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Dordt College News

Dordt students serve, learn in Ukraine

August 8, 2005

Transcarpathia, Ukraine, was probably not on your top list of places to go, things to see this summer.

But for five Dordt College students and two Dordt professors, a trip to Hungary and the Ukraine was the opportunity of a lifetime to experience Hungarian history, life and culture.

The trip was an off-campus general education course, offered at Dordt College for the fifth year since 2000. Ron Vos, professor of agriculture, has led each three week trip, and was joined this year by five Dordt students, another from Ridgewater Community College in Minn., and an adjunct English professor at Dordt, Sara De Boer.

Dordt students participating in the off-campus adventure were April Boogerd, Hull; Sarah Nutting, Sutherland, IA; Caleb Winkel, Waupun, WI; Tom Beard, Decorah, IA; and Wilbert Talen, Charlottetown, PE, Canada. Ukraine

Interestingly, a student from Vos’ first class in 2000 (as well as three subsequent trips), Erik Hoeksema, has moved to Ukraine and played host to this year’s group. Hoeksema plans to spend about a year there as a long-term volunteer, teaching English and assisting with agricultural efforts.

Also hosting the group were George and Sarah de Vuyst, missionaries who serve with Christian Reformed World Missions in Mukachevo, Ukraine.

The group also spent time at the Nagybereg Reformed High School, a Hungarian boarding school located in Transcarpathia, a Ukrainian region populated by many ethnic Hungarians, located about 15 kilometers east of the Hungarian border.

“Our goal was to learn about and be immersed in Hungarian culture,” said Vos. “We tried to be of service wherever we could.” That mission resulted in teaching English at four institutions, planting a garden, visiting an orphanage, and interacting with high school students who board at Tivadafalva.

“They don’t have good models of Christian young people, they believe what they see on TV to be normal behavior,” commented Vos, who said the most rewarding part of the trip were the interactions and relationships that evolved while playing soccer, basketball, and singing together with Hungarian young people.

Dordt student Wilbert Talen was most impacted by visits to the homes of a gypsy and three different “babushkas,” whom he said had very little but gave so much. “Babushkas were typical Ukrainians living off of their gardens and the rabbits they sold. They even borrowed food from neighbors so that they could give to us,” commented Talen. This Hungarian hospitality was a real eye-opener for the group.

Tours of former Soviet communal farms and factories, a chicken farm, a pickling plant and visits to a street market, tile factory and a wood factory were all part of the experience.

Talen said that going to museums in Peterfalva and the Terrorhaza (House of Terror) in Budapest “opened my eyes to the devastation that communism caused” the people of Eastern Europe. “I saw all the pictures of huge communal farms and factories with happy people and all the propaganda to go along with it, then how the system failed, how people were tortured and farms left abandoned.”

“Students come back changed,” commented Ron Vos regarding the impact of the trip. In the five years that he has been overseeing this learning experience, he has seen significant improvement in the Ukrainian spirit and living conditions.

The new president, who was freely elected, has brought immense hope to the country. President Yushenko’s announced agenda for the country is “transforming the nation’s leadership into a unit focusing and being led by God,” an unprecedented goal in a country where Christian believers have suffered persecution under occupying Turks, Austrian Hapsburgs, the Nazis, and during Soviet occupation from 1945-1989. Yushenko has taken a stance against corruption, promising that his government will not steal or receive bribes, or use money to shift lobby votes.

Serving as Ukrainian Prime Minister is Yulia Timoshenko, a born-again, Spirit-filled believer, who leads the Parliament. In the June 9, 2005, issue of Christianity Today, Timoshenko says, “Our government has come to the conclusion that Ukraine can never rise on her feet until she bows down her knees before the Almighty God.”

Vos said during their stay in the Ukraine, they tried to live the same way as the people of the country. When they were without electricity and fuel (because of a fuel shortage) their group changed their travel plans accordingly.

For breakfast, they ate rice porridge with sugar and cacao. Liquefied pig fat on bread was considered one taste treat, but the students much preferred the African catfish offered to them for a meal by a local enterpreneur.

Visually, the group was most impressed with the Ukrainian view of the Carpathian Mountains. Picturesque town squares were filled with cows and sheep grazing, and they saw everything from horses with plows to modern DVD and LCD projectors on the trip.

In retrospect, Wilbert Talen commented, “I’ve seen more countries in one week than most people see in a lifetime.” He adds, “I was born into a family that has everything we need: I have never been hungry, I’ve always had a roof over my head and lots of love.” Each of the participants returned home with a new appreciation of the things that most of us take for granted.

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