As Toby Hopper rode in a van down the bumpy road outside of Odessa, Ukraine, she began to shake with fear. Soon she would enter the youth prison.
Originally from Washington state, Toby was one of 39 people on a mission trip with Global Aid Network, the humanitarian aid ministry of Cru.
A pastor's wife, Toby had worked for various churches for 28 years. This was the first trip she had taken with GAiN, and little did she know it would change the direction of her life.
As the prison officials opened the wooden gates, dozens of boys in uniforms lined up together, awaiting their arrival.
"I am not an adventurous person by nature," says Toby, 56, and the mother of three. When a friend invited her on the trip, she was reluctant. "How can I go and interact with those children for such a short time?" she said. "My heart will be completely broken."
Yet here she was, among the troubled Ukrainian youth. As they separated into small groups, Toby looked closely at the boys, and her fear began to subside. "I thought, What if these were my kids?" she says. "The Holy Spirit began to empower me to love them."
She especially connected with a 12-year-old boy named Sasha, whom she hugged and talked with for a few hours.
"Toby is a very merciful and compassionate person," says her husband, Steve, 57.
Sasha was not the only youth Toby connected with. Throughout the trip, she and the team also visited several orphanages, giving gifts and trying to show Christ's love through word and deed.
This trip happened in 2001, and Toby was inspired to go on other trips as well.
More importantly, Toby and Steve had been praying that God would lead them in a new direction in ministry, one with a global focus. They realized GAiN was the answer to their prayers.
In 2005, they joined GAiN officially. Steve now heads up project development, and Toby works in human resources, as well as travels on a few short-term trips a year. So far she has been on 14 different trips, including ones to North Africa (above) and Jamaica.
Mainly, Toby serves as an advocate for short-term trips. "I believe that everyone should go on a trip at some point," she says. "I realized that if you don't go on such trips, you might miss touching the lives of people that only you can touch."