Dordt College News

Dordt AMOR teams travel to Nicaragua, Dominican Republic

January 20, 2005

Twenty-two Dordt College students recently traveled to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, serving as mission workers with AMOR (A Mission OutReach).

One AMOR team traveled to the Managua, Nicaragua, to assist two mission organizations: Provadenic, which trains Nicaraguan people how to use natural resources productively; and the Nicaraguan Christian Academy, where construction of a new school building was underway. The team helped dig a 26,000 gallon reservoir at Rancho Ebenezer, which will provide that agricultural education facility and nearby residents with water during the dry season and also allow for indoor plumbing at the ranch. At the Christian Academy, the team painted an undercoat/sealant on a new building, dug a drainage trench, removed tree stumps and used machetes to chop overgrowth, to create a sand parking lot, all without the help of any machinery. Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan volunteer mission team consisted of Hannah Nuiver, Dyer, IN; Beverly Sparkman, Denver, IA; Sarah Schaap, South Holland, IL; Harah Sun, South Korea; Rachel Davelaar, Fulton, IL; Daniel Hummel, Coalhurst, AB, Canada; Lisa Huizenga, Highland, IN; Sarah Davelaar, Bigelow, MN; Merribeth Van Engen, Sioux Center, IA; and team leader Sam Gutierrez, Sioux Center, IA.

A second AMOR group, the Dominican Republic team, assisted Christian Reformed World Missions in laying the foundation for a new school in a small village outside Santo Domingo called La Pared, where over 500 students who previously had to travel to a school one hour away will receive an education. During their time there, the AMOR team finished building a retaining wall, mixed hundreds of pounds of cement, shaped rebar, and began building cement block walls.

The Dominican volunteers were Rosie Grantham, San Jose, CA; Lori Rowenhorst, Orange City, IA; Molly McLaughlin, Clear Lake, IA: Kearsen Boman, Manhattan, MT; Rebecca Groenendyk, Leighton, IA; Rachel Pontier, Orange City, IA; Brian Hannink, Modesto, CA; Myron Kamper, Oakdale, CA; Elbert Bakker, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; Sara Prins, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada, and team leaders Arlo and Heidi Bakker, Sioux Center.

Sara Prins said she was struck by the obvious differences between the rich and the poor in the Dominican Republic. “There seemed to be no middle class or middle ground,” she commented. Despite the language barrier, she interacted with many children in a refugee village, and was invited to visit the home of a native girl, Yajaira, who offered her a coconut right off the tree in her backyard and braided her hair. Prins said the K-12 school will be more valuable to the people of that village than anything else she could have given them.

Molly McLaughlin also went to the Dominican Republic. “This is all they know,” she remarked, referring to the desperate poverty most of the country lives in. She was impressed by the hardest worker at the construction site, Levi, whom she later found out was a pastor of a church two hours away and volunteer worker.

“Several people who had experience doing missions abroad had told us that the work would be easy and we would have lengthy siestas every day, but we worked very hard,” said Kearsen Boman. “The natives we worked with were passionate about the work they were doing.” Boman also noted cultural differences, with everyone in the community watching out for everybody else’s children, sharing living space and food. “Americans are much more possessive with their personal space …it was fun to see people living comfortably with their community.”

Senior Rachel Pontier said the relaxed mindset of the Dominican Republic was therapeutic. “I love the country and the people that I met down there, and I would jump at the chance to go back.” She and a Creole-speaking boy, Benito, managed to get each other to laugh, and her most touching moment was the night that Benito whispered in her ear, “I love Jesus.”

Myron Kamper, found that outdoor shops, pedestrians always milling about, and unwieldy drivers in the Dominican Republic made the city feel more densely populated than it actually is. “I often wonder what it would be like to grow up in a culture like that, [where] the people… seem more content with life. Maybe it is because most of them have so little,” mused Myron. He enjoyed the four-hour Haitian worship service they attended on Sunday.

The Dominican team spent New Year’s Day sightseeing in Old Town Santo Domingo, a city that was discovered by Christopher Columbus. Along with historical sites, the team saw the Mercado Nuevo (New Market), which Kearsen Boman described as a slum with garbage bulldozed into huge piles lining the streets, filled with rank fruit, dead animals and scavenging animals searching for their next meal.

In light of those conditions, Lori Rowenhorst was amazed by the spirit of the people they met, whom she noted “were so full of joy, optimism, trust and faith.” Rosie Grantham echoed the sentiment, and tells of Ezeqiel, the son of the man who ran the mission center. Ezeqiel has been studying English and amused team members with his language faux pas, such as, “Don’t worry, be huggy.” Soon Rosie was correcting Ezeqiel’s English, and he was correcting her Spanish.

In Nicaragua, similar relationships sprung up in spite of differences in language, lifestyle and race. Merribeth Van Engen and Lisa Huizenga met a construction worker named Aleman at the school they were helping to build. Aleman sang Christian songs in Spanish as he worked, and when they identified the song he was singing, they joined in with the English version.

Dan Hummel’s first reaction to the tin and wooden shacks that he saw in Nicaragua was that they looked like they were going to fall down. “The kids that you would see on World Vision actually became alive,” he observed. An agriculture major, Dan most enjoyed work at Rancho Ebenezer, where he helped with digging a reservoir, picking coffee beans and even milking a goat.

Harah Sun, a political studies major, was not entirely shocked with the poverty in Nicaragua, which was greater than that in the Philippines where she grew up. She also noted that Nicaragua, devastated by several earthquakes and still living in the shadows of volcanoes, needs a lot of reconstruction. “People in Nicaragua are hoping everyday that their lives would be better.”

Sarah Davelaar and Sarah Schaap noted their group enjoyed time spent seeing the country, including a boat ride around 200+ islands created by an earthquake, “zip-lining” over a collapsed volcano, seeing the Nicaraguan beach and touring the capital city of Managua.

None of these students had been on AMOR before, and each had to raise their own funds to make the trip, which primarily came from gifts made by families, friends and churches. Several team members said the extreme poverty they viewed made them reconsider their own definitions of contentment, as well as their own stewardship habits. The trip made them more sympathetic towards the plight of others in the light of the love of Christ.

“I wanted to experience poverty and hard work,” commented Sarah Davelaar. “It challenged me to think of what my purpose is in the United States, with so many blessings.” Adds Merribeth Van Engen, “One of the biggest things that I have brought out of this is that while many of us ask ‘why are we here, why are we doing this?’ we have to learn to ask ‘what am I here for, what can I do with what I have right here, right now?’”

“I think that I will not take for granted as much where God has placed me, and instead of thinking how good I have it, search for ways to use my current situation and opportunities to serve God,” concluded Sarah Schaap in response to her AMOR experience.

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