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Jada Christian performed various duties during the medical ministry phase of the marine outreach, including helping in the primary care clinic.

Alexandria woman completed marine outreach in New Zealand

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ALEXANDRIA -- A sweatshirt and a dream about Morgan Freeman were all the signs Jada Christian needed to tell her she had to go to New Zealand.

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When Christian graduated from Jefferson High School in Alexandria in 2007, and then completed two years of generals at Alexandria Technical College, she wasn't sure where she wanted to go or what she wanted to do.

She had heard about discipleship training schools (DTS) through an organization called Youth With a Mission, but she knew so many people who had done that, she was determined not to follow along.

An evening of researching DTS online made her change her tune when she discovered opportunities in both Australia and New Zealand, two places she had always wanted to visit. She was particularly interested in the New Zealand ministry because it was a "marine outreach," which meant it took place on a ship, and it included a medical ministry. She was intrigued by the hands-on approach of the marine outreach, which she thought demonstrated love in a practical way, rather than just "talking about it."

Still unsure and praying about what she should do, Christian had a dream that she was on a ship. Then she had another dream that she was on a beach with Morgan Freeman, an actor who has played God in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty. He was playing God in her dream - advising her that she can't always wait around for answers and have everything lined up before taking action. Then her friend brought her a present - a sweatshirt that just happened to have a picture of a ship and the name Jada in big letters.

She knew it was meant to be. She was going to go on a marine outreach mission.

Christian spent eight months saving money and fundraising to prepare for her five-month missions trip.

Upon her arrival in New Zealand in February 2009, the first few weeks were spent on the ship for a lecture phase and medical training.

"It was almost like an elongated Bible study," she explained, "building your character and working on yourself."

Next came the first phase of the medical outreach, which took place at various Fijian islands. The marine outreach sailed to villages and set up four clinics - primary health care, optometry and physical therapy. A dental clinic was set up on the ship, and patients were ferried out. Christian's duties mostly consisted of helping in the dental clinic.

"Their teeth are terrible!" she said. "They grow sugar cane and eat lots of it. Most of the children's teeth rot out. The first two patients we saw we extracted 22 teeth."

Christian was amazed at the gratitude shown to them by the people they helped.

"They thanked us any way they could," she said. "Kids brought us shells, a lady made me a woven mat with my name, this cute little old man walked through the jungle for four hours to find us a pineapple."

Although it was Christian and her crew who went to help the needy, she insists that they were the ones who benefitted.

"We went to bless them and they blessed us so much more," she said. "They showed us so much love."

After a few weeks in Fiji, the marine outreach went back to New Zealand, where Christian and eight others hitchhiked and backpacked across the country.

"It was unconventional, not your usual DTS outreach," she said. "The idea of mission work is to share the good news, so we felt like we were supposed to leave it open."

Out to "share the truth and the love," her group helped at churches, spoke to youth groups, and ministered to the homeless and prostitutes. During this phase of the trip, Christian put her knowledge of photography and film into action. Throughout the ministry, she would interview people about their beliefs and ask them other questions. She then compiled all the interviews into a video.

It was this project that made the organizers of the marine reach take notice. At the end of the five-month DTS, Christian was informed that a year-long media position was available, and they wanted her to do the job.

"I would represent marine reach, doing PR with radio stations, speaking at youth groups and conventions," she explained. "The biggest thing will be doing photography and filming. They want to get testimonies at the medical outreaches."

Having had such a rewarding experience during her DTS, Christian accepted the job. But there's a catch - she has to pay to do it.

"It's volunteer, I have to pay to be there," she said. "I will be working for a year, but I'm paying for it."

But that didn't deter her from accepting the job because she "couldn't think of anything more rewarding to do."

As soon as she arrived back in Alexandria in June, Christian went back to work to save money for her new job. She has also had a couple of fundraisers and has a website set up where she sells photos of her DTS (picasaweb.google.com/jada.christian).

Christian will leave for the next step on her journey at the beginning of October. And she can't wait, even though she knows it won't be easy.

"Knowing I am fulfilling a need and doing something worthwhile...this opportunity came up and I can't think of a better way to spend a year," Christian concluded. "You feel like you are making a difference and you learn so much. You get bit by the bug and want to keep at it. I can't think of anything more fulfilling than mission work."

FYI

• Jada Christian will share her experience working for a marine outreach in New Zealand in the following blog: jadachristian.blogspot.com.

• Photographs of the outreach can be viewed at picasaweb.google.com/jada.christian.

• For information or to contribute to the marine outreach cause, e-mail jada.christian@gmail.com.

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