There are those who walk the path of some scripted fate. There are those who prefer to go with the flow. There are those who live out their own hopes and dreams. Then there are those who believe their lives are not their own – that there is a need and a purpose for the talents they’ve been given.
Except life does not always work out as planned. No matter what someone’s outlook on life, sometimes they are thrown for a loop in more ways than one, just as it was for sophomore physics and engineering major, Jacob Eldridge, whose future goals took a tumble back in his first and third years of high school.
“My junior and senior physics teacher…kind of shot down what my other dream used to be [to become an architect] and kind of got me into physics,” Eldridge said. “And it turned out that I was good at it, and I liked it, so I figured, ‘Why not do that?'”
But long before deciding on his career path, he felt a calling to something beyond himself. Eldridge came to know Christ when he was only six years old and made a decision that would affect his eternity.
“A couple months before [I accepted Christ], my mother had accepted Christ, and at the time, I didn’t know what that meant,” Eldridge said. “I just saw her get baptized and I started having those conversations with her…and I decided that was something I wanted to do.”
Shortly thereafter, the then-pastor of his church walked him through what exactly it meant to be a Christ-follower. But while walking by faith was a choice to be made every day, it wasn’t until his freshman year of high school that he was confronted with that calling.
The Oak Ridge Baptist Church youth program offered him the chance to go on mission to a small village in Belize. At the time, it didn’t seem like something he wanted to do. He did ponder the possibility of going the next year, especially when that first group returned from Belize and showed a video presentation of the impact they had.
“They had this [picture in the video] of their last night, and they all sat around this little fire…but there was one empty chair out of that whole group,” Eldridge stated. “I’d been debating whether or not I was going to go that year, but I was like, ‘No, I’ll just do it next time,’ but then I saw that chair and it just kind of hit me: I should have been there.”
This was his motivation for joining the mission team that next year and the three summers after that. Each trip lasted about 10 days, each involving six adult chaperones for about 17 high school and college students, who led the mission.
The trip consisted of completing several community works projects – like building a house, a chain-link fence, or a small concrete bridge over a ditch near the church – and hosting a Vacation Bible School for the children of Mascal and San Ramon.
“The way we did the VBS, [all the student missionaries] did something different every day so that everyone got the chance to do everything,” he said. “On my first day, I did rec and games…and on another day I was doing stories, so I was dressed up as a Bible character…and other days I would be doing crafts or leading songs.”
The number of kids in attendance varied greatly: between 80 and 140 children ranging from three to 18 years old. It was for them that ORBC students like Eldridge traveled partway across the world. And, because of him, there are at least three little boys whose lives were changed forever.
Eldridge spoke with these boys on the mission’s youth night, explaining to them, as someone had done for him years ago, what it meant to be a Christ-follower. He told them to think about it and come back to him if they wanted to make that decision. Sure enough, two of them returned on his second-to-last day in Belize, and their friend came to him on the last day, all saying they wanted to make that profession of faith.
The mission team’s presence was a new experience for the people of San Ramon, but they were nonetheless welcoming and hospitable to the travelers. They were also open to the ideas they brought with them because Belizeans really aren’t much different from Americans.
“They go through the same problems that we do, the kids especially, going through relationships, popularity, trying to fit in and be cool,” he stated. “I think it was probably a really cool experience for them to see that there are people outside of their area that want to come visit them and hang out with them, and at the same time, it set them on fire for God, and they were yearning to learn more and more as we were leaving.”
And the impact worked both ways – for those giving and receiving the love of Jesus Christ.
“Personally, it opened my eyes to how people treat each other,” Eldridge said. “I feel like I want to be nicer to people in general, and that’s actually one goal I’ve set for myself.”