When most people think of mission work, they envision packing up and leaving behind everything they know, sacrificing personal gifts and ambitions to toil for the kingdom in unfamiliar surroundings. The Intercultural Studies department at Johnson University, however, often redefines that mindset in students training for the field.
Anyone that walks up the broad stairway to the second floor of Richardson Hall will find themselves surrounded by an array of flags, each one representing a country that Johnson University graduates have reached with the Gospel. On the floor, tiles in the shape of a world map, and on the wall a depiction of the Last Supper including disciples of various ethnicities, greet visitors as they reach the top of the steps. Just to the right of the stairway, an open door leads to an alcove surrounded by the offices of the Intercultural Studies Department. In the center of the room at a desk covered in brochures, a houseplant and several small trinkets, sits Sally Folden, the Office Manager and Internship Coordinator for the Intercultural Studies Program.
Before attending and graduating in 2015, Folden felt led to Johnson after passing by it each day working elsewhere in Knoxville. She was originally attracted to the Intercultural Studies program due to a background speaking Spanish and an interest in Hispanic culture. Through attending, she has experienced a transformation in her vision for reaching the lost.
“I came here not knowing anything about Johnson, but I had done International Studies at another university and so I just thought it sounded good and I was just going to try it out for a semester,” Folden said. “I came and I kind of figured out, ‘Oh, basically this is missions, I didn’t know that before.’ I ended up loving it.”
Folden’s father grew up in a Puerto-Rican neighborhood and learned Spanish from a young age. Though he does not hold a traditional ministry position, he has been able to transfer his knowledge of the language to ministry through relationship, serving as an example for his daughter.
“Since my dad speaks Spanish, he started teaching me Spanish when I was little and taking me to all the Spanish Bible studies and everything,” Folden said. “So I really, because of that, had a love for Spanish speaking people.”
Studying under the missions professors at Johnson, Folden came to realize that her interest in Spanish culture could, as with her father, intersect with an opportunity for witnessing.
“Even though it wasn’t originally what I had planned to do, once I got into it I loved it and I loved the professors enough that I came back and am working with them now. Some of them really were teaching from their heart— they were teaching from experience. They are really wanting to prepare the students to reach the world for Christ,” Folden said.
Johnson University seeks to enhance existing talents among its students as it prepares them for ministry rather than forcing passions that don’t exist. While living for Christ will inevitably require an element of sacrifice along with trust through uncertainty, future missionaries at Johnson learn to hone their personal skills and interests with emphasis placed on relational thinking.
Folden took advantage of an opportunity to practice relationship as part of her internship in 2015.
“It was really a God thing, because I’ve been to Spain before,” Folden said. “And I really loved Spain and was thinking in the back of my mind that I wanted to go back.”
Folden met Eric Gutierrez, a Nicaraguan missionary to Spain at the International Conference on Missions. She ended up serving with him and his family for nine months at Iglesia Evangelica Christiana in El Cantoria, Spain.
“I worked with their church doing Sunday school, visiting members in the hospital,” Folden said. “I kind of got a good glimpse of what it would be like as a missionary over there.”
After returning from her internship, Folden was hired by the Intercultural Studies Department where she currently helps students reach their potential in ministry while contemplating her own future. Whether God leads her to Spain or elsewhere, Folden holds fast to the certainty that he will use her to witness for him.
“My ultimate goal is to glorify God by bringing people to Christ,” Folden said.
Viewing her whole life and the relationships she forms as her mission field, Folden’s philosophy lines up with the purpose of Johnson University.