For the second year, the Global Initiatives team at Grace College, Winona Lake, Ind., included a Mystery Trip among the Go Encounter trip options. This year, Dr. Matthew Harmon, professor of New Testament studies, and John Sloat, resident director, took 13 students to Sydney, Australia; Christchurch, New Zealand; and Tokyo, Japan. The 12-day excursion took place May 22 – June 2.
“Dr. Harmon and John Sloat did an excellent job leading us,” said Brileigh Malott, a senior at Grace College and Mystery Trip student leader. “All of us enjoyed traveling with them. One great thing they did was allow us to empower each other. It was rewarding to see different leaders step up in different cities and experiences. This helped us appreciate each other and how God has uniquely equipped us,” she said.
While most Go Encounter experiences involve a single country, the Mystery Trip is special. Prior to arriving at the airport, students are unaware of the locations they will visit. As the trip progresses, each country is revealed, along with a rough schedule of planned activities. By design, students are kept guessing throughout preparation and then traveling on the Mystery Trip. According to Sloat, this underscores a lesson on trusting God and relying on each other to enter new – and sometimes, intimidating – circumstances and places.
Highlights of the 2017 Mystery Trip included biking through Sydney, visiting Japanese gardens, and attending church in New Zealand. Students also had the opportunity to engage with college students on international college campuses.
“Our experiences at the University of Sydney and the University of Canterbury were intimidating at first,” said Malott. “We didn’t know how students would respond to us. But thankfully, nearly every encounter was positive, and in the end, we all felt more comfortable approaching new people and sharing our faith.”
Malott believes experiences like these help prepare her and her peers for future ministry, relationships and careers.
“There are so many highlights of the trip and experiences I’ll never forget,” said Malott. “But I especially enjoyed our team. By the end of the trip, we were close friends. I’m so grateful for the experience.”
Sloat, along with Kearstin Criswell, director of student involvement at Grace College, created the Mystery Trip two years ago.
“The first trip originated when Kearstin and I talked about how much we valued travel and loved the experience of learning through navigation and exploration of new cities and places,” said Sloat. “So we started planning, trying to partner with ministries in other countries.”
At the prompting of the Global Initiatives department, Sloat and Criswell chose international locations and concealed them from the students. In 2016, Sloat and Criswell took a team to New York City, Italy and the United Arab Emirates. This year, Sloat and Dr. Harmon decided to visit countries off the United States’ West Coast.
“I think the Mystery Trip has become an annual event – and adventure – at Grace,” said Sloat. “We are already thinking about next year and looking forward to where we will go to surprise, challenge and build up our great students,” he said.
All undergraduate programs at Grace College require a cross-cultural field experience. Many students choose to fulfill this requirement through a Go Encounter trip to a variety of destinations, including Brazil, Fiji, France, England, Germany, Japan, Romania, South Korea, Cambodia, Uganda, and Ireland. Grace’s staff and faculty lead these seven-to-12-day trips. Some trips are cultural in which students explore native cultures through food, entertainment, and historical sites. Other trips emphasize service in which students work closely with diverse communities to build God’s kingdom in a variety of ways.
The feature image pictures the Mystery Trip team in front of the Sydney Opera House during a bike tour of Sydney, Australia. Brileigh Malott is pictured in the front row, third from left. John Sloat is back row, second from right, and Dr. Matthew Harmon is pictured back row, far right.