A persistent tugging from the Holy Spirit convinced veterinarian Gary Green that he needed to change his mission focus from animals to people.
Not that he doesn’t still love animals and minister to them. But nowadays, instead of repairing the teeth of police dogs and show dogs in Louisiana, Green heads up WorldWide Witness at ACU.
Side trip through South America
It took a few years - and a long side trip through South America - for Green to get from Baton Rouge to Abilene, but he's glad he didn't ignore that persistent tugging at his soul.
"I really enjoyed the (veterinary) practice and the great people we came into contact with," said Green. "But we eventually felt the call to missions."
Green, his wife, Frances, and four children, Travis, Jacob, Jessica and Lucas, made the move to Abilene so that in January 2001 Green could become ACU's missions coordinator for Latin America.
Today, he is the coordinator for WorldWide Witness, a program through the Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry that provides students with practical missions experience outside of the classroom.
Worldwide Witness provides internships, apprenticeships
Green now counts more than 400 students who have gone into the world on mission trips through the WWW program - with many more to come.
WorldWide Witness consists of two programs - internships, usually in the summer, that last three to six months, and apprenticeships, usually after graduation, that last from six months to two years.
The program places students, usually juniors and seniors, in remote spots around the world - Thailand, Costa Rica, Ghana, Croatia and many other locales. The program usually has 50 students in 25 locations, Green said.
Most are ACU students, although students from other schools have participated. The intern pool normally is split 50-50 between Bible majors and non-Bible majors and about 60-40 female/male.
Summer internship application: Pray first
Summer internships aren't exactly summer camp. Life can be tough far from home and in a strange land, and that’s why the first step under "Application" on the World Wide Witness website is "Pray about this opportunity and your motivation."
Recruiting starts in October and applications are accepted from November through January. After that comes screenings and interviews, submitting a written spiritual autobiography, and personal visits with counselors.
For those chosen, a January retreat is held, followed by weekly meetings throughout the spring so that prospects can hear from seasoned missionaries in the field.
Students must raise their own money - usually about $3,500 - with help from churches, family and fund-raisers.
The interns must make all their own arrangements, from airline flights to required immunizations, before setting out in early June.
Benjamin Covington: A life changed
And when it's over, they'll tell you it's the hardest job they ever loved. Benjamin Covington spent the summers of 2006, 2007 and 2008, as an intern in Costa Rica, the Bronx and Paris.
The only reason he isn't returning in the summer of 2009 is that he graduated in May with a degree in biblical text and will enter the Graduate School of Theology in the fall.
He intends to get two master's degrees and eventually a doctorate so that he can teach at the university level. But he also will continue with international ministry no matter what else he may be doing.
Before that first trip to Costa Rica in 2006, Benjamin, who grew up in Abilene, had never been out of the country. He wanted to understand how the church works in places foreign to him. He was so moved by his experience that he signed up for two more internships the following summers.
And when it was all over, Benjamin saw a change deep within himself.
"I became significantly less close-minded," he said. "When I got back, I realized that if there was one way to live life, I certainly didn't know what it was."
That’s the hoped-for result for all interns. Green understands exactly what his former student is talking about. When he was a veterinary student at Louisiana State University, Green and his wife were involved in campus ministries with international students, many from Venezuela.
From vet school to religion school
That experience eventually led them to Venezuela after Green gave up his career as a veterinarian and earned a master's degree in Bible from Harding University's religion school in Memphis.
Before heading to South America, Green spent a year in language school in San Jose, Costa Rica.
"It was just a phenomenal experience," Green said.
In 1991, the family moved to Venezuela, under the sponsorship of the South Baton Rouge Church of Christ. They helped start congregations and two regional camps.
In mid-2000, the family learned that their adopted twins, Jessica and Jacob, had speech problems and needed to live in a monolingual environment.
A heightened sense of world needs
The family moved back to the United States by December that year and, through a chance meeting with Dr. Jack Reeese, dean of the Graduate School of Theology, Green accepted a position at ACU.
Before long, Green realized a need for a program to place interns in remote places. He discovered that students who wanted such an experience "had to know the right person. There was no front door."
So he and Wyman Walker started a program called In His Steps, a forerunner to WorldWide Witness. Walker now is solely working in Uruguay and is no longer affiliated with WWW.
"I'm the chief cook, bottle washer and everything," Green joked.
No matter his job description, Green knows his work is in answer to the call to ministry. And, he knows that's why students are eager to spend a year preparing, learning and earning their own money, for the opportunity to serve in strange lands.
What he sees on their return is what students like Benjamin Covington have discovered.
"There is a real heightened sense of world needs," Green said. "They have a much broader sense of God at work around them."