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Dordt College News

Dordt students serve on 13 PLIA mission teams

April 9, 2010

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This year during Dordt College’s spring break, 139 students chose to serve on 13 PLIA (Putting Love Into Action) teams with the college’s student-run mission outreach program. This year’s sites included Ansted, W.V.; Atlanta, Ga.; Bozeman, Mont.; Camden, N.J.; Denver, Colo.; Inez and Neon, Ky.; Cary, Jackson and Mendenhall, Miss; New Orleans, La.; Shiprock, N.M.; and Toronto,Ont., Canada. The PLIA trips took place March 11-20.

The goal of PLIA is to share Christ’s love with people in diverse communities; challenge participants to adopt a more service-oriented lifestyle; and to assist and encourage the growth of ministry centers with which they work.

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The Ansted PLIA team volunteered in a coal-mining region of West Virginia, where they witnessed the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining on a community. They also cleared brush and trees at Kayford Mountain, did spring cleaning at High Rocks Academy; did yard work at the Redeemer Episcopalian Church; and helped with flood clean up in the town of Glen Jean.

Rachel Gorter (Otley, Iowa) said helping in the aftermath of flood devastation at Glen Jean was gratifying, as their team could see the sheer relief on the faces of the people whom they helped. “They could not have gotten their church cleaned out and back into working order without us, and it was great to know that we helped some members of that community put part of their lives back together.”

Alex Pasker (Runnells, Iowa) noted that they did a lot of learning on their trip. The group met with members of the Ansted Historical Preservation Society, who explained the effect coal mining has on their homes and families. “We came to really understand the issue of mountaintop removal mining and we even experienced the effects first hand: we witnessed flooding, partially caused by lack of vegetation on the mountainside; we couldn’t drink the water because of heavy metals from coal processing; and we experienced the efforts of coal company employees to intimidate those who speak out against mining.” Pasker said the experience broke stereotypes he didn’t even know he had concerning environmentalism and Appalachian culture. “I feel like I have returned with a much truer sense of the spirit of West Virginia, as well as a greater appreciation of how materially blessed we are in this part of the country.”

“One of the many things I appreciated about this trip was the wide array of perspectives we got to hear,” said Michelle Alkema (Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada). A guide from Restoring Eden spent time with the Dordt group throughout the week, as well as representatives from Christians for the Mountains, Coal River Mountain Watch, and Mountain Justice.

“We heard from Christians on the subject of mountaintop removal mining, who emphasized God’s calling to protect His creation. We heard from locals whose homes are under attack, forcing them into activism. We also met some direct action activists, who were not from the local area and whose activism involves civil disobedience. And we learned about legal ways people are fighting to try and stop mountaintop removal such as trying to change laws. I really appreciated getting all these perspectives because it allowed me to see the whole movement, not just a small part.”

Alkema said she experienced the beauty of creation in West Virginia, but also saw how humans are destroying it without regard. “The greed associated with mountaintop removal is staggering and I know now that it is not something I want to be associated with or let happen freely.

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The Atlanta PLIA team helped at Bright Futures and Summerhill after school programs by making meals, helping kids with homework, and just spending time together to be a positive influence. They also worked at a summer camp that’s free for inner city youth called the Atlanta Youth Project, where they did electrical work, pulled out old fences, put up new ones, tore down part of a barn, and re-sided, painted, and cleaned to prepare for summer camp. At Atlanta Youth Academy the team dug trenches through Georgia red clay for drainage pipes, and at Fellowship Mission they cleaned out a house and shed, sorted through donated materials, and reorganized play rooms.

At the after school program Laura Schrotenboer (Sunnyside, Wash.) recalls, “The kids would just latch onto you and want to be held even though they were school aged. Before we worked they told us this was a sign of abuse.” Schrotenboer said it was great to have the kids trust you, but it was hard to think about the situations that they come from. “I really enjoyed moving out of my comfortable little bubble and learning more about life. Seeing the poverty helped me to see that it’s not just foreign countries that need help but right here. It makes me want to find the poverty in my hometown and do something about it.”

Reuben Faber (Escondido, Calif.) also went to Atlanta last year on a PLIA team, and returned for the summer because it has a special place in his heart. “The thing that has hit me each time I’ve been there are the situations these kids live in, with broken or abusive homes and really not much of a future ahead of them.” Despite this Faber says they are the happiest kids he’s ever seen. “If I was in their situations I don’t know if I would have the hope or the faith that they do. These kids inspire me more than I ever could have imagined.”

The PLIA group spent a lot of time learning about the cycle of poverty and discrimination, and how this plays into everything. Faber noted, “The directors of these programs are incredible people who inspired us with their undying devotion to serve the Lord through caring for these kids. They were a perfect example for us on how to be unselfish with your time and to completely surrender to God’s plans for your life. They have complete trust in God that He will provide for them.”

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The Bozeman PLIA team volunteered at Love, INC (In the Name of Christ), where they built and painted shelves; delivered thank you shamrocks to 60 local churches; painted an upstairs room; rearranged furniture; raked a yard; built and delivered storage shelves, and other jobs.

“I really enjoyed getting to know the people with the organization and the church,” commented Stephen Pederson (Omaha, NE), who noted they were blessed by performing a skit at a nursing home and taking the time to visit with the residents. “PLIA taught me to be humble as a leader and respect the wise leadership of my elders. It also reminded me to be joyful in the Lord always.”

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The Camden PLIA team volunteered in the school and after school programs of Urban Promise Ministries, a non-profit organization that serves inner-city kids in the poorest city in America, as well as doing some miscellaneous jobs like painting, cleaning, repairing, and yard work.
The city of Camden has one of the highest crime and poverty rates in the U.S., according to Sierra Zomer (Corsica, SD). It was an eye opening experience to stay there, and “awesome and inspiring to see the passion and hope the staff has for improving lives in the city of Camden.” Zomer said PLIA helped her learn about other people, other cultures, and to not take anything for granted. “God has truly blessed me and has graciously provided me with gifts to bless and love others.”

On their day away, the group went to New York City, where they got caught in one of the worst rainstorms in 30 years, according to the front page of The New York Times. “We had moments where we wondered if we would ever be able to get out of NYC or ever be dry again!” recalls Zomer. “But with our awesome optimistic group, a day that could have been the worst day of our trip ended up being a very exciting and fun story to tell.”

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The Cary PLIA team served at the Cary Christian Center and at homes in the surrounding community.

“Often it seemed like it was too much to ever accomplish," noted Michael De Groot (Sunnyside, Wash.). “But in the end it seemed possible to change one person at a time, and through continuous volunteering there is the possibility to break the cycle of poverty in Cary.”

De Groot appreciated the closeness of their team and the way that God used them to touch lives both physically and spiritually. “It has made me much more aware of God and his plan in my life, and showed me how he can use someone who is fallen to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

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The Denver PLIA team volunteered with Brothers Redevelopment, Inc. (BRI), a company that renovates homes of low-income, elderly, and disabled people to enable them to continue living independently. The team painted two trailer houses and finished the painting on another.

Travis Nykamp (Edgerton, Minn.) said it was a huge blessing to be able to serve others while getting to know a great group of fellow students. While painting a house they befriended the homeowner, who was unable to do the work due to age and health issues. “It was fascinating to talk to him while working because he had been in the Air Force, worked as a policeman, a mechanic, and race car driver. “The man had done a lot of crazy stuff in his life and had some great stories to tell.”

Nykamp said he learned a valuable lesson about not judging people according to how they dress or the size and condition of their home.

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The Inez PLIA team volunteered with Appalachia Reach Out (ARO), where they helped with a food pantry, the thrift store, and a layette ministry center. The team also led Bible study at the Independent Baptist Church, tutored at Sheldon Clark High School, and volunteered at the Martin County Senior Center and local nursing homes.

“We all really appreciated the interaction that we had with the community as we worked,” said Cora Bonnema (Prinsburg, Minn.). “The people that live there are hospitable and gracious. I enjoyed hearing about their lives.” She said the group was also well-received at the high school where they tutored.

Bonnema said their trip was a good mix of physical labor, communication, and immersion into the community. She appreciated meeting people with different cultural backgrounds and in different economic conditions. “We are very blessed to be given what we have, and have the opportunity to share with others!”

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The Jackson PLIA team did projects for Voice of Calvary Ministries, which is a nonprofit organization that seeks to “rebuild people by rebuilding communities through the gospel.” The group restored a playground by cleaning and bleaching the equipment and refilling the play area with 6-8 inches of pea gravel; weeded church flower beds; did major clean-up of vacant houses with VoCM’s youth group (these houses are restored and resold to enhance the neighborhood); and helped residents of Commonwealth Village pick up trash.

They also helped with a “Community Pep Rally” by serving hotdogs, chips, pop, ice cream, and playing with the kids. “We had many games set up, balloon animals, face painting, street bowling, etc.,” said Morgan Rodenburgh (Sioux Center, Iowa). While they entertained the children, speakers presented residents of Commonwealth Village with a variety of opportunities for improving their lives.

“It was awesome getting to know the people of the community and learning more about their culture,” said Rodenburgh. She was particularly impacted by a speaker she heard from We Will Go Ministries, whose name was Ms. Amy. “She and her husband decided to sell everything and move to one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Jackson. They wanted to be close to the drugs, prostitution, alcohol abuse, women trafficking, etc., because they knew this would be a place where they could share and serve the Lord.”

Over the course of five years they have converted four drug and prostitute houses into missionary housing, and Ms. Amy continues to take in anyone who knocks on her front door. When people get released from prison, they drop them off at her front yard. “They have created an outdoor church, clothes drive, Bible study groups, and she even does laundry for homeless people,” Morgan said. “This stands out in my mind the most because she personally questioned us with what we were doing to further the kingdom of God. She asked me, ‘Why are you here?’ and I spoke up and said, ‘To serve!’ She responded, ‘Who are you here serving? Voice of Calvary? Me? The people of this community? Well, you should be serving the Lord.’”

Rodenburgh said these comments made them think hard about what they were doing. “We had such great, deep, long discussions about basically everything.” At the end of their trip, they were told by the site manager that they were the happiest group he had ever seen come through VoCM. “He couldn’t believe how hard we worked and how consistent we were with our positive attitudes.”

Morgan said the PLIA trip helped her learn how important discipleship is, the power of prayer, reconciliation with God, and unity through diversity. The diversity of color, culture, and attitudes came through not only with the people of the Jackson community, but also with the members of the group, who represented five countries, and all had different majors. “Despite the racial or cultural diversity, we are all unified through the body of Christ. This is truly an amazing thing. All in all, I can say on behalf of the whole group that this was an intense spiritual growth project.”

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The Mendenhall PLIA team volunteered at the Mendenhall Ministries Farm and at homes in the community. The team butchered 68 roosters; built a new chicken coop with 24 nesting boxes, roosts, and a covering; painted part of a dormitory; removed drywall and carpet from a burnt house; worked on minor electrical and plumbing projects; assisted in repairing farm implements, and cracked peanuts out of their shells.

Kurt Franje (New Sharon, Iowa) enjoyed being outside and doing physical labor side by side with fellow team members, but also appreciated being able to form bonds with team members and the Mendenhall Ministry leaders, especially the pastor. “As a leader of the Mendenhall PLIA team, I was filled with joy in seeing how enthusiastic and determined the team members were in working. Instead of complaints, they were always asking what else needed to be done. Building friendships was a great way to see a body of believers working to spread God’s love.”

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The Neon PLIA team volunteered with HOMES Inc. (Housing Oriented Ministries Established for Service, Inc.). This ministry serves the housing needs of low income households through volunteer labor and donations.

Ryan Brumfield (Kent, Wash.) said they learned a lot about life in Kentucky, and getting to know the people of Neon and fellow students was both exciting and fun. “We all really enjoyed talking to and getting to know the men that we worked with,” said Ryan. “They don’t have as much as we do, but they are still content with what they have.”

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The New Orleans PLIA team volunteered at Urban Impact Ministries, helping with construction and service projects throughout the community, assisting with homeless missions, tutoring, and conducting prayer walks in the city.

The Shiprock PLIA team worked at Bethel Christian Reformed Church and within the reservation community under the direction of Pastor John Greydanus.

Eric Tudor (Charles City, Iowa) said the trip made their group aware of the poverty within the United States. “Few of us had been on an Indian reservation and the experience was truly eye-opening,” said Tudor, who added that despite the despair there were indications of hope through education, relationships, and most significantly, God.

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At the church the group did some cleaning, painted the parsonage, landscaped, and did general clean-up. A few group members helped out at the houses of church members, and the group also ran a food bank one morning, “a truly eye-opening experience.”

They had the opportunity to visit national parks in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah in the four-corner region, and saw a “truly magnificent display of God's awesome creation” at the Grand Canyon.

“One of the best parts of our trip was our team unity," noted Tudor. “Although we were a very diverse group, we meshed well and were able to accomplish a great deal through our interaction together, both on the worksite and in spiritual discussions.”

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The Toronto PLIA team volunteered at Urban Promise, where they helped with day camps for underprivileged children on spring break.

Summing up what many PLIA participants experienced on their service trips, Reuben Faber  commented, “One of the crazy things about PLIA is that you jump into a van with 10 people whom you may not have even met before, drive half-way across the country with them, and spend almost every waking minute together for nine days. Somehow these people you didn’t know existed two weeks earlier are baring their souls and sharing their deepest thoughts with you during devotions. PLIA has showed me that so many times in my life I try to be selfish in my life plans and the decisions I make, but I don’t listen to God and what He has in store for me. I try to convince myself that the things I want to accomplish are always in line with what God wants, even though that may not be true. The people we met on the trip showed us what it means to be completely surrendered to God’s will, as if to say, ‘God, you win!’”

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