Student learns servanthood in several forms during summer in New York

PLAINVIEW-Summer missions experiences are known for leaving their participants with valuable lessons. For Stephanie Skiles, her summer taught her all the things not to do in New York.

“People kept laughing at me because I was always getting stopped by the police,” Skiles chuckled.

For the Wayland Baptist University sophomore from Glen Rose, the summer was an exercise in servanthood that took many forms. Her primary job was serving as a summer secretary for the New York Divinity School, located in Manhattan in Times Square, a position through Go Now Missions, a division of the Student Ministries department of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Skiles worked for the president of the seminary, Dr. Paul deVries, helping him with various tasks and doing research and editing for a book he is writing. Her work also involved coordinating any mission groups that came to serve at the seminary.

But like any summer missionary quickly learns, just about any task can become part of your job description if needed. She recalls one afternoon where she ended up on the floor in her business attire, dismantling an old refrigerator.

“If they said it, I did it,” Skiles said with a smile. “If you’ve ever even thought about doing it, you might end up doing it as a missionary.”

During the evenings, Skiles had other duties. On Monday and Wednesday nights, she worked in Brooklyn at the African Friendship Center, teaching English to immigrants from West Africa. Specifically, several ladies from Senegal came out for lessons, and Skiles bonded with a young girl named Abby, a second-grader she tutored in the evenings.

Skiles said she also learned a lesson about giving out too much information, and an offhand comment made with some fellow summer missionaries ended up landing her another gig during the month of July.

“We were just visiting one day and I mentioned that I had been on the dance team in high school,” Skiles said. When another girl left early, they asked Skiles to help teach dance in the Bronx at an outreach center for children.

“I had taken dance lessons but had never taught,” she recalled. “I was supposed to be teaching them hip-hop, but I don’t know how to do that, so we just made some lessons up doing other kinds of dance.”

Some of the more memorable – and funnier – lessons of the summer came when Skiles got stopped by the police several times, mostly for things she had no idea were so closely regulated.

“We got stopped for playing our guitars on the sidewalks, because their were rules on where you could play, and we got stopped for handing out pamphlets on the streets,” she said. “Once I got stopped while walking down the street in the Bronx because they thought I was lost.”

Free time, though it was limited, was spent doing the usual sightseeing around New York and taking in as many Broadway shows as she could afford. Her parents even made the trip to see her, taking some family time to visit the Statue of Liberty and other New York landmarks.

Thankfully, the police visits left Skiles with no scars, just a few good stories for home. And thanks to the quick pace of the summer, she was still processing the deeper lessons learned as the school year began.

“Things were so chaotic, we were just always on the move,” she said. “A lot of what I learned was just having a servant’s heart and doing what was needed.”

Skiles said she enjoyed her first summer missions experience, which she knew God had called her to do. Repeating the experience is still an option.

Skiles is a chemistry and biology major at Wayland and hopes to teach science.