MOUNT OLIVE — “Cinderella, dressed in yella; went upstairs to kiss a fella; made a mistake and kissed a snake; how many doctors did it take?” It may sound like an American children’s game, but to the children that Kayla Pridgen of Middlesex, NC, ministers to, it is a symbol of friendship, hope, and change. “I always have fun teaching children American games and learning new games myself. What makes it so fun is that neither of us understands the other due to the language barrier, but we often understand how to play the games just by repetition and hand motions. It’s one of my favorite things to do when I’m on a mission trip because children love to teach me their language, and they try to learn mine.”
Pridgen, a religion major, chose to attend Mount Olive because her grandfather, the Reverend Robert Langley, is an alumnus. But, her decision to major in religion was a personal one between her and God. “I came to Mount Olive College, to major in child psychology, but God had other plans,” she recalls. Pridgen admits that she struggled for a couple of years. “I started out majoring in psychology, and then I picked up religion as a double major. I thought that I could satisfy my own desires as well as God’s. It was too difficult to do both while holding a steady job, so I dropped psychology.”
According to Pridgen, classes that she has taken as a religion major have helped her to better understand Christianity as well as other religions. “Classes in spirituality have helped me better understand my relationship with God, myself and others; biblical classes have helped me grasp a better understanding of the Bible. God has used each class that I have taken at Mount Olive College to prepare me to go into the mission field. I hope to continue to use what I’ve learned in college in my everyday life.”
Mission work has been a large part of Pridgen’s life. She became interested in missionary work because it appealed to her in various ways. “I’ve always loved helping people and traveling. The missionary lifestyle accommodates both of those interests.” Already, the 21-year-old college senior has traveled to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Florida, Colorado and Illinois ministering. Pridgen will graduate from MOC in May. In August, she will travel to Africa to receive training from missionaries there. After training, she will be able to work with women and children affected by HIV alongside a ministry called WAR (Women at Risk). “WAR reaches out to prostitutes in Mbiko while sharing the message of Christ. The organization also teaches these women craft skills so that they can have a source of income that comes from a healthier lifestyle.”
One of her favorite aspects of doing missionary work is traveling to countries and worshipping with people who speak different languages, who have grown up in a different culture, or who have different styles of worship. For the last two summers, she has travelled to Spanish-speaking countries and worshipped with them as a community. “Each time, I am surprised at how amazing it feels to worship the same God with people who are so different from me.”
Pridgen feels that everyone she meets and ministers to while doing missionary work has a memorable story, but the heart of one young boy and the other missionaries around her warmed her within. “While on a mission in Honduras, my group and I ministered to families in one of the poorest cities in the world, Choluteca. Many of the families had very little but what they had, they were proud of. During that trip, we met a young man named, Emerson. Our group came to help him and his community, yet everyday he came out and helped us help his community. We noticed that Emerson wore the same shoes that were at least two sizes too small for his feet. One of our group members decided to trade shoes with him praying that they’d be a better fit. They were a perfect match. Suddenly, others were taking off their shoes and giving them to other people whose shoes were too small.”
She understands that the cross-cultural mission work may not be for everybody, but she also believes that there are ways that people can minister in their own local communities. “Mission work can be raking your neighbor’s leaves, working in a soup kitchen, or helping a busy mom clean her house. It doesn’t have to be something you do for strangers a hundred miles from home. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” We are all called to do mission work because we are all called to love our neighbors as our self. That is what mission work is, love.”
Mount Olive College is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville. For more information, visit www.moc.edu.