Casey Bowman had been on mission trips to New Orleans and New Mexico, but a summer mission trip to South Africa was radically different from any of her previous experiences.
“It blew my mind,” said Bowman, a 21-year-old LSU junior majoring in kinesiology. “I’m still trying to process everything that went on there.”
Bowman was one of 50 young people and adults who participated in the Southern Baptist’s International World Changers mission in July. She thought she would be playing with children or doing some sort of light construction work. Instead she found herself in a Soweto neighborhood bathing people dying of HIV-AIDS and applying ointment to their sores.
“We actually got to talk to people about Jesus while we were bathing them and caring for them — making their life better,” Bowman said. “It was very humbling — the people were so thankful we were there.”
Isaac Casal, 32, from Panama City, Panama, is working on an LSU doctorate in music and took his cello to South Africa. It didn’t take long, he said, for a crowd of children to gather around him whenever he began playing Cello Suite No. 1 by Johann Sebastian Bach.
“They had never seen or heard a cello, and some of them actually began crying,” Casal said. “They would pluck on the strings. It was incredible.”
Casal said he came home “very motivated to share my music here in the area. It is my special gift from God.”
Sarah Farley, associate campus minister for the Baptist Collegiate Ministries at LSU, was the mission’s ministry coordinator. This was her second trip to South Africa with International World Changers, a ministry of the International Mission Board branch of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Of the 50 participants, many were Baptist students from LSU, LSU-Eunice, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Tulane, Farley said. The remainder of the group was high school students and adults from two churches in Arkansas and Mississippi. Each person raised $3,100 for the trip.
The group partnered with several Baptist missionaries, local Baptist churches and their pastors, and they stayed at a Baptist youth camp.
“That’s one of the beautiful things about what Southern Baptists believe,” Farley said. “That being holistic is not just partnering with missionaries, but also working with local pastors in the field.”
The group divided into four teams who went to a girl’s school where they tutored and where Casal played his cello, while other groups conducted visitation near the churches, hosted block parties and did some light construction work and painting.
“There is a lot of heartbreak in that area,” Farley said. “A lot of the children take care of their siblings. A lot of children have had their parents die or abandon them. A lot of them have been raped or have HIV-AIDS.”
They ministered to hundreds of people from several ethnic groups, Farley said, and recorded 38 decisions made for salvation.
“It was really neat to see how many of the kids had questions about Jesus and God and the truth of the Bible. There is a hunger in that country for something more,” Farley said. “There (are) a lot of false churches there, animal worship, mysticism, evil eye, prosperity gospel, all mixed together. There is a lot of religion, there but not a lot of truth.”
Bowman, who hails from Ruston and attends Temple Baptist Church, said the experience enlightened her about her own family.
“My grandmother has some health issues, and I never thought before of doing things like helping her and bathing her,” Bowman said. “But after doing that in South Africa for complete strangers, why can’t I do that for people I know and love?”