“Go serve. It will be the best thing you ever do.” Student missionary Zach Kirstein encourages students at Southern from the mission field in Bolivia

Zach takes a selfie with kids from Casa de Leones, or “House of Lions.” (Photo courtesy of: Zach Kirstein)
Zach takes a selfie with kids from Casa de Leones, or “House of Lions.” (Photo courtesy of: Zach Kirstein)

Junior finance major Zach Kirstein is currently spending a year as a student missionary at Familia Feliz, an orphanage and boarding school in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. 

Familia Feliz has been operating for more than 16 years and is currently supporting about 70 children, according to Kirstein. 

“The goal of Familia Feliz is to provide shelter and a refuge for kids who are abused or neglected — to provide a safe place where kids can play, grow and learn about Jesus in a safe environment,” Kirstein said. 

Originally, Kirstein planned on serving as a student missionary in 2020 but was not able to because of COVID-19. Now, he recognizes the providence of God in the way things turned out. 

“My first … reason I wanted to go was like, ‘I’m gonna go escape. I’m gonna go to skip college. I’m gonna go escape whatever stress in my life,’” Kirstein said. “And then God was like, ‘Yeah, listen, you have the right idea. I don’t think you have the right mindset.’”

Looking back, Kirstein said he was thankful his plan for 2020 didn’t work out because when he left this year, his primary reason for serving was “to form connections with kids.”  

“It was like really good that I didn’t end up going because my mindset was totally changed,” Kirstein said. “… I grew closer to God, and then I ended up wanting to be a missionary, not because I [wanted] to escape but because I wanted to.” 

Kirstein left the United States on August 15, and after 24 hours of travel, arrived in Rurrenabaque to begin his job as assistant house parent for Casa de Leones, or “House of Lions,” a house for 12 boys ages 3 to 10. 

“I was super tired,” Kirstein said about the day of his arrival. “I also was really scared. …  I was like, ‘I am not ready for this. … I don’t even know how to speak Spanish. … It’s going to be really difficult.’” 

But when Kirstein saw the kids, he said all doubt went away. He realized they were trying to welcome him and help by taking his bags. 

“It was pretty adorable,” Kirstein said. 

Kirstein’s duties include making food, washing clothes, making sure the kids get to bed and playing with the kids. He also serves as the music teacher for grades one through 12. He even started a choir that performs once a month for Vespers. 

Even though Kirstein has only spent a little over two months at Familia Feliz, so far, he said he has already gained a shift in perspective. 

“Before being a missionary, I always pictured mission work as preaching or baptizing hundreds of people,” Kirstein said. “However, that is only one small part of mission work. The large part of mission work is simply living with people and being an example of who Jesus is every day.”

Kirstein also expressed a passion for raising funds for the orphanage. He said Familia Feliz is completely supported by donations, which go towards food, medical expenses, maintenance and projects that work to improve the campus. Donations also help support house parents. 

Familia Feliz recently launched a sponsorship program that allows sponsors to support a child for $25 a month. According to Kirstein, donations can be made at https://www.familia-feliz.org/.

Kirstein offered advice to those considering mission work. 

“If you are considering being a student missionary, I believe it’s because God put that into your mind, and it is something you should take seriously,” Kirstein said. “Go! Go serve; it will be the best thing you ever do. God will guide you through every step of the way. And, you do not have to worry about a single thing because God sent you as a missionary, and He will take care of you.”

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