Graduate's next chapter includes mission field

PLAINVIEW - While most of her fellow classmates were busy writing final term papers, wrapping up internships and class requirements and planning graduation parties, Donna Gleason had her hands full with other matters as well.

A member of the newest graduating class at Wayland Baptist University, Gleason was not only preparing to finish her college career, she was also preparing herself for a semester missions experience in South Asia.

A mass communications major and art minor from Edgewood, N.M., Gleason is no stranger to missions work. She spent the summer after her freshman year in East Asia on a backpacking and prayerwalking venture and then traveled to Kenya in the summer of 2002 with the Wayland Baptist Student Ministries group. She spent last summer in South Asia, so she'll be returning to a familiar area.

But the trips to South Asia are the first chances she's had to work her academic training and passion - photography and art - into her mission work. Last summer, she traveled around the region photographing the highly unreached people groups and gathering information on the area for future missions work there. Her journalism background came in handy for interviewing folks, and she was able to build relationships with residents in order to open up opportunities to share the Gospel.

This summer, she'll be doing much of the same, working with others who are completing ethnographic research on the people group and helping to plan mission projects for student summer missionaries who'll come near the end of her time there.

Gleason said she feels several things have prepared her for this lengthy trip, beginning with a high school teacher who spoke positively about missions endeavors. During her time in Kenya, she was able to work with students from South Asia.

"I learned a lot about the Hindu religion and the culture," she said. "I think that was really preparing me for work in South Asia."

Her heart is for those unreached areas, places that are not as open to Christian missionaries and where mission work often comes under the guise of teaching or other professions. She also feels that missions will continue to be part of her life in some way. Whether the six-month stint will develop into full-time career missions or not remains to be seen.

Either way, Gleason is trusting God to lead her for the future and she firmly believes He orchestrated her return overseas. She credits only her willingness to obey the call to her experiences and feels blessed to be a part of God's work.

"I've just been available all along," she said. "I want to be a person who can go when there's an opportunity and not have to worry about everything else, so why not do it now while I have the time."

Taking the nontraditional road after college didn't come without lots of thought and prayer, Gleason admits. When she first began mulling the possibility of a return to South Asia last summer, she said she first felt "like it was being irresponsible or lazy."

"I thought, maybe I should just get a job and start paying off student loans," she said.

But doors weren't opening for the job opportunities, and the pieces were falling into place perfectly for the mission opportunity. She took that as a sign.

So during this fall semester - on top of playing soccer, working as editor of Wayland's yearbook, preparing for senior art exhibit and other graduation term activities - Gleason has added paperwork and several trips to Amarillo for special immunizations to her "to do" list. She's also had to raise much of her financial support for the semester ahead and begin packing.

Gleason will leave for Dallas on Jan. 2 and attend orientation and training sessions, leaving for Asia on Jan. 4. She will return to the U.S. in mid-July.