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Dordt College News

Dordt AMOR teams volunteer in Nicaragua, Belize, and Dominican Republic

February 4, 2008

Belize TeamThe Belize AMOR team consisted of (front, from left) Laura MacMillan, Amanda Arkema, Miriam Rasmussen, (row two) Sarah Groneck, Leah Applebee, Kristina De Graaf, Jen McCreery, (row three) Rachel Antvelink, Amber Wilson, Dawn Van Kuiken, (row four) Brian and Barb Mellema.

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

AMOR is an international service/missions opportunity that has been offered annually to students since the 1980s. This year’s mission projects were again arranged through representatives of World Wide Christian Schools.

Students serving on AMOR teams typically do construction or renovation projects, lead Bible schools, etc. In the process they are introduced to the culture and the mission challenges of their host country, returning with a much broader understanding of God’s kingdom and the needs of the world.

Serving on the Belize AMOR team were Rachel Antvelink, Hopkins, MI; Leah Applebee, Mount Vernon, IA; Amanda Arkema, Pella, IA; Kristina De Graaf, Marshall, MN; Sarah Groneck, Godfrey, IL; Laura MacMillan, Elmhurst, IL; Jennifer McCreery, New Sharon, IA; Miriam Rasmussen, Jefferson, IA; Dawn Van Kuiken, Cedar Lake, IN; Amber Wilson, Redfield, IA; Barb Mellema (director of annual giving), and Brian Mellema (maintenance department).

Serving on the Dominican Republic AMOR team were Rochelle Braunschweig, Randolph, WI; Marne' De Bruin, Oskaloosa, IA; Kristin De Ronde, Oskaloosa, IA; David Ellerie, Cedar Rapids, IA; Amanda Haan, Waupun, WI; Stephanie Helmus, Caledonia, MI; Joy Horstman, Sioux Center, IA; Jeremiah Kats, Boise, ID; Gabriel Licht, Humboldt, IA; Sarah Sikkema, Ridgetown, ON; Christine Soodsma, Waupun, WI; Lisa Vanden Bos, Grand Rapids, MI; Julie Verwoerd, Bowmanville, ON; and Tim Van Soelen (instructor of education).

Serving on the Nicaragua AMOR team were Vanessa Bruinsma, Chilliwack, BC; Connie Du Mez, Brookfield, WI; Mark Dykstra, Edmonton, AB; Christa Geels, Sheldon, IA; Heather Hoogendoorn, Sioux Center; Darin Keizer, Hull, IA; Amanda Niewenhuis, Corsica, SD; Andrew Olthoff, Sioux Center, IA; Jessi Rieken, Stanwood, WA; Johanna Van Hofwegen, Avondale, AZ; Jennifer Van Wyk, Pella, IA; Benjamin Witte, North Port, FL, Leah De Nooy (admissions counselor) and Abby Jansen (instructor of social work).

Belize

Miriam Rasmussen, a freshman Spanish major, describes Belize as “an amazing country that borders Guatemala and Mexico, with rolling hills, houses built on stilts to keep out floods, and beautiful people that speak English and take great pride in their country.” Rasmussen was in complete agreement with their tour guide, who told them “Once you visit Belize, you leave a piece of your heart there that can only be reclaimed once you return.”

Despite an all women student team, they were proud of how much physical work they accomplished: digging post holes for a fence around the nine acre lot of a new high school; shoveling 15 tons of mal (similar to limestone) on muddy pathways and the playground at the primary school; painting and constructing picnic tables used for meals at the school, cleaning the high school, and helping in classrooms.

Rachel Antvelink said men who joined them in digging post holes called the team the hardest working girls they ever met. The five men were from a drug rehab center, and as they worked alongside Dordt team, they got to know about the men and the people they had hurt, the families left behind, and their renewed relationship with God.

“The Christians there have deep faith,” commented Kristina De Graaf. “They didn’t worry, but simply reminded one another that God will provide.” Amber Wilson added that the stories Pastor Tate related of God’s provision for the church and school at just the right time were amazing. Wilson is considering returning to Belize for a short term position this summer.

“Overall, I am amazed with God’s love and grace that He extends to all,” commented Miriam Rasmussen. “I was deeply humbled by the work ethic, closeness, and warmth that emanates from the people of Belize.” She added that the work their team did Western Christian Academy (WCA) was immensely appreciated.

The group also had the opportunity to snorkel in the Shark Ray alley in the Holchuna reef (the largest living reef in the world), actually touching nurse sharks and stingrays. They also explored the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins, toured the island of San Pedro, found souvenirs in downtown San Ignacio, and spent a night with the Ontario Christian Community Church Youth Group.

Team members said their time in Belize was a powerful reminder of the abundance in their lives, the importance of fulfilling your purpose by helping others, and that God calls each of us to rely upon Him and share our blessings with others.

Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic TeamThe Dominican Republic AMOR team consisted of (front, from center) Rochelle Braunschweig, Julie Verwoerd, Stephanie Helmus, (row two, from left) Lisa VandenBos, Amanda Haan, Joy Horstman, Sarah Sikkema, Marne’ DeBruin, Christine Soodsma, (row three) David Ellerie, Jeremiah Kats, Gabe Licht, Tim Van Soelen, and Kristin de Ronde.

In the Dominican Republic, the Dordt AMOR team was joined by geckos, cockroaches, ants, frogs, spiders (including a tarantula), and at least one mouse. But despite sharing their accommodations with critters, the team considered their site a beautiful country.

“Once you get out of the cities and into the villages, it’s like a whole other world,” said Amanda Haan. She noted that although their bumpy roads, tin or concrete houses, and bare feet are not the American ideal, the Dominican people seemed to know what is important. “To me, they seemed so satisfied and content. It helped me reevaluate what I deem as important in my life,” said Haan.

The group volunteered at a Christian school, where they built a basketball court (meeting Dominican physical education accreditation standards); removed an existing building’s roof and wall, constructed a two story addition for use as a school cafeteria; emptied a wood shed, and laid groundwork for additional classrooms.

They had lots of help from Dominicans, said Marne’ De Bruin, who commented that despite not always being able to communicate perfectly, they were a joy to work with. “The workers were always happy and smiling and working so hard to get the projects done,” Marne’ added, “It was a great growing experience that helped me understand child-like faith, the majesty of God's creation, and the unity of Christians everywhere.”

“Even though we were there to help the Dominican people, personally, they were the ones that touched me,” remarked Amanda Haan. “They illuminated Jesus in everything.” On their last work day, a kindergarten class invited the AMOR team to a classroom for songs, handshakes, and hugs. “It helped me realize how these schools are making a difference, giving kids a chance to be educated and to learn about Christ. This trip was such a blessing.”

Nicaragua
Nicaragua TeamThe Nicaragua AMOR team consisted of (front, from left) Darin Keizer, Johanna Van Hofwegen, Ben Witte, Christa Geels, Jessi Rieken, Andrew Olthoff, (row two) Abby Jansen, Heather Hoogendoorn, Amanda Niewenhuis, Vanessa Bruinsma, Leah De Nooy, Jenni Van Wyk, Connie Du Mez, and (back) Mark Dykstra.

In Nicaragua, the AMOR team volunteered at the Nehemiah Center in Managua and at the Bethel center for children with disabilities run by an alumnus of Dordt College. Their work involved painting classrooms, creating a rock foundation for a classroom, cutting grass with machetes, washing horses, and interacting with the Nicaraguan children.

“One of our overall themes expressed during our devotions at night was that God works in many ways. It was amazing to experience the culture and people of Nicaragua and see how God is using his hand in such a beautiful land,” said Jessi Rieken. She noted that though the conditions were primitive, it was beautiful and warm, with volcanos surrounding the area.

Though the people don’t have a lot, they still seem very happy, noted Jenni Van Wyk. “It really made us stop and think about the stock that we really put in our material possessions back home.”

Rieken also noted the giving and kind spirits of the people they worked with, whom she said correctly prioritized relationships over work. “Everyone seemed so appreciative that we had come,” commented Van Wyke, who said despite the language barrier made it obvious that they were thankful for the work the Dordt students were doing.

Their most memorable moments included daily ping-pong competitions with the workers, swimming in a crater, bucket showers, and sleeping in classrooms with no windows, only metal bars through which the Nicaraguan children peeked in at them.

“I think as with any trip like this, we came home feeling that the people had impacted us more than we had impacted them,” concluded Jenni Van Wyk. “It caused us all to step back and really evaluate our own culture and our calling within that as well. Our eyes were opened to a new area of the world where there are some obvious needs, but a place where God is very obviously at work. It was humbling to be a part of something like this, even if only for a week.”

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