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Dordt College News

Dordt students do mission work in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic

January 22, 2010

MissionThirty-two Dordt College students and three Dordt employees served as mission volunteers in Nicaragua, Belize, and the Dominican Republic in January through the college’s A Mission OutReach (AMOR) program.

This international service/missions opportunity has been offered annually to students at Dordt College since the 1980s. Students serving on AMOR teams do construction/renovation projects and youth ministry and, in the process, are introduced to the culture and the mission challenges of their host country to get a broader understanding of the needs of the world.

Each of the teams had a wonderful time in their respective locations, but students who went to Guatemala had a frightening incident during a recreational hike. As their guide rounded a switchback in the mountain trail, the group was confronted by two men with guns standing in the path. The students were told to sit down and take out their money and belongings. After stealing some cameras, a phone and about $40, the armed robbers told the group to hike back up the mountain while they made their escape in the opposite direction.

“The truly amazing part of being held up was seeing how God protected us in such a dangerous situation,” said Emily Huston. “None of us were harmed in any way, we’ve recovered from the trauma, and we kept valuables like personal documents and jewelry. It was quite amazing to see God’s hand in it all!” Huston says the AMOR trip changed her life. “I have such a deeper meaning and application for my faith, and verses like ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil’ have quite a different meaning! The experience gave me a new outlook on the gifts God has given me, and a deep respect for those who choose to live in dangerous places to serve God.”

Amanda Nikkel echoed those sentiments and added, “When we got held up, it was scary, to be honest. But I don't think I’ve ever felt closer to God or felt His presence more in my life than at that moment. And looking back on it, I know all of us are very thankful that he sent some angels to look after us that day. What an awesome God we have!”

Upon returning to a house following the incident, the team spent some time in prayer. Professor Mark Christians noted, “This AMOR trip was a good reminder to us of God’s daily grace. Living in the states we take our safety and security for granted most of the time. We need to remember the Guatemalan people and other missionaries and teachers who live there year-round and pray for their safety as they bring the Word to the unsaved.”

Guatemala

The Guatemala team included 11 students: Erin Boer and Jane Kroese, Hull, IA; Gabby Eckardt and Steph Wiersma, Rock Valley, IA; Erin Van Dyke, Sheldon, IA; Emily Huston, Winterset, IA; Amanda Nikkel, Urbandale, IA; Travis Nykamp, Edgerton, MN; Brianna Evink, Arden Hills, MN; Kayla McMahon, Grand Island, NE; and Andrew VanderWoude, Parma, ID. They were accompanied by Mark Christians, a psychology professor at Dordt.

“Guatemala was the most beautiful country I have ever seen, filled with amazing people who were extremely kind and very compassionate,” noted Erin Van Dyke. She said that although everyone was really poor, as a whole they appeared to be very happy people. Steph Wiersma adds that the people were welcoming and hardworking. “Although we were obviously tourists, our hosts did not allow the language barrier to prevent us from learning about and embracing the culture.”

The primary host for the group was Pastor Timoteo, who directs Camp Shalom in San Cristobal. Their first mission was to scrape, clean, and paint the inside and outside of a one-story dorm building that had 10 bedrooms and one community bathroom. The students used six 10-gallon buckets of paint in accomplishing that task.

Their second assignment was excavating holes for the foundation of a new three-story building at the Juan Wesley Christian School. They used shovels and pick axes to make five-by-five-by-five foot holes that will be filled with concrete for footings. In addition, team members cut, bent  and made rebar forms for the foundation pillars: Emily Huston and Brianna Evink kept track of their contribution: 1,321 squares each!

Huston said the team also had the opportunity to participate in a ceremonial laying of the first stone for the new construction. “It was really neat: we could really see how much it meant to them that we were there and helping them. The people that we met at church really reached out to us, even though we didn’t always understand what they were trying to say.”

A teacher at a nearby Christian school served as an interpreter for the group and became a valuable member of the team. They also interacted with a young American engineer named Matt Bean, who is overseeing the construction of the second school building through an organization called Engineers Ministry International (EMI).

Pastor Timoteo opened his home to the 12-member team, and his wife Marilou cooked them “amazing” meals three times a day. Steph Wiersma said it was a whole new level of love: “they opened their home to us, fed us, treated us like family, and welcomed us to return at any time.” In a blog about the work of the AMOR team Pastor Timoteo says, “They were an amazing blessing. It was wonderful to get to interact with English-speaking people and to see the way their hearts desired to serve the Lord.”

On New Year’s Eve the Dordt group attended a two-hour church service at the Iglesia Metodista Filadelfia. Mark Christians recalls the new year came in with a bang, as during the closing prayer the loudest firecracker he’d ever heard blasted through the front doors of the church and was felt on pants legs as it whizzed by.

They also had the opportunity to spend part of a day in Antigua, a beautiful city tucked in a valley between two volcanos. “I was so amazed by all the mountains and volcanoes that we don't get to see here,” said Emily Huston. “You can’t believe you are in a place that is so amazingly beautiful, but at the same  time has so much poverty and hardship. I don't think any of us can forget the power and presence of God after this trip.”

“AMOR was a great experience that gave me a hunger for other cultures,” adds Jane Kroese. “There is such a wonderful world out there full of interesting places and people. God has truly blessed me and the group I went with by being with us in our times of need and keeping us safe.”

Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan team included 9 students: Alex Nykamp, Edgerton, MN; David Christensen, Waconia, MN; Bryana Jones, Cedar Rapids, IA; Miriam McAuley, Alexis, IL; Seth Vande Kamp, Lees Summit, MO; Aaron Coon, Denver, CO; Troy Dow, Grand Junction, CO; Jessica Steiger, Lynden, WA, and Lindsey De Stigter, Armed Forces Europe.

They were accompanied by Art Attema, Professor of Business Education, and his wife Phyllis. The Attemas said the students were “a very wonderful group of young, committed Christians, who worked and played hard.” They had devotions and discussions each evening, as well as good presentations from their host ministry leaders.

The AMOR team stayed at the Nehemiah Center, which provided peaceful accommodations and excellent food prepared by Christian women. They found Nicaragua to be a beautiful country, full of lakes, volcanoes, sandy beaches, and tropical islands.

They worked at Vida y Esperanza (Life and Hope) Christian School in Ciudad Sandino, a suburb of Managua. Their job was to tear down an old classroom and build roughly half of the new one. The project will be completed by two workgroups coming to Nicaragua in February.

David Christensen noted they didn’t get to see the classroom completed, but the footings were completed and the walls were raised to about six feet high.

“We also had several afternoons of Vacation Bible School with children who either attended the school or were from the area,” said Christiansen. He was amazed at how content the people were, living in what he considered extreme poverty. “Most of the teachers at the school we worked at have been unpaid volunteers for several years, while their   husbands Mission work to support the family. The very idea of working for free while living in such poverty to me is incomprehensible.”

“The people are poor, but rich in spirit,” adds Aaron Coon. “We met the security guards that kept us safe each night: they make $3 for 12 hours of work and were struggling to save enough money to send their kids to school [$2 a month]. We also met teachers that had been getting 80 cents a day, but were no longer receiving any wages at all. They are completely dedicated to giving the children a Christian education.”

Coon noted he had enough cash in his pockets to pay an entire year of a child’s education. It made him realize that as Christians God calls us to give to the poor and needy.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic team included 12 students: Devin Van’t Hof and Katie Van’t Hof, Sioux Center, IA; Jason De Boer, Orange City, IA; Corey Moss, Sioux City, IA; Dana Hanenburg, Milaca, MN; Janie Hoezee, Coopersville, MI; Adam Van Der Molen, De Motte, IN; Liz Van Drunen, Lansing, IL; Crystal Vander Zee, South Holland, IL; Devin Williams, Colorado Springs, CO; Melinda Vander Ark, Mount Vernon, WA; and Hiro Yamada, Saitama-shi, Saitama, Japan. They were accompanied by Sita Riblet, a Learning Community Area Coordinator at Dordt.

Mission Speaking for the team, Janie Hoezee said Dominican Republic was simply beautiful, all the way from the weather to the people. “One of the biggest things that I took away from the trip is realizing how content the people are despite the circumstances in which they live. There is extreme poverty, yet people are thankful and joyful because of the blessings they have in Christ. It was an important reminder in my life, and I am thankful that I was able to build relationships with these brothers and sisters in the Lord.”

The AMOR team helped in construction of a second addition to the first Christian school in that country. They did a lot of concrete mixing, cleaning, and assembly of re-bar forms. “We had to fill and raise buckets of sand and rocks by rope, then mix the cement by hand,” according to Adam Van Der Molen, who added that the work was back-breaking but very rewarding.
Van Der Molen said the DR was completely different from anything he’s ever experienced. “From the first step out of the airport, the way of living, work, and relationships were unlike the culture I am accustomed to. It was unique and memorable to interact with the children, teachers at the school, and leaders of our group.”

The team especially appreciated Ezequiel, their English-speaking translator who works with COCREF (Colegio Cristianos Reformados, or Christian Reformed School Organization). “He was such a joy to spend time with and made our time in the DR much more enjoyable and comfortable,” said Van Der Molen.

When they visited schools, students were extremely grateful, and asked why they had come. Adam remarked it was a blessing to respond by saying that God has blessed us to go on this trip and that it is for His glory.

The AMOR team also had the opportunity to attend a professional baseball game, barter with sellers at a street market, and spend an afternoon on a Caribbean beach, where they swam, boogie boarded, and buried each other in sand. “We also had the opportunity to worship at a local church, which was a wonderful blessing,” said Van Der Molen. “Despite the language barrier and cultural differences, we are still unified in our faith in Christ.”

A member of the Guatemala AMOR team, Erin Van Dyke, summed up the experience of each participant in this year’s mission trips. “When everyone goes on serve trips they think ‘Wow I'm really going to change someone’s life!’ What a lot of people — including me — don’t really realize is that the people we serve end up being the ones who impact our lives. There are so many amazing people around this world in different cultures, and I feel blessed to have been able to meet some of them and to have served them for a week.”

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