Over the week of Spring Break in March, nearly 40 PUC students volunteered their time, energy, and muscles on a small island in the country of Fiji. Together with a few students from La Sierra University and the three student missionaries already on-site from PUC and one from Walla Walla University, the young adults built housing for student missionaries who regularly serve the 400 people who live on the island.
"We've done mission trips to this location five times now," says Fábio Maia, service and missions coordinator. "We try to build relationships with the people there, rather than just doing something, leaving, and never going back."
In addition to building housing and providing Vacation Bible School for the kids, the group had two doctors, two dentists, and two dental hygienists accompany them to offer basic care to the island residents. Thanks to a partnership with the local ministers of health and education, everything went smoothly.
"I wanted to go to Fiji because I'd heard so many other students who went in the past say it was the best mission experience they'd ever had," says Erika Dalida, senior health communication and pre-professional major. "I had no expectations except that it was going to be an amazing trip, and I was right."
The original intention of the trip was to build a medical clinic. But when Maia pitched that idea, the local community said they needed something else.
"It turns out what they've been wanting and needing is a kindergarten classroom," Maia explains. "We're going for them, not for ourselves, and we respect their needs. We don't just bring our assessments and goals and shove a project on them; whatever they need, that's what we'll do."
In addition to the kindergarten class, Maia has been working with Fiji's minister of health to develop a recycling program on the island. It would be the first of its kind in the country.
These kinds of trips are not just the opportunity to serve and fill a need for those less fortunate. They also have potential to change the trajectory of students' lives and career goals.
"Our students get to shadow the medical professionals who accompany us on our trips," Maia explains. "They get to see how medical missions work and get a little taste before they ever get to medical school. The doctors we brought this year were very attentive not just to the patients they saw, but also in explaining to the students how and why they do what they do. The connections are invaluable."
The students didn't just fill one role on the trip; they helped with whatever they could to get the jobs done. Dalida was in charge of the VBS program, which served over 60 students at the island school, helped with construction of the student missionary residence, and assisted in the medical and dental clinic.
"I really loved the people of Fiji," she says. "The activities we did to help the community were not only engaging, but they were helpful. It made me realize I might like to do mission work on the side once I get licensed as an occupational therapist. Fiji was such a great experience, and I really felt God's presence throughout the trip."
There are four locations PUC rotates through for mission trips on a regular basis: Bangladesh, Brazil, Fiji, and Kenya. The goal, Maia says, is to have at least one student missionary from one of the North American Adventist schools at each of these locations every year.
"The most important thing about missions is to continue growing relationships with the people," says Maia. "We learn from them, share our experiences with them. That's what makes the biggest impact. Why should they listen to anything we say about Jesus if we don't know each other? That's why we keep going back."
The impact of these trips is felt not only by the locals on-site, but by those who return to the U.S., determined to go back and help again.
"I was surprised at how attached I got to the kids and community members on that island," admits Dalida. "I didn't realize how sad I would be to leave, but I will go back there someday. Definitely."
Maia is currently planning a two-week mission trip to Brazil in June. For more information and to sign up to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (707) 965-7190.