West Virginia's vibrant culture and richness of community stands in contrast to the maligned, often-ignored image most Americans have of Appalachia. No place represents this nuance better than McDowell County, the poorest county in the state—and therefore one of the poorest in the entire country. As a coal mining area, it outlived its usefulness to the national economy in the late 20th century and was subsequently left behind, perpetually fifty years in the past, its residents reduced to punchlines about their own mistreatment.
Join Zera House in McDowell County as they serve an equally underserved demographic: women who have survived commercial sexual exploitation. At turns dismissed outright or told their trauma is “too much” for care providers, these survivors find a welcoming home at Zera House, where they are able to heal and grow out of their victimization while learning practical, real-life skills to aid them in their new freedom. Zera House is a sustainable and holistic program, with a strong focus on expansive gardens and building independence for the women they serve.
Walk alongside Zera House in their mission, assisting in their program and making sure that the safehouse stays running smoothly while learning more—through concrete training and on-the-job experience—about the realities of commercial sexual exploitation. Serve in many different ways, ranging from maintenance work and gardening to planning events and outings for the residents. You'll also connect with the wider McDowell County community and participate in teambuilding activities with Zera House team members all across “wild and wonderful West Virginia”!
Limited space available! Apply now to be considered!
What makes this program unique?
Zera House is the only program of its kind in the state of West Virginia. Safehouses that specifically serve survivors of sex trafficking and commercial sexual abuse are few and far between even in other areas, with many states having no coverage at all. Because of this, they aim to be a pioneering force in this field, paving the way for other organizations through partnership and mentorship&mdashlboth by learning from others and sharing what we ourselves have learned. Significantly, West Virginia is a hotbed of sex trafficking due to the ongoing opioid crisis that has taken root in the state. By being “a city on a hill,” the people of Zera House seek to transform their beautiful home state from the inside out.
Is there a major theme for the type of things to be learned during the program?
Zera House emphasizes understanding as a major pillar of both interactions with the local community as well as how you serve their residents. The majority of survivors of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation are alienated from society not just because of the trauma they've experienced but because the general public refuses to reckon with the reality of what happened to them, much less empathize with their situation. Anti-trafficking ministry is a raw, difficult experience where team members learn about events that are hard even to hear about (much less experience), but it is so rewarding. The empathy and understanding developed with this demographic can be used in any other situation requiring a similar depth of sensitivity.
In addition to this, the core of the program is holistic and sustainable living. This has a dual meaning for Zera House. On one hand, they are sustainable in that they produce their own food and want to teach residents the same skills and confidence in their independence. This is what Zera House is all about: finding restoration through working with God's creation.
What will it cost me?
The cost of the 3-Month West Virginia IMMERSION program in 2024 is $5,600—and we've seen over and over again how God can provide or far exceed the amount people need to go. Feeling overwhelmed? Stop now and read a few success stories from IMMERSION team members who had no idea where the money would come from when they first started this journey. We promise we'll be there to encourage and motivate you along the way, too.
Is there any training before I go? Each IMMERSION trip begins with a time of training, team building, and personal reflection. EM's IMMERSION staff will share stories from the field, challenge your faith in new ways, and help you learn how to build healthy cross-cultural relationships.
After several days of training, you'll hop on a plane with your fellow adventurers and engage in a short on-the-field orientation to learn more about culture, safety, and the schedule for the weeks ahead.
All 3M and 6M trips end with a two-day debrief back in the states, which provides a valuable reflection and re-entry time as you ask “What's Next?” after IMMERSION. 1M trips will have an in-country debrief to give you the maximum amount of time in your international location before going home.
How can I communicate back home?
We encourage you to pack your cell phone or other small, wifi-enabled device. Often, just turning off cellular data and connecting to a local hot spot is the best way to stay in touch with friends and family. In some IMMERSION locations, you'll be totally off the grid for weeks at a time. In other locations, you can get online daily. During your interview, please ask our staff about expectations for each community so you can be prepared!
Will EM provide a detailed packing list?
We'll help you fit your entire life inside a backpack! It's one of the most freeing, humbling experiences to realize you can live with so little. Check out a trip-specific packing list in your online MyMission account when you start the application process.
Will I be required to get the Covid-19 vaccine to join IMMERSION?
The Covid-19 vaccine is not currently required by Experience Mission to participate in the IMMERSION program, but it is required for entry into a small number of IMMERSION countries (including entry into the United States for non-U.S. citizens for training and debrief). Fill out an Interest Form to learn more about our Covid guidelines for upcoming trips.
What is included in the cost of the trip? Are there extra costs?
On our side, we try to keep IMMERSION all-inclusive so you don't have to worry about any hidden fees or big, unexpected costs! All your essentials (airfare, food, housing, staffing, training) are covered once you arrive at training—but plan a little extra for immunizations, travel to training, travel home after arriving in the states, or a new passport if you need one. We also recommend a small stash of spending money in case you need shampoo, snacks, or souvenirs along the way. But this amount is minimal and totally up to you. Experience Mission also requires all team members to travel with a Personal Emergency Fund—a debit or credit card with $1,000-$1,500 available and $300 of reserve cash in case you were to have a medical issue or reason to travel home unexpectedly. This amount may seem high, but it's purely a precaution. Most team members never spend a penny of their emergency fund while on the trip.
Is the initial deposit refundable?
Once you commit to a trip, we're counting on you. We don't offer refunds, but we'll do our best to be flexible and work with you to transfer the funds to a different trip whenever possible. You can read more in our Payment & Refund Policy document.
I'm worried about fundraising. What have other team members done in the past?
Once you're all in, we're committed to helping you go. Over and over again, we've seen people roll up their sleeves and get creative. We've also seen God show up miraculously when team members had no idea how they'd raise enough. We provide a few helpful things to support you in the process:
Can I get college credit for participating in the program?
We're happy to write a letter to your Academic Advisor or sign off on paperwork for your professor. Every college and university has different requirements for obtaining course credit, so it's up to you to do the research and make sure the IMMERSION program fits your school's expectations. But it's definitely possible! We've seen team members get approved for: foreign language, internships, study abroad, independent studies, or elective credits.
How often will I be able to communicate with home?
We encourage you to pack your cell phone or other small, wifi-enabled device. Often, turning off cellular data and connecting to a local hot spot is the best way to stay in touch with friends and family. In some IMMERSION locations, you'll be totally off the grid for weeks at a time. In other locations, you can get online daily. During your interview, please ask our staff about expectations for each country so you can be prepared!
What if I have a personal emergency and need to talk with someone at home?
In all things, we're there to support you. If you have a personal emergency, our staff will allow you to use the official EM phone with an international calling or data plan. In most locations, communication is fast and easy, but in some locations, it may be slow or very expensive to make a call back home. During your interview, ask our staff more about communication limitations or how we get in touch when there is an emergency.
What can I expect from the application process?
We hope joining an IMMERSION team feels like an exciting, relational process. In our eyes, it's a two-way street—us getting to know you but also you learning more about Experience Mission. You don't have to be 100% committed to fill out an interest form, submit your application or even schedule a video interview. During your face-to-face video call with our staff, we hope you'll feel free to be yourself, ask lots of questions, and figure out if this is the right fit for you. Once you're accepted onto a team, it's up to you to say YES and begin fundraising using the free fundraising profile, making this adventurous idea become a reality.
How do I know if I fit the requirements for this team?
We're not looking for perfect people, but simply individuals who want to challenge themselves as they serve others. IMMERSION as a program for young adults (ages 18-30) pursuing Jesus with a desire to grow in their faith. We look for people who can embrace a rugged lifestyle, respect cultural differences, build healthy relationships with teammates and locals, thrive away from home, and are in good physical, mental, and emotional health. Please note: Holy Land IMMERSION team members must be 21-30 years old and have previous international travel experience.
How many people will be on my team?
We're expecting you to make some lifelong friends on IMMERSION! Each team is made up of 3-15 people who will know the good, bad, and ugly about you. You'll sweat and serve and share so much life together across countless miles. We can't wait for you to meet each other.
Will this program help me grow spiritually?
We hope you'll look back on your IMMERSION term as a time of meaningful exploration and growth! In fact, we hope you're never the same. We hope your faith becomes more personal, deep and bold as you seek to live your mission on the trip but also once you get home. From personal experience, we know there is something incredibly powerful about leaving behind the familiar and serving others with our everyday lives.
What's the impact of IMMERSION? How do I know I'm part of something meaningful?
Throughout the term, you'll have the opportunity to connect with local partners who already have a vision to reach their community. EM typically works alongside churches, missionaries, schools or non-profits in the community with the goal of cheering them on in their long-term work. We desire to encourage our local partners in the work they are already doing instead of taking over or coming in with our own agenda.
What will my daily schedule look like?
Each day brings something new and gives you the chance to share Christ's love through everyday life moments! Most ministries are relationally focused, but there may also be opportunities for hands-on work projects such as painting schools, digging outhouses, or helping with agricultural projects. Our hope is that you'll find opportunities to serve whether you're leading VBS with your teammates, tutoring at a local school, attending church, participating in a Bible study, working in your host family's field, doing laundry in the river, going to the market, playing soccer, carrying water from the spring, or preparing meals with your host mom.
How will EM choose my host family?
Our local partners help us identify trusted host families in each community. Host families are eager to have team members in their homes, but they are usually just as nervous as you are! Remember that this is a cross-cultural experience for them, too. Typically, we divide team members into pairs for homestays and families are within a short distance of one another, giving you the chance to see teammates around the community and serve together in a variety of ways.
Will I be able to share the Gospel?
EM strives to share the message of Jesus in a way that is highly relational and respects each person's story and journey. Delivering this message of hope drives everything that we do, but we think it's especially important to partner with local people who can continue the process of growth and discipleship. Often, we've found the best moments to share your faith don't happen in a scheduled program, but in the midst of a real person-to-person conversation. These are the kinds of meaningful moments we try to facilitate on the trip. If you're interested, read more about How We Share the Gospel.
Is EM part of a specific religion or church denomination?
Experience Mission is a Christian organization, although we aren't connected to any one church or denomination. Our staff members all have a personal faith in Jesus and come from a variety of church traditions and denominations. Our Statement of Faith in the About Us section of our website seeks to unite us, not divide us, in ministry.
Do I need a passport or visa?
This trip is in the U.S., so if you currently reside in the U.S., you will not need a passport or visa to participate. You will need a passport (and potentially a visa) if you are traveling to the U.S. from another country to participate.
When will I get a trip itinerary?
We'll send you an itinerary, including all flight information, approximately one month before the start of your trip. But you'll also receive a lot of details during pre-trip conference calls or by interacting with teammates and our staff on your team's Facebook group! These will start 3-4 months before the beginning to your trip.
What if there is an emergency that affects the entire team? What will we do?
Your team leader, local community partners, and local staff are equipped to support you if there is an issue (i.e. natural disaster, political unrest, increased crime, etc.) while living abroad. If your team were to need to leave the country, each of you would be responsible to use your “Personal Emergency Fund”—a debit or credit card with $1,000-$1,500 available and $300 of reserve cash in case you were to have a medical issue or reason to travel home unexpectedly—to rearrange travel plans, but our staff would be available to guide you. EM encourages team members to purchase Travelers Insurance and offers provider recommendations once you join the team.
Should I purchase Travelers Insurance?
Experience Mission requires all team members to travel with “Personal Emergency Fund”—a debit or credit card with $1,000-$1,500 available and $300 of reserve cash in case you were to have a medical issue or reason to travel home unexpectedly. This amount may seem high, but it's purely a precaution. Most team members never spend a penny of their emergency fund while on the trip. Although Travelers Insurance isn't required, we highly recommend it because it may help you recoup some costs if you did have an issue. We make a recommendation for one provider in your Mission Center who offers rates as low as 40 cents per day, so the cost is minimal.
If my parents need to get ahold of me, how can they reach me?
Our office has a 24-hour line that is available to parents if they have an emergency at home and can't communicate with you directly. 30 days before your trip, we'll send your parents more information about how and when to use this line! We hope it gives them some peace of mind to know our staff is here to help if an emergency arises.
We are passionate about seeing people make missions a lifestyle, not just a one-week or six-month experience. IMMERSION gives young adults the chance to go, but also the challenge to come back and make a difference in their home context. We're proud of the growing group of IMMERSION past team members who are choosing to live boldly. As you consider joining an IMMERSION team, ask yourself, “Who will I become?"
“Experience Mission has become a second family to me; a home away from home. Like so many of us, I was looking for meaning, purpose, and a chance to grow like I couldn't on my own. IMMERSION gives you the opportunity to expand your cultural perspective, expound on your ideologies, and experience the freedom of living outside your comfort zone. But most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to love people across cultural boundaries and in new ways.
I came on IMMERSION hoping to make some big life decisions. But instead, I got confusion. The beautiful thing is, it left me more open to what God wanted for me instead of what I wanted. Starting this fall, I will be attending a Bible college and pursuing a career in ministry! It started with a click of a button. Requesting information about the IMMERSION program.”
“Simply put, my IMMERSION experience changed my life. It may not have changed my career goals or any other big plan for my life, but it did more. It changed how I think about every person that I meet. It changed how I appreciate every culture and every experience that makes up each of our lives. It made me more resourceful, more giving, more selfless, and all around more loving towards God's people and the world He has placed us in.
These days I 'live my mission' teaching high school. Every day I learn a new piece of information about my students. I have students who are homeless, pregnant at 15, have had parents die or abandon them; students who are unloved. This too is a poverty of sorts, in many ways more devastating to me than what we experienced on the trip because the love we received from the communities seemed to outshine anything else. IMMERSION opened my eyes to my students' joys and needs and pains and opened my ears to hear their stories. My daily thoughts and actions have been impacted by the trip, and from this, I know that my heart has been forever changed as well.”
Worried about the raising the money to go? Don't let it stop you from taking a journey that can radically impact your faith and purpose in the world.
Over and over, we've seen team members roll up their sleeves and get creative with fundraising. We've also seen God show up miraculously when team members had no idea how they'd meet their goal. And we know you can do it, too!
EM provide's helpful tools to support you in the process, including:
As a parent of someone considering the IMMERSION program we know you may have questions, so we've tried to answer a few of them here. Although team members are over 18 and will be treated as adults, your support and input are so valuable as they make plans. So, thank you for cheering them on!
Many of these details (and more) will be discussed with team members during the application process and pre-trip conference calls or are already listed as accessible resources for all applicants. If you feel like you have a lot of unanswered questions, we encourage you to talk with team members and review the available information together to help you feel more in the loop.
Is EM part of a specific religion or church denomination?
Experience Mission is a Christian organization, although we aren't connected with any one church or denomination. Our staff members all have a personal faith in Jesus and come from a variety of church traditions and denominations. Our Statement of Faith seeks to unite us, not divide us, in ministry.
But I've never heard of Experience Mission.
Yeah, we know! As a relatively young organization (founded in 2003) our name is still new to many. Although we're continually developing partnerships with Christian conferences, universities, and denominations, much of our marketing efforts are focused on word of mouth and getting opportunities in front of people online. We trust the right volunteers and partners will find us and share our desire to be people of hope in a broken world. You can read Our Story for more details about how and why we got started!
How do I know EM is a credible organization?
Experience Mission will have over 4,000 short-term (1-2 week) volunteers serve with us this year and over 120 IMMERSION team members! We're proud of our growing network of church leaders and young adults all over the world. Throughout the interview process, we are happy to provide applicants with references if they'd like to talk directly with team members who have been a part of IMMERSION in the past. Our alumni network is thriving and many are eager to share their experience!
Are donations toward this trip tax-deductible?
Since EM is a 501c3 non-profit, any donations made through the EM website or any checks mailed to the EM office are tax deductible. All donors receive receipts for tax purposes outlining their contributions.
What fundraising resources or scholarships are available to applicants?
Once team members commit to the trip, we're there to support them. Over and over again, we've seen people roll up their sleeves and get creative. We've also seen God show up miraculously when team members had no idea how they'd raise enough. We provide a few helpful things to support team members in the process:
What is EM's refund policy?
Once team members commit to a trip, we're counting on them. Due to the long-term logistics that are set in motion when team members join a team, we aren't able to offer refunds, but we do our best to be flexible and work with team members to transfer their funds to a different trip whenever possible. Team members can also read more about our Payment & Refund Policy by signing in to their MyMission account.
What happens if EM cancels a trip?
If a trip is canceled by Experience Mission because of the minimum team size not being met, safety concerns in the community, natural disaster, or another issue, we will provide the team member with other options during the same timeframe and transfer any available funds to the new trip. If a team member cannot find a location that interests them during the same timeframe, they will be offered a credit to be used toward a future IMMERSION trip within 24-months of the original start date.
How long has EM been working in these communities and do they work with trusted partners?
Depending on the specific location, EM has been working in a community anywhere from 1-15 years. We work with local people who are often pastors, non-profit managers, missionaries, school teachers, or indigenous leaders. These local leaders work closely with our full-time staff and the IMMERSION team leader to identify host families, select ministry sites, place volunteers in classrooms, navigate cross-cultural barriers, and determine safety guidelines. We couldn't and wouldn't do ministry without our local partners!
How reliable is communication and how often should we expect to be able to connect with team members?
As a general rule, we typically tell team members to expect to have access to the internet every other week. However, it could be more or less often depending on the exact location. Team members should ask about this during the application and interview process in order to set good expectations for their specific trip. In some IMMERSION locations, team members will be completely off the grid for weeks at a time. In other locations, they may be able to get online daily.
Will I receive updates from EM throughout the trip?
In regards to travel, we encourage you to go by the mantra that "no news is good news." Our staff will be in communication with the team and inform you if there is an emergency, but otherwise, you will not receive updates about delays, flight changes, arrival times, etc. We ask all team members to keep friends and family in the loop, but please know that in some locations their updates to you may not be immediate or frequent. We encourage all family and friends to "Like" EM on Facebook and keep an eye out for posts on the IMMERSION Blog as a way of receiving periodic updates throughout the trip!
What happens if there is an emergency at home and I can't communicate with a team member directly?
Our office has a 24-hour line that is available to parents if there is an emergency at home and the family can't communicate with a team member directly. In this case, our staff would help relay a message and support the team member in whatever way possible. 30 days before the trip, the official emergency contact will receive more information about how and when to use this line! We hope it gives you some peace of mind to know our staff is available to you as a resource if there is an emergency.
Can I visit my son or daughter while they're on IMMERSION?
Over the years, we've seen how visits from family members in the middle of IMMERSION can create distractions (or extra homesickness) for both team members and teammates. Additionally, it can be a logistical challenge for families to arrange transportation or housing in remote communities, creating a burden for our partners or host families. For this reason, we ask parents and other family members to refrain from planning to visit team members during the trip unless Experience Mission staff has given special permission ahead of time.
Choose the program and trip dates you are most interested in—no commitment necessary. After you submit your interest form or application, a member of our staff will connect with you to answer questions and help you determine if IMMERSION is right for you.
Complete a Video Interview
Once you complete your application, connect over Zoom for a video interview so we can learn more about you and why you want to join an upcoming program. If IMMERSION is a good fit for you, we will check your references and offer you a spot on the team.
Serve & learn as part a cross-cultural IMMERSION team!
Your 1-9 month experience—organized by EM and local partners and led by a dedicated team leader—will seek to bring encouragement and light to people in difficult circumstances as you learn more about who God is, his heart for people across the globe, and your place in this world.
Take our 10-question quiz to find out if you’re ready for an experience like IMMERSION!
Take our 10-question quiz to find out if you’re ready for an experience like IMMERSION!
You must have a group size of at least 6 members to join this trip. Please view the Small Team trips or call our Servicing Department for more options at 888-475-6414.
For most trips, you must have a group size of at least 6 members. Please view the Small Teams tab on each Community page or call our Servicing Department for more options at 888-475-6414.