By: Veronica Burniston
During the short, cold month of February, while millions of Americans huddled around their living room televisions to watch the Winter Olympics, and hundreds of thousands of tourists flooded the streets of Sochi, Melinda Heck, alongside several other volunteers, was twisting and shaping balloon flowers for the children in Sochi, Russia.
Amid all the excitement and competition that accompanies the Olympics, why was Melinda, a Johnson County native, visiting Russia simply to serve children and families on the streets?
For her the answer was simple: the Lord had opened a door in the east, and, like the prophet Isaiah in the Bible, she stepped forward and said, Here I am. Send me!
Beginning with several home missions with organizations like Hale Ministries in Johnson County, Roan Creek Baptist Church (her home church), and even assisting a Michigan church with Bible school, Melindas call for the mission field eventually led her to international destinations such as Venezuela, Rio de Janeiro in eastern Brazil, Australia, London, China, and numerous other locations around the globe.
Missions start at home, Melinda comments during a short interview, from there the Lord opens opportunities. If Id never gone on the trips to Michigan, I probably wouldve never gone on the other trips.
With each missionary trip, Melinda witnessed God at work. As He directed her footsteps from one trip to another, her faith grew and her heart for missions did as well; it was her heart for missions and a close friend that eventually led her to join Team SOAR in Sochi, Russia.
Service and Outreach Alaska to Russia (SOAR) International Ministries was founded by Dick and Kathy Page in 1998. SOAR Ministries leads several outreach projects in Russia, including the annual Stuff a Stocking project, Baskets of Hope, as well as winter and summer camps where the Gospel is shared. In February, several SOAR Teams flew to Russia to help and encourage the Evangelical House of Sochi in its ministry to the surrounding community. Melinda was a member of the second group.
Staying at a hostel near the Evangelical House of Sochi, Melindas team worked mainly from an igloo tent at the church, where they offered face-painting, balloons, nail-art, hair braiding, board games, bubbles, pamphlets, Bibles and Gospel tracts, and even SOAR pins to be traded during the Olympics. Besides the numerous activities for the children, a hospitality house served tea and snacks for the families and also offered the opportunity to dress up like a hockey player or snowboarder for pictures.
According to Melinda, the outreach was very successful. Children came running from all over for the games and crafts, their families following soon after. Children are the same everywhere you go, Melinda says, looking over some of the pictures from the event. They just want to have fun, to do crafts and balloons, they want to learn.
As a result of the outreach project, the following service at the church was full, and an occasion to spread the Gospel of Christ became possible. Team SOARs mission to plant seeds and be an encouragement blessed not only the church but the parents and children who ventured into the igloo tent that week and experienced the love of Christ.
When asked about her time in the Russian city itself, Melinda recollected the beautiful colors that seemed to stretch throughout Sochis streets, the blooming tulips, baskets of flowers, and buses painted skillfully with the Olympic colors. On their one free day, Melinda recalls visiting St. Petersburg with the group and the Czars winter palace, which contains a massive art collection. They also attended the Ladies Hockey Olympic event.
Despite all of these ventures, Melinda said the most memorable part of the trip took place at the small hostel in which they stayed: One thing that was very meaningful for me was the devotionals we had every morning…We had different members give their testimonies…some Russian members came and gave their testimonies…Ive never been on a trip that God hasnt placed me with Christians that have marvelous testimonies and are willing to share.
After speaking about her time with Team SOAR in Russia, Melinda wanted to encourage other Christians to pursue missions. If God opens a door and speaks to your heart, then I encourage you to go, Melinda says. You are [sometimes] out of your comfort zone and the travel is hard at times. But, in the end, its worth it.
Melinda also wanted to express her appreciation for all the prayer support she received from her church, work, friends, and family. She is very grateful for the love and support they gave her before and during the trip.
God has a purpose for all of us, Melinda ends. He prepares you along the way. You look back and think Well, if I hadnt done this, I wouldnt have been able to do this. You begin to trust a little bit more and see Gods hand on things.