Becca Tompkins went to an International Mission Board expo earlier this year with her heart and mind open to where God might call her to serve.
She left with a crystal clear confirmation.
Tompkins, a former standout with the Surry Runnin’ Patriot girls basketball team, will participate in the two-year Journeyman program with the IMB in South America. Tompkins, 23, accepted an assignment in Leticia, a small city on the Amazon River at the southernmost tip of Columbia not far from the borders of Brazil and Peru. IMB orientation and training begins later this month.
Tompkins, of Ararat, Virginia, said when she was 8 years old she used to read autobiographies of missionaries such as Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong and Amy Carmichael.
“I was fascinated with their stories,” Tompkins said. “I didn’t have to, but I used to write book reports about them all the time. Since I was a little kid at 5 years old, I always said I wanted to be a missionary.”
In Leticia, she’ll stay with a career missionary couple and have the opportunity to home-school their children. Tompkins said she also is looking forward to serving in a nearby orphanage and teaching some English classes.
It’s a missions opportunity that seems tailor-made for Tompkins, who was born and raised in Texas, and moved from Dallas to Ararat, Virginia, in 2004. Her father Jack is from Texas and her mother Jan is from Virginia. Becca has three older siblings (Brad, Amanda and Josh) who are all married and living in Texas, and a younger sister Hannah, who also played basketball for the Patriots.
Becca went to Patrick County High School the year her family moved to Virginia. Outside of that year, she was home-schooled all the way through high school.
“I loved being home-schooled,” she said. “It gave our family the wonderful opportunity to grow closer together and for ministry opportunities. It also gave us mobility growing up. We were able to travel.”
Tompkins graduated high school in 2010 and went to Piedmont International University in Winston-Salem, where she played basketball for one year. At Piedmont, Tompkins was ranked regionally and nationally in rebounding.
Shoulder surgery cut her basketball career short, and she would transfer to Dallas Baptist University. There she had a number of opportunities to serve.
In 2011, Tompkins went to west Africa on a school mission trip, where she was able to minister to prostitutes in the war-torn nation of Sierra Leone. Tompkins partnered with churches who were teaching cosmetology to the women and girls there as an alternative source of income.
Tompkins also was able to visit a large number of orphanages.
“That was my favorite part, loving on those kids,” she said.
She’s also served in Costa Rica, and been involved in a number of leadership positions and mentoring programs at Dallas Baptist University, where Tompkins excelled academically and earned a degree in history. Tompkins is interested in Native American history, particularly the story of Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Quahada Comanche Indians. Eventually Tompkins said she’d like to pursue a master’s degree and teach history.
After finishing her undergraduate studies this year, the focus has shifted fully toward the upcoming Journeyman program. Tompkins started the lengthy application/interview process her junior year of college.
Although she already had worked in Africa and Central America, Tompkins wrestled with a decision of where to complete her Journeyman program in the months leading up to an IMB missions expo in March.
“They had talked about different job openings,” she said. “I was open to wherever the Lord wanted to send me. I used to be really set on Africa. I was going to work and serve in an orphanage in Africa. But the Lord reminded me that it’s not about a specific place. Everyone needs to hear about His love.”
On the first day at the expo, she heard about opportunities in Columbia.
“The more they talked, I felt my heartstrings being drawn to them,” Tompkins said. “There are two missionaries there. I’ll home-school the kids of one of the families. There’s an orphanage in the town. I can teach English classes and love those kids. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Teaching, loving kids, helping those less fortunate — it was the perfect fit for the bright and energetic Tompkins.
But her family, particularly her dad, was understandably a little uneasy at first with the thought of their daughter being in a foreign country — primarily with concerns about safety. Living cross-culturally involves risks ranging from diseases to political upheaval and violence in certain parts of the world.
Tompkins said having her dad’s blessing was important to her.
“He’s so protective of us, especially his daughters,” she said. “He gets nervous about us really easy, even if I’m going from Dallas from Virginia. There was a period in high school where he wasn’t on board with me being a missionary overseas, because it was dangerous. That was disheartening because I value and respect their opinion.”
Her dad conceded that he was a little more comfortable with South America as opposed to places in Africa less tolerant of Christians.
“She had been to Africa and liked it over there,” Jack said. “The field’s wide open in Africa, and there are plenty of people to help…South America has a lot of opportunity down there. She’ll go to the Amazon jungle and step back 200 years.
“I’m very excited she’s going to South America. I don’t have reason to fear. She’s doing the Lord’s work.”
Her mom, Jan, said Becca has the family’s support and love.
“This has been Becca’s lifelong dream,” Jan said. “Since she was a young girl, she always talked about being a missionary. I would never want to stand between her and anything the Lord calls her to do.”
Tompkins said her dad now calls her “Amazon Becca.”
“My family’s love and support has helped me,” Becca said. “Mom and Dad have encouraged me to chase my dreams and live for God’s glory.”
Tompkins’ blog (www.trustinginthemaker.blogspot.com) has a catchy title — “Sojourner: Because this world is not my home,” which is based on Hebrews 13:14.
The two-year mission trip is about far more than charity work for Tompkins. Nor is she trying to attract attention for going to work a third-world region.
For her, the good news of Jesus Christ has transforming power. Tompkins’ goal is to point others toward Him.
“I want them to see less of me and more of Christ. That’s why I am going, so others can know the Lord and that he loves them,” she said. “It’s truly about the gospel. Christ left his home in heaven to come down here to make a way for us to know him. So how could I not leave my home and tell others about his love?”
Tompkins’ heart for engaging people with the gospel isn’t something that begins when she hits South American soil. It’s something she strives to live daily.
“She is not saving her love and passion for Christ for the mission field,” mom Jan said. “Becca is such a bright light in people’s lives. God has used Becca in such a marvelous way already. She shares His love everywhere she goes. I’m so thankful for her bubbly personality. I know God has great plans for her.”
That love and passion for Christ overflowed into basketball as well. Tompkins didn’t shy away from physical play and she finished her high school career with well over 500 rebounds. She left Surry as one of the top rebounders in Runnin’ Patriot history.
“She always worked really hard, which will serve her well on the mission field,” said Todd Hill, who coached her in high school. “The way she played is the way she will work on the mission field. She’s got the heart for it, and she’s got the grit for it.
“She’s a real good kid and she has a heart for Christ. It’s exciting. She’s going to have an impact that can last for an eternity.”
On July 21, Tompkins leaves for Richmond, Virginia, for field personnel orientation with the IMB, which ends Sept. 18. After a short trip home, she’ll travel to San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, and live four months with a non-English speaking family to learn Spanish. In January, she departs for Columbia, which is predominantly Catholic.
According to the IMB’s website, more than 5,500 young college graduates have served around the world as Journeyman missionaries, and that the program was conceived to provide Southern Baptist recent college graduates a way to work with career missionaries to learn the “tools of the trade.”
Tompkins said she wants to blend in with the culture as much as possible. She plans to take only a backpack with her, will buy local clothing and that she hopes to do a lot of reading while she is there. She said the iPhone will stay behind. There is a nearby Internet café where she’ll be able to communicate with her family via email and update her blog on occasion.
Although she had grown up in church, Tompkins said she struggled with doubts about her faith.
“I had been putting my faith in my knowledge of the Lord, and not in Christ and what He did on the cross,” she said. “It changed from head to heart knowledge. He’s taught me to trust in his faithfulness. It was a freeing truth.”
For Tompkins, that truth has allowed her to go and proclaim the gospel boldly — from a small town in rural Virginia to places as far away as Africa and in several months, the Amazon.
It doesn’t mean she isn’t the slightest bit anxious about being in the jungle for two years. Tompkins said it would be cool to see a pink dolphin, but she’ll also be keeping an eye out for piranhas, caimans and she said one of the missionaries posted a photo of a large anaconda caught in the village.
Tompkins said her family is holding a going-away party at her home on Friday. Then on July 20, Salem Baptist Church in Dobson will hold a special time of prayer for her at a commissioning service.
“It’s starting to sink in slowly,” she said. “In the beginning I had no worries, no fears. Now the realization is starting to sink in. I’m not looking forward to saying goodbye. The hardest moment is going to be getting on the plane to leave. I will be crying buckets and buckets of tears.”
Although the separation from her family will be far from easy, Tompkins is reminded of her call and commitment to sharing a message of grace and truth with those who have never heard the gospel.
“I will be unplugged from society,” she said. “On the one side it’s refreshing, but it will also be a huge challenge. I’m so grateful that the Lord put together this opportunity to serve him and see such a beautiful part of the world. He’s instilled in me a love for travel and adventure and to love. It’s incredible to me that he wrapped up those things in such a beautiful package.”