BELMONT — As a Benedictine monastery as well as an institution of learning, Belmont Abbey College prides itself on instilling the values of hospitality and service in its students. For those who wish to make the most of their time at the Abbey and put those particular values to good use, an education professor leads overseas mission trips every year that have proved to be successful in more ways than one.
“I feel like every faculty member within a department can contribute to our students’ overall growth,” says Dr. Tara Galloway, assistant professor of education. “This involves preparing students’ minds, bodies and spirits to pursue the good for themselves and for their communities, which is our mission at Belmont Abbey College.”
Galloway takes interested students on a mission trip to a developing country twice a year to learn about the meaning of charity and giving. In January, she took her students to Haiti, a country ravaged by poverty and natural disasters, where she believes her students find “the perfect opportunity…to change their worldview and broaden their knowledge of the world and what people are going through.”
The ultimate aim, she says, is to help students in learning to “lead lives of integrity” and become “a walking blessing” to those around them.
Working with Mission of Hope, a Christian organization which aims to help the people of Haiti through Church advancement, medical care and other resources, Galloway and her students build houses and give families needed practical items such as water filters and solar lights to improve the quality of their lives.
However, there is much more: “These things were such a blessing to the families,” she says, “but the best part was that we were able to connect with these beautiful people and share how Jesus provides the eternal light and living water for eternal life. The trees would produce fruit for the families to eat, but we were also able to plant the seed of God’s love and grace in their lives.”
Galloway acknowledges that there is only so much the team of students can do to help the Haitian people during their trips, but they are never deterred in their work, as they know they are being guided by something stronger than themselves.
“Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with a population of 9 million and over two-thirds of the population are unemployed. The sheer vastness of need makes you question yourself and makes you feel so unqualified to be Jesus’ hands and feet, but God revealed His purpose daily and clearly guided the way for our group while we worked in Haiti. We were forced to step out of our comfort zones and let God use us in unimaginable ways to change one life at a time – including our own.”
Despite the difficulties, every student spoke of their joyful experience during the process, without a hint of complaint or regret. In sharing some of her students’ comments about the trip, the lasting, sober impact it has impressed upon them is quite obvious.
“You never leave Haiti the same person you once were,” says Alexis Peririo. “They live in such a simple way and it really changes the way you value things.”
For student Brette Linkenhoker, the mission trip brought her “closer to God” and made her “more grateful for everything I have back home.”
For others, the power of Christ worked wonders and changed hearts. “I wasn’t even good with kids until the Haiti trip, but God helped me,” says Kayla Vitello. “I didn’t even believe in God until the trip. Life is about serving others and following in the steps of Jesus – and that was the mission in Haiti. We accomplished that mission. I felt it in my heart and it touched me forever.”
Besides the Haiti trip, Galloway emphasizes the concept of service in her courses on public education. Students accompany her to different parts of the world where they engage in some form of charity work. It’s a perk of the job that is quite successful and one that she takes quite seriously: “The first year we went to the Dominican Republic and worked with the Mariposa Foundation, serving girls and young women affected by sex trafficking. Last year, we traveled to Ireland to work on an organic farm with the Dominican Sisters in Wicklow. This year, the trip will be in Germany to work with refugees in Munich.”
Galloway’s spiritual emphasis for these trips is a testament to what the college can do for its students – more than just providing a liberal arts education.
“Mission trips have the unique ability to build community and togetherness among the students,” she says. “They find themselves fully relying on God to take in real-world living situations, and faith is forced to step in. The trans-formation is palatable and it is amazing to watch God propelling them forward in their walk in faith.”
— Emily Williams, correspondent