Since being in South Africa, my team has seen the unexplainable joy that locals who are wholeheartedly pursuing Jesus have. It’s been really interesting to see how we can go from a village that is extremely impoverished to an area that is very wealthy in 10 minutes.

Seeing poverty to the extent that we have so far has been challenging. It’s hard to see people living in a state of such great need. God has been using these experiences to open our eyes to see how broken this world is. A lot of the people we encounter are in need when it comes to materialistic things, but they have such a profound sense of joy. It has been so humbling to see how joyful people can be even in the midst of such real hardships. I (Jared) can confidently say that my entire team has a new perspective on what it means to be joyful. It’s easy to think we’re being joyful when everything in our lives is going right. But it’s in lack that true joy is cultivated.

I’m not sure that many people in our group from Impact 360 have ever experienced being in need to the point where we haven’t known where our next meal is coming from. The beautiful thing is that we don’t have to experience something that extreme to have opportunities to cultivate joy in our lives. One of the most prominent things God has been teaching us since we got here is that He is unfathomably bigger and more powerful than we can imagine. He is moving powerfully in places other than in the United States. It’s one thing to know that truth, but experiencing it changes everything.

God is using International Immersion to shape me for my Kingdom purpose by showing me that He is able to send out His people all over the world and they will be effective. Those who faithfully carry the gospel will be effective wherever they go because they have been commissioned by the Lord Himself. God is showing me that He can do more than I can even think to ask Him to do. He can use suffering not only for His glory but also for the good of those suffering.

God is also helping me grow in compassion for people who are suffering in ways I’m not. In the past it’s always been hard for me to have compassion on someone who is in a situation I can’t relate to. Maybe that’s just been my closed mind preventing me from truly being like Jesus, but all of that has started to change since being on this trip. There is nothing that will help you grow in compassion like serving. When I serve, I focus on myself less and on others more. I stop being so wrapped up in my own little world and I start to see that other people face challenging things just like I do. Suffering actually has a way of bringing people together. Not many other things bond people like experiencing hardship and struggle together. God has been teaching me that I can have compassion for people who are suffering even If I don’t understand their struggle. 

Jared Stephens