A group of Southeast Missouri State University students are in Khon Kaen, Thailand, this summer, working with Campus Outreach Ministries in an effort to share their faith.
The students have traveled thousands of miles from home to spend six weeks living out Campus Outreach’s vision of “glorifying God by building laborers on the campus for the lost world.”
Participants include seniors Tony Exler of Fenton, Missouri; Courtney Gapelu of Kansas City, Missouri; Walter Hale of Springfield, Illinois; Anna Hirner of Memphis, Missouri; Kevin Marquez of O’Fallon, Illinois; Brooke Reichart of Chatham, Illinois; and Meghan Rintoul of St. Louis, Missouri; as well as alumni Peter Constantinides of New Berlin, Illinois; Kevin Francis of Edwardsville, Illinois; Audrey Giacomini of Chatham, Illinois; and Shelby Kate McCord of Jackson, Missouri.
The Southeast contingent traveled with a few others from the Campus Outreach Memphis region to work at a summer camp for college students at Khon Kaen University where they create relationships with the students in order to share the Gospel. They are led by Campus Outreach Memphis staff and Southeast alumni Jon and Mo McGuirt. Campus Outreach is an international ministry that encourages college students to focus on Christ and share His word.
“We are teaching them English and other life skills while also building friendships with them,” Marquez said. “We are doing this to share who Jesus is because Thailand is over 85 percent Buddhist and does not hear of Christianity as much.”
Many people in Thailand have never heard of Jesus, so the Campus Outreach members want to show His love through them.
“We are teaching Thai people English, so we are meeting temporal needs. However, we are also meeting spiritual needs as well by being here. Thailand is a very spiritually dark place to be,” Hirner said.
(From left) Two students from Khon Kaen University and Southeast students Kevin Marquez, Shelby Kate McCord, Tony Exler and Brooke Reichart play soccer together.
The group arrived in Thailand May 21 and will leave to return home July 2.
Rintoul says the experience is not only helping grow her world view, but she is learning a lot about herself as well.
“I have learned what it looks like to be friends with someone that doesn’t speak the same language as you, be somewhere that does not have the same privileges you do back home and what it truly means to be pushed out of your comfort zone. Thailand has honestly taught me more about myself and how I think about things than anything else,” Rintoul said.
Going to Thailand and being submerged in a new culture is outside many people’s comfort zone, but it has been eye-opening.
“Living in a different country for six weeks is just enough time to adjust to their culture. Getting to see how some of the Thais live on a daily basis is definitely eye-opening,” Gapelu said. “We got to visit a village where the house we stayed at had no running water, no air conditioning, we slept on the floor and took bucket showers. I realized that there is so much I take for granted back in the states.”
The students with Campus Outreach planned for their trip ahead of time as much as they could, but there were still surprises and changes they had to face once they arrived.
“Being in a different culture and actually living as part of a different culture is a crazy and humbling experience. In America, I often feel as an insider, but here you are definitely an outsider that sticks out like a sore thumb. It is an experience that is unlike any other, difficult yet so much fun,” Rintoul said.
Team members from the Campus Outreach Memphis region get picked up from the airport.
Hirner said that adjusting to a new country and culture is harder than she expected. She says it’s challenging yet amazing.
“To be surrounded by a totally different people group and culture is a beautiful thing. There are many challenges like driving stick shift on the opposite side of the road, dodging huge potholes while driving, my body hates the food and the language barrier is hard. But it’s worth it,” Hirner said.
Even though Southeast students went to Thailand to teach, they are learning a lot as well.
“Coming to Thailand was definitely out of my comfort zone, but was somewhere that I felt I was called to be,” Gapelu said. “Since I have been here in Thailand, I have been learning a lot about myself and how selfish I have been here. God has been revealing so much to me … and how much I need Jesus on a daily basis.”