Students often spend part of Christmas break on mission trips or a weekend helping out with local relief efforts, but sophomore Christian studies major Eli Jackson spent an entire semester in East Africa with the International Mission Board Hands-On program.
“You can go over there, and you’re the big missionary. You’re the head honcho … that’s what you think while you’re over here,” Jackson said. “But once you get over there (and) stay more than two weeks, you realize that you’re just some weird white guy that can’t speak the language trying to help these people out. And God shows you how much you’re worth and how much you have to depend on Him.”
When he first heard of the program from an older gentleman in his hometown church, he was thinking of taking a short trip.
“I wasn’t expecting to go for four and half months. I was thinking more like Christmas or summer,” Jackson said. “But (I) looked at it, thought about it, prayed about it. I’m not going to graduate on time anyways, so I might as well go on to Africa for a while.”
Jackson’s sister Kelci, a senior at Belton High School said, “It was kind of exciting, bitter sweet I mean,” when her brother decided to go. “It would be really cool to know somebody who’s been to Africa, and he’s serving God in a foreign country and telling … people about Him.”
But the work Jackson undertook thousands of miles from the university last semester proved to be far from an easy break from school. He learned more about his faith in the villages of Africa than from the classroom setting.
“There’s a lot more than the school stuff has. Just the small things of daily life … are bigger within,” part of putting faith into action.
“The first two weeks were nice,” Jackson said.
He had a spiritual high after gathering for orientation with other Christians at a resort on the beach.
After three weeks in language school learning as much Swahili as he could, Jackson and his team members began their mission.
“I was drilling and refurbishing water wells,” he said. “You get excited about the whole culture .… At first you’re excited, then you hate it (and) then you get used to it.”
He worked on the mission field for months, so the experience was different from any other trips he had taken before with his youth group.
“It was a lot different because two weeks you don’t get it all. You (just) get the excitement, ” Jackson said. “You don’t get the day-to-day frustrations, the small things that all add up (like) the nights without electricity for a week and no A/C and it’s hot. There’s no water, so you can’t take a shower that night (and) drinking lukewarm water out there in the village. You can do it for two weeks, but … you get the full experience if you go longer.”
Jackson’s youth pastor and friend, Jeff Burns, has known Jackson six years and has watched his faith grow over time.
“(Jackson) recently shared a little more about his experience during our morning worship, and in those few moments, I was completely blown away,” Burns said. “For him there was somewhat of a language barrier, but the love of Christ seemed to dissolve that.”
Using a tripod with a bit at the end, the men dug a well with the help of gravity, a lengthy process.
“We refurbished the first two (wells), and the last we dug from scratch. It was a lot of work,” Jackson said.
While the tripod method takes more time than other techniques, it proves to be better in the end because villagers labor alongside the missionaries.
“(It) takes a little longer, so you’re out there a little longer, so you have more opportunities to share with the people,” Jackson said. “They’re part of it, so they have some ownership in the well.”
Jackson shared Christ with the people he met and was challenged by a Muslim man named Moody who “(had) more of the Bible memorized than all three of us white guys put together,” he said.
A few days later after visiting with Jackson and his companions, Moody became a Christian.
“I came away with two important truths—the importance of knowing God’s Word … and the importance of sharing God’s Word,” he said.
In total, the team worked on three wells while ministering to the people of eastern Africa.
“It was a lot of work.” Jackson said. “God used this time to harden my hands and soften my heart.”