Reach Out: A Family for “Others”

On the night of May 21, 2012, a young woman from Bulgaria visiting Destin, Fla., on a J-1 Student Summer Work Travel visa was struck by a car and killed while riding her bicycle to work.

“God used tragedy to awaken us to a global mission in our own city,” says Pastor Barry Carpenter of Destin United Methodist Church. “I asked the Christ-followers I knew best to be the voice and heart of Jesus to the hundreds of young students from all over the world who would be impacted by this tragedy—and they stepped up!”

While trying to assist these J-1 students, DUMC discovered many challenges facing them daily. Common concerns included crowded accommodations, lack of transportation, employment, money management, health issues, and language and cultural differences, which added to homesickness.

With community partners, DUMC began meeting these needs by hosting dinners, providing food-filled backpacks and donating hundreds of bikes, helmets and locks. Further, they provided employer, host family and sponsor mediation. Through youth group fellowship, prayer and Bible study, spiritual needs are met as well, and several students have been baptized.

“I have new version of life when I met you,” said Sophia, a student from China, to her host family in a Skype call from her home country. “I understand what is love.”

With substantial growth in the J-1 program, DUMC—with nearly 750 in weekly attendance—realized this ministry was too big for any one church. Together with several churches and organizations, they formed Others of Destin Inc. in 2014, and committed to providing a support system to safeguard the students.

“As we became more and more involved with these students we realized that they desperately needed an advocate,” says Cindy Wilson, DUMC attendee and Others of Destin board member. “We took this calling seriously … as we follow Jesus’ example and serve according to his Word.”

Rebekah Hurst
Rebekah Hurst

Rebekah Hurst is a freelance photojournalist and a former reporter for the Manchester Times. She and her husband, David, live in Manchester, Tenn., and have been blessed with two amazing daughters. They enjoy sharing in fellowship and ministry with their First Baptist Church family.