Beyond the Break: Belmont Students Forge Lasting Impact Through Global Mission Trips

Students and faculty on a mission trip to Guatemala
Inman College of Nursing

Beyond the Break: Belmont Students Forge Lasting Impact Through Global Mission Trips

March 14, 2024 | by Clara LoCricchio

For many college students, spring break is a chance to lounge by the pool or take a trip to the beach with friends. But for more than 100 Belmont students, it was so much more than that. 

From March 4-8, University Ministries and its partners sent 185 students, faculty, and staff members on mission trips to many locations, including Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Guatemala, London, Mexico, Panama City and Seattle. Their work included providing medical care, building homes, serving the poor and sharing the love and hope of Jesus.  sb3.jpg

“At first, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t get to rest during my break,” said Mackenzie Dungey, a first-year physical therapy student. “But there’s just another type of rest that you get from doing this type of work. Yes, you’re working, and yes, I’m still catching up on sleep, but I feel so filled up, spiritually rested and ready to jump into the rest of the semester after spending time in Guatemala.”  

Experiences and Impacts in Guatemala 

On Dungey’s trip, led by Dr. Gary Austin, Professor and Chair of Belmont’s School of Physical Therapy, 12 students and faculty partnered with IDC Missions, a ministry of Iglesia Del Camino, a church located in Antigua, Guatemala. Dr. Austin has been working closely with IDC for the last 10 years to serve Guatemalan communities by providing essential services like medical clinics, in-home wellness visits, and sponsoring and delivering water filters and wheelchairs. 

sb11.jpg“For me, the most impactful moment of the trip was wheelchair day,” said Molly Regan, an exercise science major. “Just getting to see the joy and the pride in the parents’ faces when we situated their children in the wheelchairs — there was nothing else like it.” 

"And you’re not just giving that wheelchair to an individual, you’re giving it to a family,” added Assistant Professor Cathey Norton, who attended the trip. “Many of these people have been carrying their children and their disabled family members, or they’ve simply been unable to leave their homes. When you give a family a way to transport their loved one, they’re able to go out and be a part of the community. It breaks down barriers for the whole family.” 

Fostering Sustainable Health Practices 

Belmont’s mission opportunities are designed to create lasting change. Providing wheelchairs and water filters are not just temporary solutions; they bring long-lasting improvements and health benefits to people's daily lives.  

Similarly, the practical health advice offered by the students is meant to be sustainable and shareable. Garrett Hensley, a first-year physical therapy student, emphasized this when sharing about a local woman who came to one of the health clinics complaining of neck and shoulder pain caused by years of carrying baskets on her head. sb9.jpeg

“It would have been culturally insensitive and unrealistic to ask her to find another way to carry the basket,” Hensley said, “So we offered simple, effective exercises that she can use to ease her pain — and hopefully ease her mind, too. Plus, she can pass what she learned on to others with similar issues.” 

Making an Impact in Honduras 

Dr. Adam Pace, Executive Director of Health and Wellness at Belmont, has dedicated 15 years to aiding communities in Honduras. “One of the goals of the trip is to get students to learn how to work with other professions on a team,” said Pace. “But of course, the primary goal is just to provide care to the people that that we're going down there to see. It’s just to help people.” 

In just three clinical days, Belmont's pharmacy and occupational therapy students treated over 300 patients. This service was transformative, both for the recipients and the students themselves. Reflecting on the experience, Occupational Therapy student Kristin Barnes said, “My mom always says, ‘Go be a blessing’. But I genuinely feel like the locals blessed me. I got to help them, but they helped me too.”  

sb7.jpgThe trip also helped her solidify her post-graduate plans. “Working with the boys at Jovenes en Camino made me realize I definitely want to work in pediatrics,” Barnes said. “Helping and working with kids is where I’m happiest. And this whole trip has completely changed the way I interact with people and my patients. We’re all just people, loved by God.”  

Fostering Connections Through Global Partnerships 

By partnering with organizations deeply embedded in the community, Belmont students can contribute meaningfully to ongoing projects and make a sustained impact. This approach was especially evident in the trip led by Assistant Professor Jessica Savage and Professor Jamie Adam, which involved a key partnership with Kafes Guatemala and its CoffeeMed Program, an initiative that aims to provide basic needs to workers on Guatemalan coffee plantations who don’t always work under ideal conditions. sb6.jpg

“We also partner with local doctors,” Jamie Adam noted. “Students are really getting a cultural perspective of what healthcare looks like outside of the United States while also getting a real, hands-on experience in how different professions come together and work as one team.” 

The Importance of Mutuality and Cultural Exchange  

Central to Belmont’s mission work is the principle of mutuality, emphasizing a relational approach rather than a transactional one. This philosophy fosters a two-way exchange where students both give to and receive from the communities they visit. Belmont missions strive to respect and uplift the dignity of their partners, focusing on collaborative efforts. 

“It is so important that the individuals we work with know that they have worth, and that we are humbled and happy to come do this with them — not for them, but with them,” Norton said.

This concept was powerfully demonstrated in an act of humility and service — washing the feet of the locals. Austin reflected on the profound impact of this practice, “When you change your posture, when you kneel to wash someone's feet, it's incredibly moving. Watching the students assume the posture of Jesus is both humbling and powerful. It communicates more than words ever could.”  

This act of service exemplifies the core of Belmont’s mission, bridging cultural and social divides, and fostering deep, mutual respect. 

Reflecting on a Transformative Experience 

Students are now back in classes, recalibrating after such an impactful week away. When asked how she feels now that she’s back home, Kristin Barnes said, “I'm 100% a better person than I was before I left because of the unconditional love that I felt there and the connections that I made. I learned so much academically, but I grew even more as a person.”  sb12.jpg

The work of the students may have only lasted a week, but the impact — on the communities they served and on their own lives — will undoubtedly endure for a lifetime. 

If you’re considering a Belmont mission trip, second-year physical therapy student Linnea Mosvold says, “Just go. It's an experience that you just cannot describe. You have to go and see it all for yourself.” 

Highlights from Belmont on Mission