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Student gains 'global perspective' on Africa trip
March 10, 2003
By Erika Nelson

Years ago, Ernie Canell told God he would never do missions work in Africa.

In January, he went on his second mission trip to the continent and is planning on returning for a third trip this summer.

"God laid it on my heart," Canell said when asked what changed his mind. "You never tell God you won't do something."

Canell, a B.A. student at Boyce College and pastor of a church in Indiana, was part of a January term trip to Nairobi, Kenya. The nine-member team spent their two-week trip ministering to Muslim people.

The other members of the team were Emily Brindle, Brian Burkhead, Chad Fugitt, Laura Hanna, Michael Jaques, Troy Luttrell and Lindsay Proctor. Dan Hatfield, vice president for Student Services and dean of students, led the trip.

Each member of the team was paired with a Muslim who was hired to be their "cultural guide."

"We would go out with them each day and visit places around the city, and at the same time, witness to them," said Canell, a Cheboygan, Mich., native.

The team went to Africa expecting they wouldn't see any conversions, but while they were there two of their eight guides became Christians. Two weeks after the trip, missionaries in Kenya wrote to say a third had accepted Christ, as well.

"We were so blessed," Canell said. "It reaffirms how we shouldn't get caught up with numbers, but instead focus on planting the seed of God's Word."

In preparing for the trip, Canell said the team spent time learning about the Islamic faith and what roadblocks they might face when sharing the Christian faith.

"Muslims believe that all Americans are Christians, and they believe all Americans are immoral because of what they see on American T.V.," Canell said. "We had to get past this."

Along with being prepared to witness, the team had to be prepared for the cultural differences they would face.

Canell described the city of Nairobi as "dirty, smelly and smoky." He said Nairobi has a population of three million and around 60,000 children live on the streets.

"Nairobi doesn't have laws like we do," Canell said. "People cook on the sidewalks and throw their trash on the streets."

The women on the team had to wear long-sleeved shirts or dresses and everyone had to be watchful of crime.

Overall, Canell said the trip showed him the extent to which the Christian faith is taken for granted in the United States. A Muslim who converts to Christianity risks losing their family, friends and their life.

Randy Smith, assistant professor of missions at Boyce College and director of the Center for Missions Mobilization, called the problem of taking faith for granted, "American Christianity Syndrome." He said that students who go on mission trips often wrestle with their own ethnocentricity and realizing that God loves the world equally.

Smith believes every Christian should go to the mission field no matter how long the trip, especially students at Boyce College and Southern Seminary.

"Mission trips assist the student to realize that they need to be world Christians who just happen to be born, live and minister in America," Smith said.

Canell said his trips to Africa have helped him understand that a Christian's vision for reaching people shouldn't be so narrow.

"If you have a global perspective, you will be more likely to reach the people around you," Canell said. "It is like the ripple effect when you throw a stone in a pond -- we understand better how to do evangelism."

The Center for Missions Mobilization is still looking for students who are interested in going on a two-week mission trip to Ghana in July. Interested students can talk to Randy Smith or the Center for Missions Mobilization.

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