JMI mission trips are designed to change the lives and circumstances of children and families in need.  But inevitably, our volunteers’ lives are transformed in the process.  “Changed” is a series that features some of their inspiring stories of transformation.  We hope you’ll enjoy this series of interviews and consider God’s call on your own life to meet Him on a mission trip this year.

Our first edition of Changed is with Delani Distefano, a senior at Centennial High School in Franklin, TN.

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JMI: Delani, your first ever mission trip was to Moldova in the summer of 2015 where you had a pretty transformative experience.  What can you tell us about the pre-Moldova Delani?
I had always gone to church but I never really had a relationship with Christ until I started to go to Rolling Hills Community Church. I also had always wanted to go on a mission trip but something always got in the way.  I was very focused and worried about college, school, and what people thought of me. I had a relationship with God but I was very focused on the things of the world.

What did you experience in Moldova that impacted your life?
I loved every minute of my experience in Moldova. What impacted me the most was the way that everyone that I met in Moldova had this joy in them and their love for God was shown in everything they did.

You were an All-District High School basketball player for Centennial High School in 2015, your junior year yet you’ve made some pretty significant decisions that will impact your senior year. What can you tell us about that?
This year after about 10 years of playing basketball I decided not to play my senior year. It was a very hard decision, but I felt that God was pulling my life in another direction. I was finding my identity in basketball, but at the same time basketball wasn’t my passion anymore.

What kind of reactions have you gotten from that decision?
Through it all, my family and friends have been really supportive. When I told people outside my immediate family they were shocked, and rightfully so. No one knew I had been contemplating this decision for months, so people thought it came out of the blue. But overall it was the best decision I have ever made, I am so much happier now.  Going to  Moldova impacted my decision because I got to see what I am truly meant to do and that there is so much more to life than just playing a sport. The kids I met changed my view on life and what God placed me on this earth to do and I am truly thankful for that.

Was there any particular person you met in Moldova who left the biggest impression on you?…tell us about that relationship.
The first day we had camp in Carpenini, I was so nervous. I wasn’t sure how the language barrier would effect my relationships with the children and everything was all so new to me. I remember walking in the gates to the church we were having camp at and made eye-contact with a little girl name Diana, she was 7, and she gave me the biggest, most loving smile and asked me to play a “clapping” game with her. With that smile all my anxiety and fear faded away. Throughout the week, I saw Gods love shine through her and her sweet heart for others. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the impact she made on my life and I am truly blessed to have met her.

What word of advice would you give your peers about participating in a mission trip?
Go out and do it! It is the best thing I have ever experienced. When you go, take it all in because it goes by so fast. You get to see God work in ways you have never seen before and it’s breathtaking.

What would you tell parents about the importance of their kids going on mission trips?
I know it may be very hard to let your children go half way around the world without you but the experiences they will have and the ways they will see God work will change them forever.

How would you describe what’s happened inside you since then?….what’s different about you now?
I have grown in my faith tremendously, I have become more involved with church activities and I am not as worried about worldly things as much anymore.

What has this experience taught you about the heart of Jesus?
Gods love is so much bigger than we can even imagine. He has a heart for everyone and he cares deeply about each and every person on earth, despite what they may be going through.

If you’d like to join JMI on a trip, visit justiceandmercy.org and check out our calendar of upcoming events.

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