DAYTON — It took Steph Duff a trip half-way around the world to the village of Hyderabad, India, to find herself and a new career.
The 2006 graduate of Miami East High School pursued her love of creative writing and earned her bachelor’s degree in the arts from Wright State University.
In an open and honest conversation, Duff shared how she didn’t expect her creative writing degree to pay off “in the real world.”
Instead, she found her talent could be used for a higher purpose in life.
Duff discovered the missions organization called “Back2Back Ministries” through friends of her church. The organization is based in Mason and has several international campuses serving thousands of children around the world.
“I really wasn’t interested in missions. I didn’t think it was something that the Lord would call me to do or even something I would want to do — because me leaving Casstown to move to Dayton was a big deal,” said Duff with a laugh. “Getting on a plane and going to another country just wasn’t something I was interested in or even something I thought I could do.”
It was from the book entitled “Let’s All Be Brave” that Duff found the courage to say yes to the world of missions work and felt drawn to the people and children of India.
“For whatever reason, India was always in my heart even though I didn’t know anything about the country. I knew the treatment of women was very, very poor and that pulled on my heartstrings a little bit,” she shared. “I just felt called to go to India of all the places I could go.”
Saying “yes” to a week-long mission opportunity in India in June 2015 put Duff on a plane half-way around the world from her comfortable home in the South Park neighborhood in Dayton — and two days later she shook hands with a stranger who changed her life.
It was in the insufferable heat of Hyderabad, India, that Duff was able to meet a young boy named Goutham whom she now sponsors through the Back2Back organization.
“As soon as we shook hands, I felt this peace come over me and very clearly felt the Lord say, ‘He’s why I brought you here,’” she shared. “I feel like that was the biggest moment. There were so many moments on this trip when you are in a country like India. You are hearing statistics and you are visiting the slums and you are seeing kids sleeping in trash piles — everything is monumental — but Goutham is why God called me to India.”
The young woman whose comfort zone was firmly set in the Dayton region, shared how the mission trip changed her life and forced her to disconnect from worldly distractions.
“I needed to be in a place without my phone and away from the people I call when I have a crisis. (God) needed me to be in a place in a completely different time zone … so I really had to talk to God,” she shared. “I was really able to listen to my heart because I was away from all those distractions.”
The children live, sleep, play on the organization’s campus site where they are provided “family-style” care, including house parents and guardians who guide them in school and in their ministry.
“We’re educating them, we are teaching them about Jesus. We are making sure they have goals set for their lives and keeping them on track to reach those goals — it’s very family oriented,” Duff shared. “Goutham wants to be a pilot and that’s huge. It’s so big that these kids have dreams and they are surrounded by people that will make it happen for them. It’s really a beautiful thing.”
When Duff returned back to her career as a reading tutor in a public elementary school, she felt a call for change in her life in the Buckeye state.
It was at a ministry function where she spoke with other Back2Back ministry personnel about using her talents in creative writing — and she quickly was hired to be the organization’s official chief storyteller.
“I get to share the stories of the kids we serve internationally, which is basically the heart beat of my life,” she shared. “I love people’s stories. I love telling stories and I love kids. I get a before-and-after picture of what these kids’ lives were like before they came to live on campus and now what their lives look like — how they are able to be a child and how sponsorship has changed their story — through the lens of what Back2Back is doing on these campuses.”
Duff’s writing will be featured in the Back2Back ministry’s magazines and online.
Part of Duff’s responsibilities is to raise funds to support her salary in the form of a support team with the organization. Duff is set to begin her new career in June and will be traveling to the organization’s India campus once again in August.
To contact Duff about her work with Back2Back ministries, email her at [email protected] or for more information about the organization, visit www.back2back.org