Vasquez humbled by mission experience 

January 21, 2010        

PLAINVIEW – Wayland Baptist University senior Melanie Vasquez has always felt a strong call to missions. Yet while the call on her life was there, she was unsure of how it would manifest itself. Last summer, however, the opportunity to travel overseas and spend several months working with people in the Balkans piqued her interest.

A religion major from Hobbs, N.M., Vasquez and two of her classmates committed to the mission trip through GoNow Missions of Texas Baptists. The trio set out for Macedonia on June 1, 2009. The plan was for the three to spend the summer in Macedonia. Vasquez’s two classmates would then return for the fall semester at Wayland. Vasquez, however, would stay behind and move to another location where she would team up with a journeyman with the International Mission Board and continue working. Little did she know, however, that her plan for the perfect mission trip would be sidetracked by a near-death experience. 

In Macedonia, the group primarily worked as English teachers in three villages. The majority of the people were either Muslim or Orthodox in their religious beliefs and practices. Vasquez said she primarily worked with Muslims, and she had to develop an understanding for their faith.

“Their whole way of life is different. Their way of thinking is different,” she said. “One thing we noticed is that because of their religion, they don’t really have hope. They know there is more to life, but instead of feeling love from their god, they fear him more than they love him.

“They don’t feel redeemed. We commit ourselves to Jesus and acknowledge him as savior and as God who died on the cross for us. They don’t believe that. They don’t have that redemption. They think either they are going to go to hell or not, depending on how they live their life.”

Vasquez explained that their religion also influences every aspect of life. It is an ingrained part of who they are, and is different than many people who just see religion as something you do or practice. 

While in Macedonia, Vasquez and her classmates were charged with setting up children’s camps as part of their work with the Christian Evangelical Fellowship. Admittedly, it wasn’t her favorite part of the trip. It was tasking working with children who were at times disrespectful of the “foreign women” or the Bible and didn’t understand that Vasquez and the others knew enough of the Macedonian language to know what the children were saying about them. It was while working at these camps, however, that her mission plans changed drastically due to a small spider bite on her calf.

“I got bit by a spider,” she explained. “Then I was traveling on a bus with a lot of people and it was sweaty, nasty and dirty. We were going into these (gypsy) villages. You have to sit on the floor in poverty. I picked up a staph infection, which is very common for them.”

As the wound began to fester, people continued to tell her it was simply allergies. She received numerous allergy shots and allergy creams, but the wound would not heal.

“My leg started turning black, and I got to where I couldn’t even walk,” Vasquez said. “My teammates kept telling I needed to go to the doctor.”

Two weeks after being bitten, Vasquez had her teammates take her to the doctor. She remembers the day well. It was her birthday, July 9.

“It was really bad,” she said. “If I hadn’t gone that day, I would have been in the hospital the next day. And their hospitals are not good.”

The doctors cut out the infected flesh without the use of any local anesthesia. Vasquez spent the next month taking oral antibiotics and returning to the doctors to receive injections and have the bandages changed.

“The thing with having staph is that it was really, really painful, and I didn’t have any pain medication,” Vasquez explained. “It was really hard to go anywhere. For two weeks I had to stay in bed and take care of myself and that was really hard.”

Vasquez could do little more than watch as her teammates continued their mission work in other villages.

“I was mortified because I was supposed to do ministry, but I was in bed crying,” she said.

The infection finally started clearing up just before her move to another location where she would be alone, without the support of her teammates and friends.

On Aug. 13, 2009, Vasquez moved to another location. She had to fight her parents and sponsoring organization, all of whom wanted her to return home for better medical care.

“I had committed to this, so I refused to go home,” she said.

In her new location, Vasquez worked with a journeyman missionary who ran a community center.

“We did things like give out firewood or provide food for families in need,” Vasquez explained. “We also taught English.”

Interestingly enough, the people she was working with would watch Spanish soap operas and had learned how to speak Spanish. Despite her Mexican heritage, Vasquez speaks virtually no Spanish. As the ladies she would meet tried to speak to her in Spanish, she would have to explain that she didn’t understand. So, in turn for her teaching them English, they began helping her with Spanish.

“I really need to embrace my heritage,” Vasquez joked.

Vasquez used the community center to begin a women’s Bible study in the primarily Muslim culture. She said it was difficult being a Christian among the Muslims, but she found acceptance from the people who are very “open” to others.

Yet while her work was going well, Vasquez’s health began to deteriorate. With the recent staph infection and now an influx of new bacteria to deal with, her body was shutting down. Her staph infection returned and local doctors thought it was in her blood. The illness almost kept her off the plane to return home.

Due to her health, Vasquez returned on Nov. 29, earlier than she had originally planned. She has fully recovered and is now enrolled in Wayland for the spring, her final semester before graduating in April. Following graduation, Vasquez isn’t sure what she will pursue next, either work toward a master’s degree or return to the mission field.

While her experience was a difficult one, Vasquez said it was very positive.

“When you are at a point where you can’t really take care of yourself, you are so sick that you don’t know how to handle anything and you are in another country and there is nobody there to take care of you, you don’t have anything left,” she said. “What you do have is God.”