RBC Alumni Highlight: Catherine Upton

Posted On March 16, 2021

Catherine is a senior earning a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies at Reformation Bible College. She began to feel a calling to the mission field while she was in high school, and through several short-term mission trips and throughout her studies at RBC, she felt that call confirmed and deepened. She currently is the assistant to the Orphan Care and Schools Manager at the Rafiki Foundation Home Office in Eustis, Fla., and is planning to go to Africa in the fall of 2021 to serve as an assistant to the Dean of the Rafiki Institute of Classical Education at the Rafiki Village Liberia.

Read on as Catherine shares how her experience at RBC helped her prepare for service as a long-term missionary with the Rafiki Foundation.

Looking back over your experience as an RBC student, how has life at RBC impacted your decision to go out on the mission field?

I wanted to do missions before I came to RBC, and that’s why I ended up coming here—to help prepare. Being at RBC and taking classes, being discipled by the staff and faculty, and also being involved in my church has helped me come to a better understanding of what ministry looks like and how I’m called to serve. I’m also learning more about who God is and what that means for the church, missions, and ministry. Dr. Tweeddale mentioned in class that if you love God, then you will love what He loves—and He loves His people. So when you love God, you love and serve the church. That has always stuck with me. He also said, “Wake up. Love God. Serve people. Go to bed. Get up and do it again.” It is very simple, but that has stuck with me.

All of the theology and philosophy classes I have taken at RBC have helped broaden my understanding of what missions should look like, and they have helped me think through it critically moving forward.

What are you looking forward to upon graduating?

I’m looking forward to having more opportunities to take the things I’ve learned and put them into practice. I’m excited to see the ways God will use all that I’ve learned here. There are already so many ways that I am so grateful for what I’ve received at RBC.

Have you always had a heart for missions? Have you had prior experience traveling abroad for missions?

I started feeling called to missions when I was in high school. Around that time, I signed up for my first mission trip with my church: a ten-day trip to Peru. It was a formative trip, and it was my first experience traveling by plane and traveling internationally. There were plenty of challenges throughout that trip, but those difficulties helped me grow, helped me to see what God was doing through the trip with His people in Peru, and helped me to be more outward-focused.

Every year after that, I have been on a short-term trip, including trips to Cherokee, N.C., France, Smyrna, Tenn., and Indonesia. During each trip, I learned new things about God and about myself, about missions and what it looks like. Each trip was an encouragement and a confirmation that this is what I want to do and what I am called to do. Seeing God work through ordinary people to address the hurt, brokenness, and need for the gospel in the communities we went to encouraged me all the more.

How were you first introduced to the Rafiki Foundation, and what has been your experience with the organization?

I first heard about the Rafiki Foundation through my pastor from my church back home who has worked with them for many years. I remember thinking highly of them, but I didn’t think too much about it. I was reintroduced to the organization in the spring of my freshman year at RBC when they hosted a lunch at the school. When I heard about what they are doing, I was thrilled about the holistic nature of their ministry and how they want people to know God while also meeting their physical needs.

Since last spring, I have been working at the Home Office. I love the hard work and dedication that everyone on the team puts in to accomplish the mission. I’ve been very encouraged, and I am grateful for the opportunity to know the ministry before I go overseas with them serving as a missionary.

How will you be serving as a long-term missionary in Africa with the Rafiki Foundation, and what will you be doing?

I will be signing on for two years and will probably work at their village in Liberia. They have ten villages in ten different African countries, and in each village, they have orphanages caring for orphans, and they also have built schools for the children to offer them a solid Christian classical education. They also teach day students from the community. Rafiki also has teacher training colleges in seven of their villages to train local Africans in classical education so they can go out to the schools in their community and take good education with them.

I will most likely be working as an assistant to the Dean at the college in Liberia. She is a missionary from the U.S. I will be serving alongside her in whatever ways I can, and I will also be working with the students one-on-one, helping them with their coursework.

What are some of the challenges you anticipate in your calling to be a missionary?

Being away from not just my biological family but also the friends who have become family to me is going to be difficult. It can be hard to build friendships and relationships with people from a completely different culture than your own, but it can also provide wonderful opportunities for learning and growth. And I hope, Lord willing, that I will build good relationships with the people I will be serving alongside.

I anticipate dealing with loneliness, but God has been preparing me for that by learning how to find contentment in communion with the Lord and using that as an opportunity to grow in my relationship with Him and see His sufficiency. I’m sure there will be many other challenges as well, but God’s grace is sufficient.

What advice would you share with others that feel called to the mission field?

Start where you are. There’s a mission field all around you. It is important to have an attitude of service and ministry in your own community and your local church. Finding ways to serve there will help you prepare because the things you’re going to learn and the issues you are going to face are going to be very similar to what missionaries face overseas. If you don’t have a heart for service here, it is not going to magically appear when you go somewhere else. It would also be helpful to go on some short-term trips to get an idea of what it’s like and see if that is something you feel called to do.

How can the RBC community be supporting or praying for you in your preparation for the mission field?

There is a lot to do in terms of preparation and fundraising, so prayer that God would provide that. I also would appreciate prayer that I would have the time and organizational strength to get everything done that I need to get done in the next few months. Prayer is definitely the most important thing I need right now. People have already been very supportive, and that means the world.

In what ways has your experience at RBC prepared you for this opportunity?

It has been helpful to be at a school where the classical education model is taught. It will also prove to be very helpful to have a solid foundation on good theology, because Africa is lacking in that area. They need truth and they need resources since they don’t have access to the same resources we have. I’m grateful that I have a solid foundation and have been given the tools to discern what I’m hearing and seeing. Everything that I have learned at RBC is for a reason, and it will all be fruitful down the road.

Visit the Rafiki Foundation to support Catherine and learn more about their services and projects.