By SIMIN WANG
When Parkade Baptist Church missionary Scott Parsons embarked on a mission trip to Kazakhstan last August, he did not expect to receive the best Christmas gift in his life. He will return next month with that and many more memories.
Parsons and his 12 teammates arrived in Kazakhstan in August 2009. They set up a campus ministry focused on evangelism, reaching out to college students who have little or no knowledge of Jesus.
“A friend of mine actually asked one of my roommates if Jesus was American,” he said in an e-mail interview.
“The main purpose of our campus ministry in particular … is two-fold: to lead people to Jesus and to disciple or mentor those believers into a Godly and outward focus life,” Parsons said.
Parsons’ campus ministry holds biweekly meetings for participants; they play games, watch videos the group made, sing worship songs and listen to sermons on Jesus’ teachings. Every week, Parsons leads a small group Bible study, called life group, where they talk about their lives and discuss the gospel of Mark. Once a month, Parson plans activities that allow new students to bond with current students.
Parsons spends his time sharing with students about God, and integrating into the culture. “I try to be intentional when I’m doing something like going to the mall or eating lunch to invite a student along,” he said. “It’s less about thinking about it as ‘my job,’ and more about integrating reaching out to students as a natural part of my life.”
Other activities in Kazakhstan
Apart from the work at his campus ministry, Parsons helps out at an orphanage one afternoon a week. The children there range from infants to 18-year-olds, and all of them have either a physical or mental impairment. Some of them are orphans, abandoned by their parents when they were found to have cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, but some are there temporarily because their parents do not have the resources to provide for them.
On any given day, there are between 170 to 200 children at the orphanage. Although helping out at the orphanage was not Parsons’ primary purpose, he said it was important for him as a Christian.
“Jesus was constantly spending time with outcasts, especially children, and reminding these children that they are loved and are valuable,” he said. “(The service) is a central part of my life with Christ, and I think it sends a message to people that if they do decide to become Christians, it’s about a lot more than getting into heaven — it’s about loving the lost and forgotten.”
‘The best Christmas gift of my life’
Parsons’ group had the chance to show the locals what a traditional American Christmas was like. They hosted six separate Christmas parties for all the students who are involved, with about 20 students at each party so it would be more intimate, like a typical family Christmas.
“Every night we played games, ate dinner together, gave gifts of a Bible in their native language and a CD of all our favorite Christmas music, and shared the nativity story,” Parsons said.
Parsons said he received the best gift when a student he works with became saved.
“At the end of the night, the pastor asked if anyone wanted to accept Christ, and there was a pregnant pause. And then her hand shot up in the air,” he said. “I was crying. I was as far away from my family as I’d ever been, not with them on Christmas Eve for the first time ever, and I knew that I’d just received the best Christmas gift of my life and that there wasn’t any place on earth I would’ve rather been at that moment.”
A life-changing decision
When Parsons was a freshman at MU, he joined a campus ministry called Chi Alpha, where he met his team leader, Scott Martin. Martin asked the members to dedicate a year to missions after graduation. That was when Parsons decided that he would go on a mission.
When Parsons found out Martin was leading a team to Kazakhstan for about nine months, he wanted to join.
“I’m a traveler at heart — in fact, I even have the word “sojourner” tattooed on my arm — and I knew I would have no problem living in some far-off corner of the world for a year,” Parsons said.”Being involved in a campus ministry changed my life, so I knew I wanted to work with university students, too.”
The novelty of traveling a path less taken also made Parsons more interested in the journey. “Central Asia just isn’t really a ‘hot’ place to go — it’s pretty popular to go to Africa or China — but as one of the missionaries in another central Asian country has said to me, ‘People just keep flying over central Asia and never stop.’ I wanted to stop,” Parsons said.
Although there are tough times living in Kazakhstan, Parsons said he has never regretted his decision.
“Sometimes I miss my friends and family or get frustrated by my dorm having regulated shower times, a curfew and bad internet, but it’s never been enough where I felt like I’d rather not have come.
“Everett likes to remind us that every day we have here is a privilege. I wouldn’t have wanted to have spent this year anywhere else. The people I’ve met and the things I’ve seen and experienced are irreplaceable.”