Student Missionary Union reimagines global missions

Global missions and SMU workshops are offered virtually over the fall semester.


Graphic by Maria Weyne

Ashley Grams and Maria Weyne

As Biola transitioned to a fully online format, many student-led organizations adapted their relationally-based organizations to a computer screen. The Student Missionary Union faced a bigger challenge than most, which involved creating and sending out missions teams in the midst of a global shutdown. 


Senior journalism and integrated media major and Global Missions director Estephanie Ramirez had to create a new format for missions trips, which are now offered fully online over winter break. SMU is partnering with Youth Missions International in Morelia, Mexico in order to establish relational connections online with the people the teams will serve. 

“We’re meeting with them, we’re teaching them English and we’re just having conversations,” she said. “Obviously that allows for us to share about Jesus and the message of hope.” 

SMU and YMI have worked together for the past 10 years and have partnered with an orphanage in Morelia for two years in a row. The idea behind the annual connection with the kids is to create sustainable missions, Ramirez explained. 

SMU will provide two in-person trips to Illinois and Oklahoma over spring break. Although they will be face-to-face, student missionaries will begin their training online during the fall semester in conjunction with team Mexico. 


Instead of a weekend spent together with speakers and team building activities, Ramirez and her team “reimagined” training. This year every Wednesday night for the months of October and November students will gather via Zoom for SMU workshops. 

Training is now broken down into parts and allows for students to take breaks to avoid Zoom fatigue. 

“How do we balance that we want to give quality training but at the same time we don’t want to overwork [students],” Ramirez said.

SMU has opened up their workshop nights to the Biola community. Any student can join to learn more about topics such as evangelism and adapting to different cultures. 


Students also have the opportunity to serve locally in California. These trips include Dream Center Los Angeles, YWAM San Francisco and One Collective Fresno. The Los Angeles and San Francisco trips will be offered during winter break. Senior liberal studies, elementary education major and local missions director Angelica Saldana expressed the desire to carry these trips out in person. However, SMU is working closely with Biola’s Travel Safety and Risk Mitigation team to determine whether these trips will take place in person. 

“So we have been in communication with them since COVID, but usually, it’s like ‘oh you’re good to go evangelize the country or the community,’” she said. “But now it’s like more check-ins and making sure that it’s actually safe.”

However, Saldana said that if there are safety concerns, the money fundraised for the trip will be donated to the organization. Many of the California-based ministries have partnered with SMU for years and look forward to assistance from their teams. 


Although missions may look different this semester, Ramirez and Saldana both hope to create an environment where students can serve from home. 

“Missions is a lifestyle,” Saldana said. “Just be present wherever you are.”Students can still get involved with SMU through Presence, where leaders and volunteers can apply. Saldana explained that even if it feels like COVID-19 has put a hurdle between students and missions, there are still ways to serve.

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