NEWS & EVENTS
Dordt College News
115 Dordt students serve on PLIA
April 10, 2007
During this year’s spring break at Dordt College, 115 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 Atlanta, GA; Birmingham, AL; Camden, NJ; Cary, MS; Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; Grand Junction, CO; Mendenhall, MS; Neon, KY; Red Lake, MN; Shiprock, NM; Vicksburg, MS; and Toronto, Canada. The PLIA trips took place March 15-24.
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.
The Atlanta PLIA team worked with Atlanta Youth Project (AYP), an organization that provides inner-city youth with the opportunity to experience a healthy Christian environment. The Dordt team stayed at Park Avenue Baptist Church, which has a new housing facility for visiting workgroups. They did volunteer work at both the church and parsonage during their stay. They also did yard work at two homes affiliated with the Atlanta Youth Project.
At Cook Elementary School, team members helped in classrooms and tutored children in the after-school program. The inner city school was a learning experience for Becky De Boer and Megan VanderEsch, who both noted many differences in the educational systems which made them grateful for the Christian schooling they’ve received.
At God’s Farm (a rural camp) the PLIA team painted, planted trees, hauled rocks, removed drain pipes, tore apart a bridge, and did other general maintenance.
But it was on an evening site-seeing trip downtown that the group was most challenged. “We went as tourists to go shopping and site-seeing, but we were confronted by many of the poor and homeless population who constantly asked for money,” recalls Brad Redeker. “Something seemed to wrench at the hearts of all the team members as we struggled with the obvious social injustice revealed through the poverty we encountered.”
The group decided to go back the following night with sack lunches to hand out (about 60). “I believe our team encountered the heart of the gospel message firsthand,” said Redeker, who added that the entire team learned the lesson of being proactive, rather than reactive.
“I see that the Lord has blessed me in many ways, and because of this I need to serve him,” said Anna Slagter. Redeker said he has an added appreciation of the home, school, and community where he was rasied. “The most heart-wrenching part of my experience was seeing the brokenness and lost innocence of inner-city elementary school children,” said Brad.
Becky De Boer noted that she especially enjoyed getting to know the other Dordt students that she would not have otherwise become acquainted with. “After spending 36 hours round trip in a van together, we became so close and laughed so much. I love that we are assigned to random groups because not only have I gained nine really cool friends, but each person taught me something about life. It was through all of their actions and words that I could see the love of Christ being done and the desire to touch the lives of those around them.”
The Birmingham PLIA team volunteered at New City Church and the Urban Ministries Center. The basement of the church had flooded, and shelves had collapsed, so the group sorted through and cleaned what could be saved in that area. Their goal was to get it ready for flooring, in anticipation of a summer school for inner city children. The PLIA group also removed large brick planters from a parking area, leveling the area to the street. While there, the students were also able to participate in a church service and Bible studies.
Worshiping in a very charismatic church was a special experience on the trip noted by Andrew Roozeboom and Adrianna Bushnell, who liked the frequent enthusiastic “Amen” responses to the pastor’s message.
Roozeboom, Bushnell, and Ashley Hoekema also noted that what made their trip special was the way the group bonded. They even wrote a theme song together.
Hoekema said many people asked why they would give up their spring break. “Our group decided that it was in no way giving up our spring break: it was truly experiencing a break from our normal routines. Going on a vacation would have been fun and all, but to go on PLIA was really to experience spring break, to step back from our studies and our normal lives and see what God had planned in the service we could do. We got to go out and experience a new culture, a new climate and new work: it was a great chance to lead and to follow God’s calling.”
The Camden PLIA team volunteered in the school and after school programs of Urban Promise, a non-profit organization that serves inter-city kids in the poorest city in America. They also did some yard work and other miscellaneous jobs at the facility.
“I loved working in the after school programs,” said Sarah Koelewyn. “It was great to play with the kids and see them smile and laugh and have fun even when they are surrounded by poverty and violence. You can see hope looking into the eyes of these children.” Another team member, Nathaniel Cordel, said he appreciated the chance to make an impact in the lives of the inner-city children, while broadening his own horizons and thinking.
“One day when we went to pick up the kids from school in the bus, I was awestruck by the number of kids at the school,” recalls Cordel. “We were picking up 30 kids, but there were still hundreds that we were not able to reach. The need in the city really impressed me. I also remember traveling into the rough, downtown area of Camden. When we passed a bus stop, I remember every single person staring at us because we were the only Caucasian people in the area. It was definitely a strange feeling.”
Cordel said almost half the buildings in Camden were boarded up, there were piles of trash strewn everywhere in the streets, and many people stood around on street corners because they were unemployed. “I realized that much money can be spent to help the people of Camden make a better life for themselves, but unless they desire to improve their lives, little will change.” Cordel said there’s a real need for ministry in these cities, especially to reach the younger generation with hope for a brighter future.
Koelewyn said the mission trip reminded her of how truly blessed we are. “I witnessed poverty, but I still do not completely understand what it is like to be poor. It’s difficult to see poverty, so it’s easy to ignore it and keep on going with my own life. I will never forget my experience and I will always pray for the city of Camden, Urban Promise, and the children.”
The Cary PLIA team served at the Cary Christian Center, volunteering at the thrift store, building a deck, painting a house, and putting up two slides and a merry-go-round on the grounds of the center.
“While we stayed on the grounds of the Cary Christian Center, we had the opportunity to minister and witness to the children and teenagers in the community who came to play on the playground and or play basketball,” said Keith Hickox. “It was fun to interact with them and use our gifts to serve them, and it was a good opportunity to show God’s love and grace.
“Since we were there for a week, it’s so hard to think that we did anything for the people there,” remarked Amy Van Deraa. “But I know God had a plan for us and had a reason for all the work we did. There is still so much to do there and it’s nice to know that people will continue going to try and help the people living in Cary. PLIA opened my eyes to things I may not want to see or recognize are evident in this world, which is why I am so happy I had the chance to go.”
On their day away, the group drove four hours south to New Orleans, LA, where they experienced true southern hospitality, great music, and the chance to see many different types of people. “I just loved being there and learning about a different culture and learning from the different people there, said Van Deraa.
Hickox and Van Deraa said a highlight of the trip for them was developing relationships with all of the people in our group. “By the end of the week I felt that I could trust everyone in our group and be open with them about anything. Group devotions were a great time to break down the day and recollect what we had seen God do throughout the day in each one of us as well as the people in the community,” said Hickox. “It has helped me realize the calling that God has set out in front of me to accomplish. I also learned how to interact with all types of people and recognizing what community really means in turns of serving one another and helping each other in the journey that God has called each one of us to.”
The Chicago PLIA team volunteered at Roseland Christian Ministries Center and also helped renovate two homes in the area. “You could tell that the people really appreciated what the center was doing for their lives,” commented Brent Bonnema. “One thing that really stood out in my mind was all of the challenges Steve Turner (one of the directors) has gone through in his life as a servant of God. He is a great example.”
Becky Love said the trip forced her to step out of her comfort zone, put her faith into action, and help other people. “It made me realize how many people in our country need people to show love to them, and I have seen how little acts of kindness can do a lot for others.” Love especially noted spending some time with a homeless person, playing cards, and getting acquainted.
The students said they learned on their trip to serve the Lord with humility and joy. “We are often pressured in today’s society to succeed, but I think it is key that we strive to lead lives of servanthood like Christ would, helping those who are less fortunate and outcast in our society, said Bonnema.
The Denver PLIA team volunteered with Brothers Redevelopment, Inc. (BRI), where they renovated homes for the poor and elderly. The students scraped and painted houses, weather-proofed them, built wheelchair ramps, etc.
“It was really cool to see the lady we built a wheelchair ramp for use the ramps for the first time,” recalls Kayla Breems. “She was so excited! She just couldn't get over how nice it was and she loved to talk, which we all enjoyed. I really liked getting to know more people and developing friendships and also it was great getting to work for these people. The people we painted and built ramps for were very thankful and made sure we knew we were appreciated.”
Kristina De Graaf also noted the gratitude expressed, and said she really enjoyed the opportunity to help the elderly. “I think that sometimes we kind of ignore them, and I really liked being able to talk with them and listen to stories and interact with a different age group. “I think it’s made me want to become more involved in volunteer service.”
Diane Feucht was particularly impressed by a homeless man named Jimmy, who joined them for dinner, played his guitar, and shared his conversion story. Jimmy was a drug addict and an atheist until about 10 years ago, when a group of college students on a mission team “adopted” Jimmy and led him to Christ. “He thanked us for our work, because it was a group of students a lot like us that eventually led such an adamant atheist to Christ.”
Janice Brouwer said it was a rewarding feeling to know they made a difference in someone’s life. “PLIA has opened windows in my life to new friends, travel, and a deeper understanding of the country in which I live and the problems that some people face. It was a good opportunity for me to act on what I believe and step out of my comfort zone.”
This was Diane Feucht’s third year on PLIA, and she said the group dynamics have been her favorite part all three years. “On PLIA, you are forced to become close to a group of people you probably never would have met otherwise. You start the trip out as strangers, and come back as a family.”
The Grand Junction PLIA team did projects for New Life Christian Reformed Church and members of that community, including painting, landscaping (cutting down trees, pruning, raking, and general cleanup) and removing old carpeting from a townhouse. The group also helped at a Friendship Club for mentally disabled adults, played games with a senior citizen group, and played roles in a life-size version of “Clue” for the middle school youth group.
“I really appreciated the love that I felt from the leaders and members of the New Life,” said Libby Dykstra. “They made us feel very welcome and helped us experience the love of the community of Christ in a new way.”
The Mendenhall PLIA team volunteered with Mendenhall Ministries, re-roofing four buildings (a gym, two school buildings, and a thrift store). They also did some work at the Mendenhall Ministries farm, where they plowed, cleared brush, cleaned the machinery shop, and other miscellaneous work.
“When we got to Mendenhall, we were expecting to work at the Mendenhall farm, but that is not what God had in mind for us,” said Tasha Daale. “Mendenhall Ministries needed roofing done more than they needed farm work done. This is just one of those examples that remind us God is in control.”
An Illinois roofer (Jon) had donated materials to replace all the leaky roofs, and was there to assist volunteers with installation. When other volunteers had not materialized, two area men were hired, but the PLIA volunteers offered a huge boost to the project when they arrived. “Mendenhall Ministries was very appreciative of all of the work that we did for them,” said Daale. “The people down there were so passionate about this ministry, and their willingness to serve and give of their time, money, and services really blessed me.”
Nelson Winkel said the PLIA trip allowed him to do missions which he would not have otherwise participated in. “I enjoyed gaining a better understanding of the workings and condition of Mendenhall Ministries, building relationships with other teammates, and using my skills to further God's kingdom.” Winkel said he also appreciated Mrs. Fletcher, who made five sweet potato pies for the group and other residents!
Amanda Stout said the trip taught her to trust God during the unexpected. “It was hard to plan ahead or know with any certainty how our trip would work out, and yet God worked out everything at just the right time.”
Maria Verburg really enjoyed how the team bonded and had fun together. “In the evening, we would sit around in the kitchen and talk and joke with each other. This PLIA experience has encouraged me to serve others around me more fully and to see the injustice in the world and strive to do something about it.”
Rachel Daale concluded it was a blessing to see fellow PLIA group members work with joyful and willing spirits to complete whatever was asked of them.
The Neon PLIA team helped out with an assortment of tasks among homes and ministries in the rolling hills of Kentucky.
The Red Lake PLIA team volunteered at St. Mary’s Mission, Cass Lake-Bena Elementary School, and Red Lake Elementary School. At St. Mary’s they cleaned the mission school, helped sort and organize donations for the mission store, served a meal to the families of the congregation, and cooked and shared meals with their hosts. At the Indian schools they volunteered in classrooms, helping out the teachers and learning about the community.
It opened my eyes to how different life can be on a reservation compared to the life that I have grown up in,” said Andrew Shupe. “The different classrooms were helpful to observe since I am an elementary education major.”
Karlynn Vis is also an elementary education major, and said it was wonderful to get into the classroom to see more application of what she has been learning, and that there is more to teaching than the facts they study in the classroom. “The lives of the children I worked with is very far removed from my own experiences, and it was very good for me to witness the needs of different people.”
Vis said she developed a passion for the children on the reservation with their difficult situations, but also with the great potential that they have for a future hope for the reservation. “I have been stretched and forced to grow in ways that I was not expecting,” Karlynn said. “I feel like I gained more for the experience than I gave to other people. I praise God for this experience and now I face the challenge of taking what I learned forward into each day and applying it in the classroom as a student and as a future teacher.”
While at Red Lake, the PLIA team also had the opportunity to sit in on a teacher workshop about ways to activate children’s brains, and another about recognizing gang signs and apparel in the classroom. The following day, a member of the PLIA team was given a kindergartner’s crayon drawing of a heart with wings and a crown, which had been identified in the workshop as a logo for the Brothers of Struggle gang.
The group stayed in a convent at the Catholic mission. “They were wonderful people and a blessing to get to know, said Vis. “I was able to overcome some of the stereotypes that I had, learn from their reverence of God, and gain new insight into the Catholic denomination.”
The group also attended an Ojibwe healing service, which had been scheduled by the tribe in observance of the second anniversary of the shootings which occurred at Red Lake High School.
“This was a very good thing to discuss as a group with the definite element of spiritual warfare. It is hard to realize how lost these people are without God, but at the same time we can be united in a desire for healing for a community,” said Vis. “Our involvement served as a witness to our unity and love, while our refraining from total involvement demonstrated that we cannot agree with pagan worship.”
The group had devotions together each evening, with discussions that were very beneficial and “a hugely important element of our trip.” They also enjoyed sightseeing in Bemidji, games most evenings, and bonding with fellow students they may not otherwise have gotten to know.
The Shiprock PLIA team worked at Bethel Christian Reformed Church and around the community.
Phil Stam was particularly impressed by the sacrifices the pastor of the church in Shiprock makes to minister to the people there. “It helped me put things in perspective,” said Stam. He enjoyed being able to help the people there, as well as spend some time working outdoors in the warm weather.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to serve and learn to do new things,” said Megan De Groot. She also enjoyed learning about Navajo life, traditions and religion; the sense of camaraderie that developed among the PLIA team; and the majesty of Mesa Verde, Garden of the Gods, and the Grand Canyon, because they reminded her of how awesome God is.
“Putting Love into Action has strengthened my faith, because it gave me a new experience. I got to experience a new culture, meet new people, and it really impacted me how the people I met sacrificed for their Christian faith. They gave up so much, and that encouraged me in my faith walk. Even when times get tough, I need to remember that God takes care of his people. He will never let me down.”
The Toronto PLIA team volunteered at Urban Promise, where they worked with children in an after school program and refurbished a kitchen.
Heather Kooiman said it was enjoyable to work with the children, but also difficult because they all came from such broken homes. “Urban Promise is a really good organization that tries to keep these kids out of trouble after school and brings them to a Christian environment.” Kooiman said Urban Promise hires high school students to be street leaders, so that the children have a good role leader in their community.
“It was great to see the work that had been done at Urban Promise, and to just play with the children and give the children positive attention that they are really looking for,” said Kooiman.
The Vicksburg PLIA team worked with an organization called We Care, which helps those in need to repair and renovate their homes. The PLIA group painted the exterior of a house, did some plumbing, laid a linoleum floor, fixed a screen door, and built a storage shed. The team also worked at the We Care Thrift Store, painted the outside, and tarred the roof.
Kevin Franje and Amy Groen were impacted by how thankful the woman was whose home was painted. “Every time we stopped in to ask her a questions, she would just keep praising Jesus and thanking Him for us,” recalls Groen. “It was ‘Praise Jesus you’re here,’ or ‘Hallelujah that you are helping me out.’ It was so awesome to see her praising the Lord out loud in just an everyday situation. I think our society in the Midwest doesn’t feel comfortable doing that: we think we can only say things like ‘praise the Lord’ in church or while singing. I think that we need to take a lesson from the Southerners and express our praises more often during the day.”
“I really appreciated how many of the people were so friendly and showed us what true love was,” added Franje. “They showed that they cared about us and appreciated what we were doing to help them.”
Amy Groen noted that at church the people at Vicksburg would just like stand up and say little things that Jesus did for them that week. “We would never think to really share little stories like that in church, but if we would look at our days like they do, we would see Christ so much more in them.” Groen said as a result of this experience she will try to see Christ more through the little things, “like he kept me awake in class, or he gave me patience when my friend was being really difficult.”
Justin Struik said this mission trip left him with a lot to think about, because it was different from other serve projects he had been on before. Some parts I liked better, and some things he didn’t (like the four hour church service, and painting the side of a house with a ladder that was standing on ground that was not too level, and plenty of wasps to keep us company). “I don’t know the direct impact that it has had on me, but I am confident that it will be something I will learn from and take with me in other parts of my life,” commented Struik.
Amy Groen particularly enjoyed becoming friends with her group. “I know everyone says this, but it’s just so weird that people you have been going to school with for maybe three years now, you have never talked to or even noticed them. Then you go on a mission trip with them and you become such good friends … I love how God works like that.”
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