RICHMOND, Va. — Eating fish and rice for every meal or living in a house with no running water for five months may not appeal to most people. Ben Geller, however, developed a taste for life on the mission field as a short-term worker in Africa.
He also came away with an appreciation for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. He was grateful for the no-frills accommodations provided by the offering while he shared the gospel in Senegal among the Lebou, a Muslim people of 150,000.
Geller was one of more than 40 student missionaries who participated last spring in the International Mission Board’s (IMB) Hands On program. A portion of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program helped the Hands On students offset some of the costs of food, lodging and transportation. The program, which gives seminary and college students a semester of missions experience in Africa, will expand to other countries in January.
“(The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering) takes a huge weight off your shoulders,” said Geller, a member of First Baptist Church in El Dorado, Ark., and a senior agricultural major at Mississippi State University.
“When you don’t have to support yourself overseas that means you can dedicate all your time to ministry.”
This year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal is $170 million. Last year, Southern Baptists gave a record $150.4 million to the offering, but fell short of the $165 million goal. In addition to helping with the Hands On program, the offering and the Cooperative Program also provide support for more than 5,500 missionaries.
Geller plans to return full time to the mission field after finishing his education.
“I’m sold,” Geller said. “As soon as I get my degree, get my seminary requirements — I’m ready to get back over there.”
Students’ lives are being changed by serving overseas, said Chad Stillwell, who heads up the IMB’s Hands On program. Many of the students are learning that becoming a missionary takes sacrifice.
Though the Lottie Moon offering and the Cooperative Program helped Hands On students offset most of the costs, each student pays a flat rate that covers airfare, insurance, visa and training materials.
“(It takes them) to that next level of sacrifice,” Stillwell said. “To not just say, ‘I’ll do it when it is convenient.’ But they say, ‘we will sacrifice money, and we will sacrifice timing graduation (to) go out and share the gospel.’”
Aubrey Brown learned about sacrifice and the importance of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering while working in Tanzania with a Hands On team.
Living in the mountains in a mud hut with concrete floors and no electricity or running water, Brown — a member of First Baptist Church, Raymore, Mo., — taught English in a small school. The only existing supplies were chalk and a chalkboard.
Through the offering and reading supplies donated by her home church, Brown and her team ministered to the children in their English classes. Brown came away with an education of her own.
“The great thing about (this missions experience is) it gives you a better idea of what missionary life is truly like,” said Brown, a graduate of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo.
“I’m going back,” she said.