It started with a prayer, well, lots of prayer.
A few years ago, Lindsay Melson’s friend, Isaiah Andrews, was headed out on a mission trip to Papua New Guinea so she began praying for him. Soon, Melson was dreaming about Papua New Guinea, a place she had never been.
“It was kind of bizarre honestly,” Melson said of how the idea took hold of her. “ ... I would have dreams about being in Papua New Guinea and just being on a ship there. I would be waking up in the middle of the night thinking 'Oh my gosh, why do I keep having these dreams and why is my heart so focused on this.' It was a seed that was planted a while ago and I just really believe it’s turned into a seed of longing to love and serve them.”
Now, two and a half years later, Melson is preparing to leave on a volunteer mission trip of her own to the small island nation after finishing her senior season pitching for the University of Illinois-Chicago's softball team.
In the next couple weeks, Melson, a native of Harvard, will leave Illinois for Australia. From there, the former standout softball player will take off on a boat for Papua New Guinea, and from July 16 to Dec. 15, will work with a group called Youth With A Mission, providing a variety of services to the local people.
“It’s crazy, if you would have asked me three years ago what I would be doing after I graduated from UIC I’d probably say I would hope I’d get into occupational therapy school by now and be preparing for that,” Melson said. "... I think over time I just really feel like my heart has really truly transformed and been softened for the people of Papua New Guinea, through, honestly, it has been prayer. I think that’s where I’m at right now, acknowledging my passion for health care and serving people and loving people.”
Part of what drew her to Papua New Guinea was what she learned when she spoke with Andrews (who now works for Youth With A Mission), met some of his friends from his trip and researched the country's needs.
“Just seeing staggering statistics. They’re numbers that you can’t unsee or you can’t unknow,” Melson said. “There’s probably less than one doctor per 10,000 individuals in Papua New Guinea, or even worse, there’s less than one dentist per 100,000 people; it’s like one in 13 children die before the age of 5. It’s numbers like that. You just kind of acknowledge that. And I think knowing my passions, wanting to enter into that situation, I don’t know if I’ll be able to make a world of difference for them, but I'm making that first step into trying to change that.”
The work she could do over the next six months will range wildly. Melson said she could be assisting doctors or helping in eye clinics, among other potential tasks.
“It’s kind of exhilarating to know that there’s a lot ahead that I don’t even know if I’m prepared for at this point," Melson said. "(I'm) just kind of walking into that with trust that I do have a passion for this, and I do feel like I’m called to this place and just having confidence in that."
Embracing the unexpected is not something Melson has always been so comfortable with.
“I think it’s been a learning curve for me,” she said. “Getting injured my freshman year in college playing softball, that was the first kind of really unexpected thing that happened in my life and just kind of embracing, not the bad things, but trying to move forward with the good in all situations. I think that’s just kind of changed my sights and perspective on life. Just wanting to learn and grow where I’m at, and I think sometimes that has to happen in uncomfortable places.”
Lisa Melson, Lindsay’s mother, called her daughter “a very giving person” and said it was around a year ago that Lindsay told her she was really going to do the trip. “And I believed her because she’s pretty serious about things when she gets her heart set on it,” Lisa said.
That’s how Lindsay’s always been, her mother said.
“Oh yeah, especially with softball and going to school and church," Lisa said. "She doesn’t quit."
Talking to Melson, her positivity and the importance of her faith are clear.
“I’ve always kind of had the background, I grew up in a church, but I think it started becoming more real to me my senior year in high school and then from there it just kind of catapulted a little bit more,” Melson said. “Just trying to understand the world around you and noticing there are so many people out there who are hurting and in need of love.”
As a senior in high school, Melson transferred from Harvard to Marengo. On the field, she was the Northwest Herald’s Co-Player of the Year after helping pitch the Indians to a 36-6 record and a runner-up finish in the Class 3A state tournament.
She joined the group Fellowship of Christian Athletes while still in high school and later joined the Christian organization, Cru at UIC, in college.
She played softball at UIC and graduated with a degree in kinesiology, knowing she wanted to work in health care of some kind.
“Health care is something that I’ve been keeping my sights set on since probably senior year in high school,” Melson said. “ … I love being able to serve people in that area. Providing health care and having knowledge about health care is always something that I hold really special in my heart.”
Melson said that she has done some small mission work, but “not as grand as this.”
“I’m one of those people that I love to do acts of kindness for people,” Melson said. “It’s not something that I do for myself, but just knowing that other people deserve to be loved and served."
Melson said she will try to spend the next couple weeks with friends and family, maybe taking in a Cubs game if she can, before leaving the country for six months.
As part of the preparation, on May 26, Melson posted a fundraising campaign online, looking to raise $6,000 to go toward “housing, transportation, insurance, field supplies, meals, flights for training and outreach, as well as other resources that I will need during the time I’m abroad.” As of Sunday, with 10 days left in her campaign, Melson had raised $4,920.
“I am so overwhelmed, truly blessed by the people that have been reaching out to me,” Melson said. “It’s cool to see that there are so many people that want to see goodness happen and they want to extend that love to others around the world."
Information about Melson’s trip and her fundraiser can be found online at gofundme.com/lindsaymelsonpng.