If Raquel Hamm had not studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador her senior year, she would not be pursuing a vocation in ministry today.

Raquel started studying Christian Ministries at Biola three years ago, but she never had the desire to work at a church. Church was always culturally difficult for Raquel. Her experiences as a woman of color were often overlooked.

It bothered her when pastors, professors and peers didn’t focus on the aspects of reconciliation, community and love for the “other” that she has found so central to the gospel.

“I’ve always been passionate for all God's people to be reconciled to Him and each other,” said Raquel.

Raquel was reluctant at first to study abroad because of finances. Eventually, a series of coincidental moments happened that she knew it had to be the Lord’s hand guiding her. People she had never met would come up to her on campus and ask if she was going to Ecuador. She would meet people at church who had done the program. It felt like Ecuador was always coming up in random conversation. She had applied to various scholarships at the end of the spring semester of 2018, and weeks before she left for Ecuador she found out she got them.

“God made a way,” said Raquel.

She flew to Quito, Ecuador, where she studied in Fall 2018 through a program called Living and Learning International (L&LI). She lived in a predominantly Spanish-speaking country for four months. During that time she went on a short-term mission trip in the jungle, visited Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands, lived with an Ecuadorian family for a month, studied with a community of 33 other students, learned more Spanish and took other courses like biology.

“I experienced the same God in a vastly different way,” said Raquel.

Raquel had the opportunity to intern with an ethnically diverse church called English Fellowship Church. The church congregation was diverse in nationality and ethnicity, but the leadership was comprised primarily of white men. Raquel braced herself for an experience similar to what she had found at churches back home, but this church challenged her assumptions about ministry.

The pastor of the church, Len Kinzel, a white man, seemed to genuinely want to hear her story as a woman of color.

“He was one of the most selfless men I have ever met, and he was constantly looking at himself in humility of how he could learn from me,” said Raquel.

The church services themselves also encouraged Raquel and renewed her hope for diverse churches. Most of the time, the services were in Spanish and English. She was touched by the deep care this showed for each member of the congregation, regardless of the language they spoke.

“Almost every sermon had something to do with diversity in God’s kingdom through being in the body of Christ,” said Raquel. “It was so encouraging, and I think the Lord wanted to show me that it can be done effectively to where each person is cherished in their image of God, including their cultural backgrounds.”

While she was Ecuador, the Lord ministered to and through Raquel in numerous ways. Studying abroad re-defined church and ministry for Raquel. Her view of vocation was forever changed.

“I learned that ministry is who I am in Christ,” said Raquel. “Ministry is not just a job, it is my life.”

How might studying abroad impact your experience? Check out the study abroad programs website or email study.abroad@biola.edu to learn more.

Written by Kaelyn Timmins, account executive for Student Success. For more information, contact Kaelyn at kaelyn.c.timmins@biola.edu.