For the last few years, Covenant has partnered with a missions group in London, England to take a group of students to work with the South Asian communities in Southall and Hounslow as one of the Break on Impact trips offered each Spring Break. However, the start of this year's trip was accompanied by a series of events worthy of a Lemony Snicket tale.
The Covenant team included thirteen students--most of them juniors and seniors--and was to be led by professor emeritus Dr. Henry Krabbendam and RUF intern Barr Overcast. Unfortunately, an illness in Dr. Krabbendam's family prevented him from attending the trip. Down one leader, the remaining team members were prepared to leave from Chattanooga on Friday, March 6 with a connecting flight in Charlotte, but icy conditions caused that flight to be cancelled. As a result, the team was unable to leave until two days later, this time driving to Knoxville instead of flying out of Chattanooga.
After landing at Heathrow, the team encountered yet another setback at British customs. Since UK law requires international visitors to obtain a particular visa for missions or volunteer work--an impractical option for short-term teams--the students were told to emphasize the fact that they were visiting the country for Spring Break. This strategy worked well for all thirteen students, but Barr Overcast was denied entry to the UK. He was instead detained for nearly a day before being sent back the US, leaving the team without a leader.
Despite less than ideal beginnings, the remaining thirteen students quickly made the best of the situation. Senior Conrad Meek and Junior Kelsey Mathis, members of the RUF Core Team, both stepped into positions of leaderships. The missions team in London was also both supportive and sympathetic to the situation. Junior Amy Dewaal, who participated in the trip, noted that while they “were all at least a little shocked at first when we didn’t have Dr. Krabbendam or Barr,” she felt that “the trip definitely went really well overall,” specifically citing the London missionaries as major contributor to the success of the trip.
Once in London, roughly half of the trip was spent in the classroom. The instructors covered topics such as the basics of evangelism, as well as the culture and prevailing religions in London’s South Asian communities. As part of this education, students visited Sikh and Hindu temples and a Mosque, as well as simply spending time in the communities of Southall and Harrow.
While students spent each morning in the classroom, most afternoons were devoted to evangelism. Three of these afternoons were spent manning book tables on the High Streets, the main commercial and shoppings centers of London neighborhoods. Working closely with the missionaries, the team distributed literature and discussed the Gospel with anyone who was interested. A few students also engaged in street preaching, an activity which is seen as much more acceptable among South Asian communities than it is in the United States.
Students also had the opportunity to help with the weekly kids' club and participate in door-to-door evangelism. A large part of the door-to-door evangelism was focused on inviting members of the neighborhood to a celebration service on Thursday evening at New Life Masih Ghar, a church plant in London.
The Thursday evening service was held in honor of the seven year anniversary of Glory TV, a South Asian Christian television station supported by the church. While some English was used, the majority of the service was in Hindi and Punjabi, performed in a traditional style with traditional instruments. The entire service was recorded for later broadcast on Glory TV.
The missionaries the team worked with regularly engage the community using book tables and kids' clubs. Covenant's Break on Impact trip to London provides a unique opportunity for evangelistically minded students to participate in the day-to-day operations of a London missionary. It allows students to engage in cultural learning while simultaneously gaining invaluable evangelism experience.
“Even with all the setbacks, I’d go again in a heartbeat,” said Hannah McCoy, another member of the team. “God is doing some amazing things in London, and it was an honor to be even a small part of it.”