San Gabriel Academy’s formal mission service got its start almost four decades ago. In 1982 and 1983, Steve Becker, the industrial arts and government teacher at that time, began taking groups of students down to Mexico to build churches. The early trips consisted of a carload of students who were interested in serving others. After a few years, Becker wanted to expand the trip to include more students. In collaboration with Barbara Larson, the home economics and English teacher, it was discovered that a new school was needed in Majuro. After successful fundraising, San Gabriel Academy students were off on a two and a half week trip to Majuro in February of 1984, to build a two-story multi-classroom building with administrative offices and bathrooms, as well as a library. This adventure was the first of many trips taken by the newly formed Christian Youth Builders (CYB), one of SGA’s school organizations that would eventually become known as SGA Missions.
The trips that followed the Majuro mission included a 1985 trip to the Dominican Republic to help build a “cafetorium” for their youth camp. CYB made a return visit to the Dominican Republic in 1986. In 1987, CYB traveled to the west coast of Mexico’s mainland, just north of the tip of Baja. After building a church there, one of the SGA students was baptized on the second Sabbath before returning home. In the spring of 1988, CYB returned to Mexico, this time to Xalapa on the east coast of Mexico near the Aztec ruins on the peninsula. Along with their building projects, the students taught the children in the town gymnastics and sign language. Though the trip was almost shut down by the town’s Catholic leaders, the group persevered. They held evangelistic meetings on Friday night and all day Saturday in a packed 2,000-seat auditorium. Because of Becker’s influence that still resonates today, the Steve Becker Service Award was established and is presented each year at SGA’s Alumni Homecoming to one person who extraordinarily exemplifies the ideals of service fostered by Becker and which are inherent in the values of San Gabriel Academy. After the departure of the man who began this legacy, there were trips to Aguascalientes near Mexico City to build a church, to Michigan to work on Heritage Village, to Alaska to build cabins, a campfire bowl, and hiking trails, and to San Antonio, Texas to help build houses in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
Since those first trips, the SGA Missions organization has been working all over the world. During the spring of the last eight years, this group has partnered with Maranatha Volunteers International and has traveled to Honduras (2012) to build classrooms and restrooms for the local Adventist school, to Panama twice to build a portion of an education center (2013) and a church (2015), and to Dominican Republic (2014) to construct a church. In 2016, SGA Missions served in downtown Los Angeles as participants in Pathways to Health, a non-profit organization that serves the physical needs of the under-served by providing entirely free mobile multi-specialty clinics that offer medical, surgical, dental, eye care, and other critical services. The site of the 2018 international mission trip was Costa Rica, where the group built a kitchen for a local church. Hawaii, typically a vacation destination, was where the 2019 mission trip participants built an interactive playground for a school in need of this feature. In March of 2020, SGA Missions was scheduled to travel to Thailand, where students and faculty planned to assist in the construction of a large community center. Their efforts would have allowed the school in Mae Sot to accept more students, create a better learning environment, develop better living conditions for teachers, and provide adult education classes and evangelism. However, COVID-19 prevented all international travel, and this much anticipated trip had to be postponed.
The mission focus of San Gabriel Academy is not only on international trips, but also on those in need in America, as well. Since 2011, students and faculty have given up a portion of their Thanksgiving break in order to travel to Monument Valley, Utah, where they have assisted in the construction of a Health and Healing Center and, on subsequent trips, have participated in the outreach that is taking place in that remote area. Another domestic mission trip was made in 2017 to Calexico Adventist School, located on the border of California and Mexico, where students painted the school’s fencing and bleachers and helped organize the school’s maintenance shop. In the fall of 2018, SGA Missions traveled to Holbrook Mission School in Arizona, where forty-three students, faculty, and staff members made the 551-mile trip to paint, dry wall, do electrical work, clean horse stalls, and help with needed repairs that had become overwhelming to Holbrook’s personnel. The group’s biggest project was digging irrigation trenches for the organic farm on the Holbrook campus. SGA Missions returned in the fall of 2019 to help build an addition to the school’s dormitory. This mission trip was the last group service experience to date. It was in March of 2020 that San Gabriel Academy planned to travel Mae Sot, Thailand to assist the Mae Sot Adventist Community Center with the construction of a larger community center. The efforts of our students and faculty would have allowed the Mae Sot facility to accept more students, create a better learning environment, develop better living conditions for teachers, and provide adult education classes and evangelism. March of 2020 was when COVID-19 required distance learning and barred all international travel. The hope to one day visit Mae Sot is still alive, and one day soon, SGA Missions will once again continue its robust mission ministry which is at the heart of our belief in serving others.
In the last ten years, almost seventy-five SGA students have been baptized, largely as a result of SGA Missions and Weeks of Prayer. Hundreds of participants have shared their experiences with their families, their friends, their churches, and their communities. In the words of Carrie Li, who experienced SGA Missions in Monument Valley as a senior international student,
“The jobs we did weren’t easy. My new gloves were worn out and my hands, shoulders, and back were sore for three days after the trip. But I will never regret going on this mission trip, because I learned the importance of seeking God in everyday life. I will remember this trip forever.”
The mission ministry conducted at San Gabriel Academy not only has demonstrated the necessity and rewards of service given to those in need around the world, but also has blessed the students of SGA as they learn through hands-on experience the meaning of serving others, growing in Christ, and aspiring to excellence.