Going the Extra Mile

Rachel Saunders (’00) and Dan Mills (’81) had never met before. They attended the same college decades apart, their only common thread being a mutual acquaintance — Lois Pannabecker, director of alumni services at Bethel College. Yet when Saunders had a need and Mills learned about it, he was eager to help.

In February 2008, Saunders began preparing to leave on her third short-term mission trip to Central Asia with the goal of teaching English to international college students through a Christian worldview. Unlike previous trips where she solely taught students, this trip would focus on curriculum development, discipleship through relationship building and local missionary support — all essential for sharing the Gospel in this closed Muslim region. Only one thing held her back: a ticket to get there.

While talking with Pannabecker about her impending trip, Saunders expressed her need for financial support, as well as her conviction that God wanted her to go back to Central Asia. She was so hopeful, in fact, that when she left the region for the United States in December 2007, she tucked spring clothing and school supplies in the closet of her overseas apartment to await her return.  After hearing Saunders’ plight, Pannabecker went to Mills, an accountant with Crowe Chizek and frequent traveler who happens to be a member of the alumni board at Bethel College.

“I was happy to help,” Mills says.

Because he travels to California about 30 times a year for work, collecting thousands of frequent flyer miles each time, Mills had enough airline miles to “purchase” at ticket for Saunders.

“It was amazing to me the way God put all the pieces together. I had the ability to go and Dan had the miles to get me there,” Saunders says. 

With her ticket in hand, Saunders left for Central Asia in March and stayed until the completion of the spring term in mid-June. Her curriculum, which she worked on developing with another missionary, will provide an open doorway to share the Christian worldview with English students in a region where it is illegal for foreign missionaries to spread the Gospel.

Through group and one-on-one discussion, Saunders was able to spark conversation about core beliefs and even share openly about Jesus with several students.

“It was such a privilege to watch students think deeply and discuss things they had never thought about before,” she says.

Since returning to the United States, Saunders has continued to teach English to international students, this time in the South Bend / Mishawaka area.

In August, Saunders and Mills met for the first time. Mills hopes their story will inspire other alumni partnerships.

“We know so little about other alums and what they are doing,” he says. “If it weren’t for Lois, I would have never known that Rachel had the need, and Rachel would not have had the chance to go advance God’s mission in Central Asia.”

If you or someone you know has been helped through a Bethel connection, please share your story with us!  Send your story to alumni@BetheCollege.edu.

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