When most of us imagine taking a trip around the world, we think of travel –– maybe via a cruise or guided tour –– to some of the world’s most beautiful and exciting locales, with luxurious hotels and fine dining thrown into the mix. But when Baylor Arts & Sciences alumna Brianna Childs (BA ’16) recently spent almost a year traveling through three continents, her focus was a bit different –– to serve “the least of these” and spread the Gospel in some of the world’s poorest countries.
There’s a reality TV show called “The Amazing Race” where participants take part in activities such as bungee jumping, skydiving and spelunking as they travel from country to country. But Childs took part in a quite different program, called the World Race, where she spent 11 months on a unique mission trip through 11 countries, where young adults immerse themselves in a challenging adventure that has them abandoning their worldly possessions and traditional lifestyle to serve others where they live.
“I found out about the World Race the summer before my senior year of high school at a Texas Baptists summer camp called Super Summer,” Childs said. “One of the team leaders there had just returned from the World Race and spoke about her life-changing experience in front of the group one afternoon. I was hooked. As soon as I returned home that weekend, I looked it up online and discovered that I needed to be 21 years old to apply, so I put it on hold as a possibility for the future.”
Childs grew up in the small town of Early, Texas, about a two-hour drive from Waco. At Baylor, Brianna majored in psychology with minors in religion and poverty studies/social justice. Those minors served her well for the World Race, in which many of her efforts dealt with human trafficking and other issues affecting women and children, including domestic violence.
“I heard about trafficking late in high school, and when I went to the Passion Conference in January 2013 I really realized the horrors of human trafficking occurring in the world. We heard the story of a woman rescued from trafficking, and she was actually there in the audience with her psychologist,” Childs said. “I had already declared my major as psychology at that point, and that’s when God really brought to light what it would look like to use that major as ministry. As a part of the executive board in the sorority Alpha Chi Omega, I really became informed and passionate about our philanthropy, which is domestic violence awareness.”
The World Race was not Childs’ first experience with missions. She had been to Uganda twice and spent 10 weeks as a summer missionary at The Living Vine Maternity Home in Savannah, Ga. For the World Race, she was part of a squad of about 50 people, ranging in age from 22 to 31, who were separated into teams of six or seven. In each country, team members were assigned to a different ministry.
“I had actually never met any of my teammates until June 2016 when we went through 10 days of training at the Adventures in Missions headquarters in Georgia. Now, since we lived essentially 24 hours, 7 days a week together, we have deep, deep friendships that will last for many years to come,” she said.
During the World Race, Childs traveled to Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nepal, India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. In each country, she and her colleagues had different opportunities to serve alongside various ministries. These included evangelism, teaching various subjects (especially English), praying door-to-door in villages, preaching, organizing games and lessons for children, working in a hostel ministry, providing outreach to prostitutes, performing manual labor and leading worship. As she served in each of these capacities, Childs had many transformative experiences.
“In Nepal, I had my favorite adventure of paragliding while surrounded by the Himalayas. I was honestly breathless looking at creation, and I felt so near to the Lord,” she said.
Childs mentioned an incident in Thailand that was funny, but eye-opening. She was helping teach English at a school on “Scout Day,” which is similar to Boy or Girl Scout day in the United States.
“It was similar, except one of the scenarios during the day was a hostage situation. Yes, a hostage situation,” Childs said. “The kids were tied up and part of the group was assigned to solve a puzzle before the ‘bomb’ went off.”
Childs’ mother was able to share part of the World Race with her as part of a Parent Vision Trip in Thailand, and the two helped in various ministries together.
“I will never forget walking through the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand, with my mom as we prayed for bar after bar where women sell themselves. In spite of our speaking minimal Thai and the women speaking broken English, we attempted to show them love,” Childs said. “I’m thankful to say I could go on and on with other pretty amazing experiences.”
Childs points to a number of people at Baylor for helping her find her passion for ministry. She served as a Community Leader in Collins Residence Hall for two years and relied on the mentorship from her hall directors, assistant hall directors, and chaplain.
“Lauren Weber, Emily First and Taylor Post were especially formative in my faith, as they showed me what unconditional love looks like and pointed me toward an expanded viewpoint of the world,” she said.
Childs took a Cross-Cultural Ministry class with Dr. Dennis Horton, an associate professor of religion and The J. David Slover Professor of Ministry Guidance, and a Poverty in Waco class with Jimmy Dorrell, executive director of Mission Waco and a part-time lecturer at Baylor’s Truett Seminary. Both classes caused her to reevaluate what missions should really look like.
“Other classes like Introduction to Ministry with Dr. Eric Holleyman, (senior lecturer in religion) and Foundations for Social Justice with Dr. Gaynor Yancey (professor of social work and Master Teacher) shaped my passions, equipped me for ministry, and helped me to form stances on many aspects of my faith,” Childs said. “These faculty and staff plus many more showed me what living as a missionary really is, and therefore continued to inspire me on this trip.”
For his part, Holleyman said if all his students were like Childs, his job would be easy.
“Because of students like Brianna my job is the best job in the world. She has the full package,” Holleyman said. “What do you want in a student? Name it, she has it. I am not surprised at what she is doing with the World Race, and I believe she will be quite successful. It is an adventure that combines compassion and educational opportunity. That fits with the student I have encountered.”
When Childs returned to the U.S. in the summer of 2017 after almost a year away, she spent much-needed time with family and friends. This fall, she is back in Waco pursuing a dual master’s degree.
“I’m attending Truett Seminary to get a Master of Divinity and the Baylor School of Social Work to get a Master of Social Work,” Childs said. “I couldn’t wait to invest my life in Waco again, because the city really has my heart. I’m so grateful to call it home for at least another four years.”
And when she reflects on her time ministering to people around the world living lives often much unlike her own, Childs makes use of a new perspective.
“One of the lessons that really just encompasses all the others is how powerfully and beautifully the Lord broke out of boxes I had formed in my mind. Over and over again throughout my walk, God has lovingly shown me how much bigger and greater and even more welcoming His love and grace are than what I could ever imagine,” she said. “Though I have been blessed beyond measure to see the work of God in so many places in the world, I look forward to remembering that wherever we are, that is our mission field.”
This article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Baylor Arts & Sciences magazine