asked for. My team was so God given. God joined us to push and lead each other closer to Him. We actively fought fear and spiritual attacks together but also shared so many joyous memories. To this day, we do Zoom calls together twice a week. They continue to do life alongside me from many, many, many miles away. I know that my team is more than just my team. They’re my friends, and even more so my family. We fight for each other even though we’re separated by physical distance. Thanks, God, for a team that I would never even have dreamed of having!
When we were not doing ministry with the PIER, our team was doing community outreach events in the city. We went downtown to do prayer walks and to minister to the people there. Another big event we participated in was motel ministries. Gainesville has a big population of people who live long term in motels. Oftentimes these struggling families cannot afford to live in a house or an apartment. Our team went to a local motel and went door to door offering prayer. During our training for motel ministries, the leader shared that these residents were very open and willing to share their stories. Going into the actual ministry time, I was expecting to hear a lot of stories. I was disappointed when none of the doors my team knocked on opened or those that did open their doors were not open to prayer. I asked the Lord why and He responded with “just love them.” After the designated ministry time was over, my team hung out in the parking lot. A few kids stopped by and we all played with frisbees and chalk together. When their parents came down to see what their kids were up to, they said that they had never seen their kids smile so big. This experience taught me to give God complete control. He had so much more for my team at the motels. Rather than showing up in the way we expected Him to, He assured us that He was present all around us through the smiles we saw on people’s faces. He reminded us that ministry didn’t always have to be feeding the homeless or volunteering at a soup kitchen. This was the first time I fully engaged in a ministry that did not look like what I considered typical ministry to look like. Being obedient can be ministry. Loving people and being an outflow of God’s perfect love can be ministry. Don’t think that your actions go unnoticed. Use everything that you are and every opportunity that the Lord gives you to be a missionary. Thanks, God, that you use our lives to build your Kingdom everywhere!
Even before signing up for this missions trip, I had wanted to do my Senior year abroad. My mom said that I should try a month long trip before committing to a longer one. Thanks, God, that I did. Towards the end of the trip, I had the opportunity to return to Georgia and to continue working with the PIER foundation. I thought this was God calling me back. Rather than doing my Senior year abroad, I would just be in another state. Because school was going to be all online anyways, I thought this was God opening doors fully. When I got home, I was so excited to embark on this new journey. What I thought was my ticket to a lifelong experience eventually became a closed door. When that happened, I thought I was hearing the Father’s voice wrong. I sat at home at my desk and began to doubt my ability to hear God’s voice. He spoke to me and said, “No, you’re not hearing me wrong. You just never asked me.” I then immediately began to realize that I had never fully asked the Lord. I knew He was calling me back, but I had not asked Him when. Although it was sad to close this door of opportunity, I learned a lot about speaking to the Lord and asking Him to guide me. I also learned that I need to trust in God completely. I had trusted the Lord in the past, but only when I already knew the outcome. Trust isn’t about knowing what’s at the end; it’s fully surrendering my life, plans, and ideals to the Lord so He can do what He does best: lead me and take me to where He wants me to go. I’m working on trusting that God has more for me at home this season and I look forward to seeing what it will look like. Thanks, God, for learning opportunities even if they’re difficult in the moment.
When I first found out that I would be going to Georgia, I was definitely disappointed to not be going to Peru. Looking back, that disappointment was so unnecessary. God had so much more for me. He planned this trip to be a little peek at what He wanted me to pursue in the future. He planned for each teammate and ministry partner to influence my life in such a positive way. Although God would have still moved and I would have still experienced spiritual growth, the things I would have learned in Peru would not all be applicable to my current life back home. Being in Georgia was basically like doing ministry while still living a “normal” life. It’s not like we were in a third world country without cars, bathrooms, or running water. This style of domestic ministry taught me how to fully put God at the center of every single part of my life. Thanks, God, for Georgia! Thanks for knowing what I needed even before I knew.
It is so incredibly hard to condense four amazing weeks with the Lord, my amazing team, the PIER foundation, and the city of Gainesville into a video or a short(ish) blog post, so let’s connect! The Lord spoke and changed my life as well as my relationship with Him throughout this trip. COVID can’t stop you from experiencing the Lord; my trip is full proof of that. I’m so incredibly thankful that I had this opportunity and that I have supporters like you. Thank you for being a part of my journey.