As Southern prepares for the start of the new semester, a small handful of students are anticipating the start of a year as student missionaries (SM). But with the abrupt changes caused by COVID-19, Student Missions has opted to reduce its operations for the Fall 2020 semester.
“We recognize the increased risks brought on by the novel coronavirus, not only to health but to travel,” the Student Missions Office wrote in a statement released on Southern’s website. “As such, we will be partnering with a reduced number of organizations until the pandemic has subsided.”
Under normal circumstances, Southern’s Student Missions works in over 40 countries worldwide and has connections with approximately 100 organizations, according to Student Missions Director Christian Bunch. This year, however, the opportunities are limited.
As of July 29, Southern’s COVID-19 Task Force has approved only 14 organizations to work with this semester. Of that number, only six are ranked “high probability” locations, meaning that the countries’ borders are open. Eight are ranked “moderate probability” locations, meaning that they are still unclear whether or not the borders will allow SMs to deploy. The list will be revised on Aug. 2.
“Just because the task force approves [of an organization] doesn’t necessarily mean that we can send somebody,” Bunch said. “It just means that in the event that the border is open, and we have worked it out with the organization, and they want to receive student missionaries, we have the ability to send them.”
At the moment, there are approximately 30 students signed up to go as student missionaries during the fall semester. Though Bunch still expects the number to change, he says this is about half the number when compared to previous years.
Despite these stats, most organizations Student Missions partners with will continue to carry on their operations.
“We seek to work with organizations who don’t rely specifically on student missionaries,” Bunch said. “Though [not receiving SMs] may reduce their capacity to do everything that they have done in the past, most of our organizations will be able to continue without as many student missionaries.”
Nursing junior Nicole Donesky is one of the students who plans to serve as an SM this coming semester. She will be working in Zambia at a medical clinic. Though she was worried at first about COVID-19, she says God kept proving to her that this was the right decision.
“God just kept opening the doors since the beginning,” Donesky said. “There were other locations – [India and Peru] – where I had looked into going. But out of those options, the one that seemed to fit me best was Zambia. … Now, because of COVID, those locations don’t sound as promising or possible as Zambia. So, I can see God leading that decision.”
Donesky is currently working to get her Visa and plans to leave for Zambia at the end of August.
“[Student Missions] has been very open during this time, even though they don’t have all the
answers,” Donesky said. “They’re optimistic and trying to do the best that they can to help us, while also being real with us and telling us the potential risks with COVID and different countries that are open or borders that may close.”
As a safety precaution, SMs are required to wear masks while traveling. They also have to quarantine for 14 days upon arriving at their destination.