CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- John Michael and Ashley Bonasso say their yearlong mission trip around the world will serve as a launching pad for other forms of ministry.
"This is a season of life that is ending but a new season is beginning," John Michael said.
The young Charleston couple joined the Adventure in Mission World Race in September 2011 and continued on a journey that lasted through this past July. The route included the Philippines, China, South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, Romania, Eastern Europe, Serbia, Nigeria, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
John, an accountant, and Ashley, a registered nurse, quit their jobs, vacated their apartment and left behind family and friends to spend a year spreading the gospel through word and work in several countries.
They never knew what to expect before each stop and no amount of training could have prepared them.
"It was the best and worst of times," said John Michael, who added all the comforts of home were stripped away.
They taught swim lessons and held Bible study sessions at a children's home in the Philippines. Ashley took medical supplies to remote areas and tended the sick. They also visited a home for teenage girls who had been sexually abused.
In Harbin, China, they met with missionaries to launch a new church and shared the gospel with college students.
They helped with sports programs and shared Bible messages in Cape St. Francis, South Africa. In Mozambique they prayed over an area of land with hopes that an orphanage would be built there one day.
Every stop could be an entire story.
"At the city dump in Guatemala, a little boy was digging through the trash to earn money for his family," John Michael said. "It smelled like death. They sell and recycle items. It's a career for some people who live there. It's so hard to wrap your mind around."
Added Ashley, "In Swaziland, three out of four people have AIDS. By 2050 they may cease to exist. They are sick and dying. It's an epidemic."
Yet in the midst of the pain, there was beautiful scenery and a sense of hope.
"We would sit on rocks and worship, sing and pray," Ashley said. "The sky was full of stars. It was overwhelming and almost unreal. It was a picture that felt like a painting."
In areas where struggling was an every day part of life, they saw people filled with joy and faith as they worked together as a community.
"You learn so much from them," Ashley said. "These people with so little seemed so content."
In many areas, they often noted an unhurried way of life, strong sense of family, and an aura of contentment.
"You expect to see wrong things to fix," Ashley said. "You learn a lot from them. Family is important. Keeping it simple is the best way."
Throughout the year, they stayed everywhere from homes, churches, tents and apartments to an orphanage, school and a beach condominium. On stops in major cities, they were on guard for pickpockets and felt a bit uncomfortable. Their journey included 16 flights and countless buses as well as taxis, cars, and Jeeps.
They held Bible studies, did manual labor, cared for orphans, pitched in with community feedings, spoke to groups, helped with church plantings, and headed sports camps.