by Rebekah Erway
Rachel Rowland, senior intercultural studies missiology major and leader of the New York City Evangelism spring break trip, recently appeared as Marian in Cedarville’s Winter production of “The Music Man.” Rowland said she tries to engage with the art and theatre communities in general. She has also been in women’s choir for four years and has volunteered to help with recitals and acting scenes for directing classes.
Rowland said throughout high school, when she was questioning her identity, art was a tool for her to understand God on a deeper level and understand the human experience.
“Art is not something that decorates our life but it’s something that enhances it and makes it so much more beautiful and expressive,” Rowland said.
Rowland doesn’t simply live for the arts. Her life displays her desire to be intentional with her gifts.
“She is intentional in her relationships, intentional about her purpose, intentional about her walk with God,” said Beth Cram Porter, associate professor of vocal music. “She lives consciously.”
Rowland said her desire to live purposefully led her to switch her major from vocal studies to intercultural studies during her second semester of sophomore year. When Rowland entered college in the fall 2013, she planned to go into performance. Then, during the missions conference her sophomore year, Rowland decided to be more intentional about life after graduation.
“I decided I would really love to reach people through the arts in a missional context,” Rowland said. “I don’t necessarily know if that’s oversees, but I do know that I want to use the arts to reach people for the gospel and for furthering of the kingdom.”
Rowland’s internal drive led her to start the NYC Evangelism spring break missions trip between her freshman and sophomore year. That summer, Rowland prayed about God using the resources she had to serve him because she didn’t know how to serve.
“I didn’t know where I could be used at Cedarville,” she said. “I was struggling.”
Rowland said that as she prayed, she thought about what she was passionate about, which included NYC. Growing up near the city, Rowland said she knew there were a lot of opportunities to serve there. She began thinking through the logistics it would require to take a missions team to the city.
“I just wanted to be able to use my knowledge of the city and the fact that I lived somewhat close to NY to be able to expose people to urban ministry and homeless ministry,” Rowland said.
Rowland created a mock plan of a missions trip and presented it to the Global Outreach office that fall. To her surprise, they asked her to lead it. Rowland said she did not feel prepared as a sophomore, but she was willing to lead the trip.
“It was kind of one of those things where you don’t really feel prepared to do it, but God equips you to do it as you proceed,” Rowland said.
Rowland has led a team of five to seven people to NYC for the past three spring breaks. This year, the team went to neighborhoods in different boroughs of NYC: Brooklyn, Chinatown and Midtown. Because each borough had a different environment, each place the team went tackled a different side of ministry. In some places, the team ministered to those who were homeless. Another was to those in a shelter working toward restoration. The third was to those who lived in extreme poverty but were not yet homeless.
“You minister differently according to where you are,” Rowland said.Rowland said finding several organizations to minister alongside can be a challenge. Since mission trips have a lot of moving parts, communication was an important part of planing. Rowland had to find organizations that were well-organized and could respond to her emails in a timely manner. She said she might contact five different organizations requesting opportunities to serve and not hear back from any.
Another challenge to planning the mission trip was figuring out transportation, Rowland said, which is especially difficult in an urban environment where “it takes forever to get anywhere always.”
Rowland said she realizes short-term missions trips do not make a large impact during the week they are there. She said she hopes each year that someone on the trip sees urban or homeless ministry in a way they did not before and decides to do those ministries in their area for years to come.
“Ultimately, short-term trips are a segue into a much larger picture of what ministry is; working day in and day out and working, building into the same peoples’ lives again and again and again,” Rowland said. “Showing a commitment to the people you are serving, whose hearts and souls you are pouring into on a daily basis.”
Students who have gone on these trips shared that they appreciated the effort Rowland put into leading the trips.
“On the trip, she was gung-ho about anything, even the really small,” said Arielle Feustel, a sophomore biblical studies major.
“No matter how tired we were, we had a devotional time, shared testimonies, highs and lows,” Feustel said.
While these were times of fellowship, they were also times where Rowland prioritized the spiritual health of the team. Feustel said she appreciated how Rowland kept the team’s eyes fixed on God throughout the whole week, and she recommends that others get to know her.
“She knows how to balance being so fun and so carefree and so crazy energetic with also being so serious and wise and pursuing the Lord in what she does,” Feustel said.
Rebekah Erway is a junior journalism major and campus news editor for Cedars. She is a diehard Disney, Veggietales, and Lord of the Rings fan and enjoys speaking in a British accent.