The Dance: The Kristine Gregory Story
Kristine Gregory loves salsa dancing.
A friend invited her along to a class while they were in college together. She didn’t even know how to dance, but on a whim she volunteered to be an officer during her first class. Kristine not only learned how to dance, but also began coordinating events and instructing others.
“I’m the type of person who just jumps into things and learns as I go,” she says.
One summer during college, she did things that made her uncomfortable just so she could learn how to navigate uncomfortable situations. Her zest for life crackles through the air as you talk with her, and she laughs as she explains her own metaphorical perspective on life: “I view life as this big hallway that I dance through with a bunch of doors. If God is leading me in a dance, he’s going to open the right doors and close the wrong ones.”
Kristine studied to be a pharmacist at the University of Texas, the same season of her life where she fell in love with salsa dancing and something that would change the direction of her life–medical missions. She went on a trip to Mexico, and her experiences there stuck with her.
“It was rewarding to see people become passionate through getting them connected to serving through medical missions,” Kristine says of her trip. “There is something about using your talents and passions to help others and to see the impact that your time can have in the lives of the people we serve.”
Then the doors just kept opening.
Kristine saw the needs of the people and got hooked on serving them. She also saw she was not alone–fellow students also showed a passion for serving others in this way. A natural leader, Kristine began coordinating volunteers on trips to Mexico and then took over coordinating the pharmacy side of trips. She saw the logistical side of these efforts, learning along the way. Eventually, she helped begin an organization at the University of Texas to mobilize students on trips to other countries.
Most everyone in Kristine’s life saw her passion for serving through medical missions, and an aunt brought up a topic that Kristine had not yet considered. Kristine was born in the small town of Concepción, Philippines and moved to the U. S. with her family while still young. Much of her family still lived in the Philippines, and she visited often. Her aunt asked a question that burdened Kristine: Why had she never been on a trip to her home country? She had traveled to several countries in her school years but had never seen an organization that served her home town. The need was definitely there. Now, the person to meet that need was ready.
“Literally,” says Kristine, “I was on my front porch in Austin and asked myself ‘What would be the first step to serve my hometown?’’ So, she called a friend and said, “I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t have a business plan, but where would I start?” Her friend suggested an organization to help her get 501c3 non-profit status. Because of Kristine’s drive and connections, she had a team ready to go to the Philippines before she even got approval. This was only a taste of how God would provide down the road.
In 2015, Kristine launched Be The Change Global Outreach, an organization dedicated to providing free medical care in international communities. Functionally, Be The Change works as a medical missions team, and was first launched in her hometown of Concepción, Philippines to serve remote neighborhoods with limited access to medical care. Medical personnel including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and hygienists saw patients over the course of roughly two weeks. Kristine and her team immediately saw the impact their work had and knew the model could be replicated in other places where the need was great.
In 2016, the effort branched into Myanmar with the same model. Be The Change treated approximately 1,400 people during the first trip to Concepción and around 1,800 in two trips to Myanmar.
Be The Change has intentional conversations with community leaders and patients enabling volunteers to “tailor our outreach to their needs,” says Kristine. Medicines are difficult to acquire for Filipinos, as the government offers little assistance and the prices are more than double than what they are in America. Be The Change works to bridge this gap by supplying needed medicine through personal funds. Volunteers pay their own way and provide extra money to provide funding for medical supplies and medications. The budget for supplies depends on how many volunteers go and donations that come in, usually at the eleventh hour.
“Everything works backward,” Kristine says. “It’s like the chicken before the egg–grants don’t come through until the organizations see that what you do works, but you can’t do the work until you get funding.” Be The Change does partner with other nonprofits and charities that help provide supplies to medical missions, but the bulk of funding comes from the volunteers attending the trips. Even so, this struggle with the ministry also provides a way for God to show his providential care.
“Steve Jobs once said, ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,’” Kristine says with a smile. “God gave me all these opportunities that I wasn’t afraid to jump into, and they laid the foundation for me to start Be The Change. I pushed through all these unknowns and uncomfortable situations because I know God’s got my back.”
Since her faith was the key motivator for Kristine’s work, sharing it through the ministry was a priority. Kristine wanted the ministry to include her faith in Jesus but realized that the people they serve in the Philippines, being predominantly Catholic, already knew about Jesus. “I didn’t want it to be something where we forced Christianity on the people who we serve, or the volunteers,” says Kristine. She had to think more broadly and asked herself, “How can we inspire people to have more of a relationship with Jesus?” So, volunteers provide prayer for adults and a children’s program for the children of parents being treated. Dedicated volunteers lead arts and crafts, activities, and gospel lessons with the children. In Myanmar, Be The Change partners with a local church whose bishop provides many resources and relationships for their mission, engaging the community for Christ.
Kristine decided to take her vision a step further by creating a blog to document the development of this ministry.
“People get to join me in this process of seeing how God’s providing along the way as I walk in faith, only seeing so far ahead,” she says. “That is my focus–to inspire people to take leaps of faith.” Indeed, Kristine has inspired friends to begin their own businesses and nonprofits. They reach out to her for advice as well as ask questions such as, “How do you get through the scary times?”
Kristine feels the weight of this question because she has been there many times.
“You’re going to be constantly talking yourself out of being scared,” she tells friends. “Let me share the verse that anchors me through those moments.”
Kristine clings to the story of Jesus calling Peter out on the water from Matthew 14. She knows it is very easy to be distracted by the winds and waves of uncertainty around her instead of focusing on Jesus. “When I get into those moments of being scared, or of wanting to know what the future looks like, my focus needs to be on God and not what’s around me because I still have to move forward in faith,” she says.
The question after each trip quickly became, “What happens to the patients after we leave?”
“We wanted to create something more sustainable,” Kristine explains. Sustainability includes providing ongoing care to their patients to enable them to make the best choices for their health and the health of their families. The next step the team envisions is establishing a permanent local clinic in Concepción this summer, focusing first on patients with diabetes and high blood pressure. This clinic could provide “more holistic and continuous” care by not only providing all medications and resources free, but also by providing lifestyle modification counseling for patients. There are many obstacles in this vision, but Kristine trusts that it is the logical next step in this ministry, and so she trusts that God will provide.
From leading salsa dancing classes as an amateur to leading medical missions teams overseas, Kristine sees how God has provided her training along the way. This reflective vision gives her an “intense trust” in God himself and in his providential care for the future. “[God], you put me here; you’re calling me to this,” Kristine explains about her trust. “So, I’m going to go through the doors you are opening, and something’s going to come from it.”
Once, early in her college dance class, an instructor pointed out that Kristine was back-leading in their dance. This happens when the follower anticipates what the leader is going to do and moves before she is led. Her partner said, “Let me show you what it feels like to be led.” He then took her into a turn where, for a moment, she felt completely out of control, and then immediately felt the exhilaration of completing the turn the way it was meant to be experienced.
Kristine uses this lesson to show how she yearns to follow God in her successes with Be The Change even when she can’t see the next step clearly.
“Being led means there’s a little moment of not feeling in control but knowing that at the last minute you are going to be okay. God can’t lead me any other way.”