By Rosanne Bowman Melissa Cruz was 28 years old in 2002 when she went on a mission trip to Belize, the northern most country of South America located just south of Mexico. At the time, she was a newspaper reporter in Michigan. She was driven and determined in her career. The trip was an impulse. “I was a reporter on vacation,” she said. “I was unaware of how God would undeniably change my life.”God transformed Melissa Cruz's life while she was on that trip. “I was journaling at night,” she said. “I was so driven and focused on college, then my career — I believe the Lord had to awaken me in a place I had nowhere to run.”Melissa Cruz returned home, but it did not feel like home anymore. “I pulled into my driveway and thought ‘What am I doing here?'” she said. “I felt called to go into missions.”Soon after she returned from the mission trip, she began working at the Wapakoneta Daily News. A year later, she returned to Belize to confirm God's calling in her life. Six months after that, she was living in Las Flores, Belize. “When I came to Belize in September 2003,” she said, “I did not know my next step beyond that 10-month commitment.”Melissa Cruz came to fill in for the village preschool teacher. Having no formal missions training, she had a lot of things to learn, including the language. The people of Belize primarily speak Spanish, but they also speak English as it is the official language of the country.“I have fond memories of being home in the village,” she said, “studying late into the night.”While her main job when she first arrived was to teach at the village preschool, Melissa Cruz found many of the young girls in the village would find their way to her porch in the evenings. She began to pray about how she could reach these girls. That is how Glory Girls started. It is a weekly after-school program where young girls are taught truths from the Bible. The also do crafts, games and celebrations. “The Lord gave me this opportunity in the autumn of 2003,” she said. “What started as a seed of 12 Glory Girls has grown over time to 60 Glory Girls. God has grafted in the girls as part of my life. Year after year, although girls grow and move on, more new, eager and younger girls come to fill the tables at Glory Girls.”In her second year there, Melissa Cruz completed a training course with Discipleship Training School through Youth With A Mission. During that time, she went on mission outreach trips to Guatemala, Trinidad, Grenada, Jamaica and remote villages in Belize.It was during her time with Youth With A Mission that she met her husband, Ellis, a Belizean. Ellis Cruz was working with Youth With A Mission and was on their staff from September 2005 to November 2007. The couple began their courtship in March 2005, and they were married March 4, 2006. They only had 43 days between the day Ellis Cruz popped the question and the day Melissa Cruz walked down the aisle. “We moved quickly because we knew our pastor from my home church was coming to Belize in March, along with my auntie and cousin and ultimately my close friend Mitzi,” she said. The couple went on to each complete a degree in Biblical studies from Belize Bible Center. Currently, they live in Belmopan, with their 22-month-old son Cy Isaiah. Ellis Cruz serves as an elder and worship leader at Mount Hope Bible Church. Their church is located in a village in western Belize called Unitedville which is 20 minutes from their home. He also works alongside the pastor to build homes in the area. Melissa Cruz continues to head up Glory Girls, holding two weekly meetings teaching God's Word to the young girls of the villages. Restoration Temple in Lima is their sending church and one of several churches that support them financially as they work in their ministries in Belize. Melissa Cruz's family has been very supportive of her change in career paths. “My family has been my champions for this call in missions,” she said. She admits that the hardest part of being in missions is leaving family. “It was especially hard to say good-bye to my dad and my brothers and their families,” she said. However, two things keep her in Belize: encouragement and what God has done. “Encouragement comes especially from God's Word, the lifting of prayers and connection with family and friends,” she said. “God has written stories across my life of His faithfulness, His provision and His protection. God always promises to be with us.”If you have a story idea or an item you feel the community would like to know about for the Religion section, please contact Rosanne Bowman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-331-3958.