North America

How a TV Program Called a Single Mom to Serve in Peru

“We had the faith of a mustard seed, and I knew we could move mountains.”

Julie Z. Lee, Maranatha Volunteers International
How a TV Program Called a Single Mom to Serve in Peru
A group shot of the first Maranatha volunteers to go to Peru after more than a year of COVID-related shutdowns. [Photo: Elmer Barbosa]

Natalie Young was doing what she usually did on Friday nights: watching 3ABN. She especially enjoyed the programs about missions, where people stepped into the unknown to serve and share the Lord. She longed to go on a mission trip herself but didn’t know quite where to start. So, instead, she kept watching and dreaming of a day when she might join the volunteers on a project. 

On that particular Friday night, Young dozed off while watching 3ABN only to be jostled out of sleep by the voice of a woman on the television. 

“I started hearing about this lady, and she was a single mom. And she was doing mission trips,” Young, a primary school teacher in New York, remembers.  

Young was also a single mom. She also wanted to go on a mission trip. The story seemed like such a coincidence that at first she thought she was dreaming. 

But as Young shook off the drowsiness, she realized it was an episode of Maranatha Mission Stories focused on a woman named Dina Ramirez. Ramirez had begun taking her son on mission trips with Maranatha when he was young, to provide him with opportunities for spiritual growth. 

“She began talking about how this Maranatha trip was a blessing to her and her young son. And her son had thanked her for going on all these trips,” Young said. “And I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ ”

Young jumped online to learn about Maranatha and researched upcoming trips. She decided she’d start small with a project in the United States. But that wasn’t what God had in mind. 

“It felt like I heard a voice that said, ‘Go outside. Go outside the United States,’ ” Young said. In the past, she says, she would have brushed the thought aside or first considered what her family would say. They would have probably encouraged her to stay close to home for her first mission trip, especially as she was traveling alone. 

But Young was in a different space by then. Two years earlier, after a time apart from God, Young had come back to Christ and was rebaptized. Upon her return “to the fold,” as she describes it, she made a promise that she would step into missions. She started watching mission stories on 3ABN and imagining a life of service.

This time when she heard the voice, Young listened. “I stopped thinking about what everyone else would say and started thinking about what the Spirit would say.”  

After perusing her options, she registered for a project in Peru in June 2021. Then she told her family. To her surprise, there were no naysayers. There was only support. “They were also encouraging me. They said, ‘This is a beautiful thing.’ ” 

Soon, Young was off to Peru.

Her project was by no means typical for Maranatha. It was the first Maranatha mission trip in Peru for more than a year. Maranatha’s staff had to adjust to the new COVID-19 precautions and design the project to be flexible and safe. Volunteers were scheduled to work on the new La Tinguiña Seventh-day Adventist School in Ica, a town in southern Peru. Still, they would not be interacting with the local community or worshiping with the local church out of caution, since the restoration of public meetings were relatively new in the country. There would be masks, testing, and sanitizing of surfaces.  

Natalie Young takes a break from laying block to pose for the camera. This was her very first mission project — but it hopefully won’t be her last! [Photo: Elmer Barbosa]

Second, there were only 11 volunteers in total — a far cry from what is typical on a Maranatha project, where teams can draw anywhere from 30 to 100 volunteers. This was a concern given that the group had been assigned the construction of a large wall at an education and evangelism center. It seemed unlikely that the small group, made up of new and veteran volunteers, could finish the task.  

Despite the irregularities, the volunteers flourished. On the first Saturday (Sabbath), the group headed over to the local Adventist church to say hello. While they couldn’t greet the members with hugs, as volunteers usually do, they sat 15 feet from the congregation to introduce themselves and connect with them about the shared project. The congregation offered small gifts of walnuts and prunes in appreciation for the volunteers’ work. 

“It was the epitome of being welcomed to an Adventist home — warm, kind, and accepting. Despite the effects of COVID, it was special to me that our brethren showed tremendous strength, perseverance, and will. I was honored to be with them,” Young says. 

For Father’s Day, the volunteers assembled care packages of rice and beans and distributed them in an underprivileged neighborhood in Ica.

On the building project, the 11-member construction crew defied expectations by not only completing the assigned wall but by finishing a second one.  

“I loved the fact that we were few. We were small, but we were mighty! We had the faith of a mustard seed, and I knew we could move mountains,” Young says.

The moment of finishing the wall was emotional for Young. “I started tearing up. I was thinking about the kids. Not just the fact that they were going to be in the classroom, but the service we had provided for them, providing for people who needed the help — and we were part of that. We defied expectations amidst the crisis of COVID-19.” 

The experience defied expectations for Young overall. From meeting new people and hearing their stories to the daily fellowship to praying in gratitude for the opportunity to serve, she was filled over and over again with blessings throughout the project. 

“Every day was a different journey. Just the ability to get up and get out. Days of meeting new people and learning of their experiences. Talking to people and having quiet fellowship about things that were going on in their personal lives, praying with them,” Young remembers. “Seeing that people are kind. Beautiful. I know the Holy Spirit brought me here — I felt that every day.” 

One of the things she’s learned from the trip is the importance of talking to people, even when you may not feel like it. While in Peru, she remembers, fellow volunteers were encouraging each other on the worksite or in private conversations, and she saw the positive impact it had on the person. “What you say to someone will push them, and the Spirit will tell you what to say.” 

After all, it was another woman’s words of encouragement that sent Young on this mission trip. “When I was watching Dina’s story, when she was talking about doing her own thing, it was like me. I was leaving the church. I thought I was by myself. But in those moments, God was there. God was with me as a single mom,” Young said. “She’s the reason that I was on the trip!” 

And now that she’s home, she’s ready to go back. 

“If He is calling us to be of service, I will go that way. I will walk that narrow way.” 

The original version of this story appeared in Issue 3, 2021, of the Maranatha Volunteers International magazine, The Volunteer.

Julie Z. Lee, Maranatha Volunteers International