By Laura McKillip Wood
Melvina’s hands shook as she dialed 911.
“I found my dad on the floor! I can’t wake him up!” She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself as the operator instructed her to begin CPR. Within a few minutes, paramedics arrived, but it was too late. The heart attack was fatal. They pronounced Melvina’s father dead at the scene.
In many ways, this event marked the end of Melvina Brown’s childhood: “I was 17, but his death turned me into a 30-year-old.” She made decisions about the funeral and bought a casket. She began navigating life without a father.
“I knew I had two choices: run toward God or get angry and run away,” she says. “I clung to him with everything, and he carried me.”
Melvina never met her mother, who had given up parenting rights at birth. Melvina eventually moved in with her grandmother, who had loved and cared about her throughout her childhood. Unfortunately, Melvina and her grandfather were not close, and he informed her she had to move out when she turned 18.
Melvina planned to attend college that fall but needed a place to live between her birthday and the start of school. She had been working in a veterinarian’s office after school. When the vet, Dr. Parker, heard of Melvina’s pending homelessness, she offered to let Melvina move in with her. She even offered to pay for Melvina’s books, a computer, and whatever her full-ride college scholarship did not cover.
“This was another time God stepped in and sent a mother figure to rescue me,” she says. Melvina saw God caring for her during every crisis her young life presented.
Before leaving for college, Melvina asked her grandmother for advice.
“I want you to find a church,” she replied.
So, when Melvina arrived at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, she looked for churches and Christian campus activities. She found a Christian student center sponsored by a church of Christ in town. It quickly became an important part of her life, and she became an integral part of the group.
During Melvina’s sophomore year, a friend told her about a mission trip she was leading the next summer.
“You’d be good at it. You should go,” the girl urged her.
Melvina went to the orientation meeting even though, in her words, “I was never going to sign up for this trip. Like, never.” At the third meeting, the others in the group turned to her and asked if she was “in” or not. She surprised herself by saying yes.
“That trip changed my life,” Melvina explains. Traveling as part of an organization named Let’s Start Talking, she went to Brazil to teach English. Through that experience, God revealed her passion for missions, travel, and planting seeds of the gospel with people. Since then, she’s spent summers in Switzerland, Kenya, and China. Each time, she brought other students with her. She sees the importance of such international and intercultural experiences and wants to share them with other college students.
Let’s Start Talking
Let’s Start Talking was founded in 1980 and is based in Fort Worth, Texas. For the past 40 years LST has been sending groups to non-English-speaking areas around the world. The group pairs a Christian native speaker of English with a local, non-English speaker. These partners use LST curriculum to read and discuss a passage from the Bible. This gives the reader, who wants help with his or her English skills, practice speaking with a native speaker, and it gives the American Christian the chance to talk about spiritual and biblical ideas.
“We are a seed-planting ministry,” Melvina says.
LST works with local churches in these communities; it provides opportunities for people in the churches to meet and start relationships with people who might not otherwise attend a church event. Sometimes the relationships continue to grow even after the short-term team leaves, and people begin attending church. Several churches in Japan and Argentina report that half of their congregation originally became interested in spiritual things because of their contact with LST.
In addition to working with local churches in other countries, LST estimates that 300 to 500 American churches are using their materials and methods in their own communities. Friendspeak is the name for this branch of their work. The churches reach out to international students and immigrants by offering English tutoring; this serves to familiarize people with the gospel and helps them build relationships with people from the churches.
Such programs are important in the life and ministry of the churches that use them because of the increasing diversity of American communities. LST offers free training to churches that wish to use their workbooks, making it possible for virtually any English speaker to participate in Friendspeak. Great teaching skills and lesson planning are not needed. As Melvina says, “The Word is the teacher.”
A Bright Future
Immediately after graduation, Melvina worked in jobs she did not enjoy. Then she jumped at the chance to interview for a position at LST. Upon being offered the job, she moved to Fort Worth, where she now recruits college students for LST summer trips. She loves that she can reach out to students who are just beginning to develop their independent worldviews and that she can accompany some of them each summer. She travels all over the Midwest and Southern part of the United States telling college students about what God is doing in other parts of the world . . . and she encourages students to be a part of it.
“My story’s not ending. It’s only getting better!” she exclaims. “I praise God for his strategy. He saw my heart and my love for missions and college students. He uses me to invite people, to train, to mentor . . . and it’s all him. I get to travel the world just by saying, ‘I’ll go again.’ I guess he’s dreaming with me!”
Melvina’s passion and LST’s commitment to planting seeds make a perfect combination that is yielding a harvest in the United States and around the world.
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now serves as the registrar at Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska, and works as an on-call chaplain at a nearby hospital. She and her husband, Andrew, have three teenagers.