Less than a month after earning her doctorate degree, an Elizabeth City native is embarking on a mission trip that will take her to 11 countries in 11 months.
Kaiulani Houston, 28, received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Aug. 11. She plans to go to medical school, but is postponing that a year in order to participate in The World Race, which is a mission trip organized by Adventures in Missions (AIM).
On Sept. 7, she will fly to Haiti for a month. Each month thereafter will bring a new assignment in a new country — Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
The teams of missionaries will be sent to organizations that are understaffed and under-funded. They’ll carry tents in their backpacks in case the organizations cannot house them, and will be that organization’s “hands” for a month, Houston said.
Assignments could include working at hospitals or orphanages, teaching English in schools, digging wells or even just sitting with homeless people, she said.
Formal mission work was not an ambition of Houston’s until two years ago, when she visited her childhood friend, Rachel Duncan, in London, where Duncan served as a missionary for two years.
Houston helped her run a kids’ camps in an area of London mostly inhabited by Indians, Pakistanis and Somalis. Houston was inspired as she watched her once-shy friend since first grade boldly speak to others, including men of other nationalities and religions, on the street.
While that visit sparked her interest in formal mission work, Houston noted that her parents, Johnny and Virginia Houston, and older sister, Mave Houston, taught her by example that “every day is an opportunity to serve.”
Her dad actually sent her an email about The World Race, of which she’d previously never heard. “I think he has also been inspired by what Rachel is doing,” she said.
Over the course of the next year, she anticipates learning about global issues. In the Asian countries, for example, the work will include helping victims of sex trafficking. “That’s something I know very little about at this point,” she said.
Houston thanked everyone who has donated to her trip, which includes family, friends, church members, atheists and people she has never met. “It’s such a beautiful thing,” she said of the widespread support, which lets her know “it’s not about me; I’m a vessel.”
The trip can be summarized as “people coming together all over the world to uplift each other and to be a part of God’s greater design,” she said.
Houston said she’s excited to embark on the trip; “People keep asking me if I’m scared, but I’m not.”
She attended a weeklong training session in July, and said the people she met, including her six future teammates, “are really incredible.” They practiced living outside, learned how to build their relationship with God and learned to live in community, since for 11 months, they will never be alone.
That training “really transformed my life and thinking,” she said, adding that it also inspired her to finish her final month of work toward her doctorate.
“There are lots of instances where people collaborate to tear down; this is an instance where people collaborate to build up,” she said.
For more information, visit http://kaiulanihouston.theworldrace.org.