Dordt College News

Dordt students do mission outreach in Nicaragua, Belize, and the Dominican Republic

January 21, 2009

Belize Team
Participating in the Dordt College AMOR trip to Belize were (front from left): hosts Brian Lopez, Rev. Ernest Tate, and Lorraine Tate; Amber Wilson, Kayla Breems, Cassie Huizenga, Amanda Vande Voort, Sara De Bruin, Julie Heida, (back row) Jon De Young, Grant Dykstra, Mark Christians, Jevin Vyn, and Mark Eekhof.

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

This international service/missions opportunity has been offered annually to students at Dordt College since the 1980s. Students serving on AMOR teams do construction/renovation projects and youth ministry and, in the process, are introduced to the culture and the mission challenges of their host country. They return with a much broader understanding of the needs of the world.


The Belize team included 10 students: Cassie Huizenga, Orange City; Sara De Bruin, Oskaloosa; Amanda Vande Voort, New Sharon; Amber Wilson, Redfield; Kayla Breems, Prinsburg, MN; Jonathan De Young, Schererville, IN; Grant Dykstra, Highland, IN; Julie Heida, Kuna, ID; Mark Eekhoff, Manhattan, MT; and Jevin Vyn, Ridgetown, ON, Canada. They were accompanied by Mark Christians, a psychology professor at Dordt.

Belize Team

The Belize team volunteered at Belize Faith Missions (BFM), which consists of a church, primary school, high school, and children’s home started in the middle of a jungle by a missionary in the 1950s. This jungle area has grown into what is now called Ontario Village, where Dordt students painted a high school classroom building (Western Christian Academy); constructed two exterior porches for classrooms; and wheel-barrowed and spread three truckloads of white stone mal on dirt pathways to form sidewalks and driveways between buildings. Youth With a Mission provided the group with a place to stay and many of their meals.

The Dordt team was particularly impressed by Pastor Ernest Tate, the lead pastor of the Belize Faith Missions Church, who shared many stories about God’s provision in every situation. Professor Mark Christians said he was equally impressed by the servant attitudes of the Dordt students he was with. “They sacrificed much of their Christmas break to give of themselves in a very tangible way,” said Christians.

They were abundantly rewarded, says Amber Wilson, a senior exercise science and psychology major, “especially when you leave Iowa and it’s -30, and have a 110 degree difference the next time you step outside.” This was Wilson’s third trip to Belize: after last year’s AMOR trip she returned for 10 weeks during summer break. “I don’t know what is in store for me after I graduate in May, but there is a definite possibility that I may return to Belize.” Wilson says “the culture is very laid back and relaxed, the people are amazing, and the food outstanding,” with daily fresh fruit such as pineapple, oranges, papaya, and mangos.

The group was also rewarded by the spectacular scenery of Belize, a country with a blend of coastal areas and hilly, tropical jungle. “It was amazing, beautiful in a way no other part of the world is,” remarked Mark Eekhoff, a junior art and public relations major.

On their excursion day, they went snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve in the Caribbean, swimming with stingrays, beautiful tropical fish, and a seven-foot nurse shark. They also had the opportunity to visit San Pedro Island, hike the Mayan Ruin at Xunantunich, and spend a day in the market at San Ignacio.

“Throughout the AMOR trip, our group reflected on the theme “Be blessed and be a blessing,” said Jon De Young, a junior business major. “The stories of believers in Belize touched my heart. The Belizean people opened my eyes to how we should allow our faith to impact our everyday living, by learning to discover His task and purpose for our lives.”

Senior Kayla Breems adds, “This mission trip was a reminder of how we need to always put our trust in God and God will provide for you. It also makes me see how important it is to have a servant attitude everyday and in everything we do, as we met people who are clear examples of being true servants.”

Mark Eekhoff concludes, “The people of Belize Faith Missions have some of the most incredible stories of faith that I have ever heard. The Lord is really working there. The best thing that I came away with is an awareness of the situation in Belize, and their amazing faith story.”

Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic Team
Participating in the Dordt College AMOR trip to the Dominican Republic were (kneeling from left) Liz Brand, Kiley Schouten, Tina Heilman, Erin Mouw, and Ryan Johnson (standing) Amber DeKoekkoek, Sierrra Zomer, Rachel Gorter, Moreno (a Dominican construction worker), Katie Van Den Top, Natalie Feenstra, Jaci VerMulm, and Joseph Buhlig.

The Dominican Republic team included 12 students: Kiley Schouten, Sioux Center; Tina Heilman, Orange City; Jaclyn Ver Mulm, Le Mars; Katie Van Den Top, Doon; Elizabeth Brand, Newton; Rachel Gorter, Otley; Ryan Johnson, Cleghorn; Erin Mouw, Leota, MN; Sierra Zomer, Corsica, SD; Amber DeKoekkoek, Falmouth, MI; Natalie Feenstra, Everson, WA; and Joseph Buhlig, Northborne, MO. They were accompanied by Bruce Kuiper, a communication instructor at Dordt.

“Our team worked on the Bienvenido School to prepare for adding a second floor,” explained Jaclyn Ver Mulm, a junior exercise science major. “The added floor will allow the school of 289 students to double in size and give many more children the opportunity for an education.”

The work consisted of sledgehammering sections of cement walls down and hauling debris away so that new walls could be reinforced with rebar. They mixed many tons of concrete on the ground with shovels and pick axes to pour foundation and pillars for the second floor. They estimate that in six days of work they hauled roughly 25 tons of material. “The work was rigorous, but when we talked with the teachers and saw the joy in their smiles because they knew more students will be educated, the hard work seemed easy,” says Ver Mulm.

The girls were repeatedly called fuerte (strong) by a crew of Dominican men who worked alongside them, recalls nursing student Natalie Feenstra. “We received the compliment with big smiles or by flexing our arm muscles.” Ag major Rachel Gorter noted that it was nice to experience “Dominican time,” meaning the clock does not rule the lifestyle there.

“Fast driving, warm weather, and friendly people,” were what stood out to junior Katie Van Den Top about the trip. “Driving is crazy there: drivers weave in and out, and honk their horns a lot, but they never seem to get annoyed with each other,” commented Elizabeth Brand, who also noted it was never quiet, with festive, joyful, rhythmic, and loud music regularly being played out in the streets, in cars, homes, and even during school.

Dominican Republic Team

The weather is gorgeous, the sunsets are breathtaking, and the water is beautiful, blue, and clear, reports the Dominican AMOR team. They went to the beach on New Year’s Day and did some cliff jumping into the Caribbean. Playing with kids was a highlight, recalls Elizabeth Brand. “They cling to you and wherever you go you hear ‘Americanos.’” The group also had the opportunity to barter at the market and attend a baseball game.The teachers at Bienvenido took them on a walk through the neighborhood around the school to see the lifestyle and homes of the families nearby. “It is so strange to see such beauty of creation surrounded by poverty,” noted Jaclyn Ver Mulm.

At a Casa Joven (Youth House) church service on their last night there, some locals offered to teach Dordt’s group some Dominican-style salsa and meringue dancing. “We had a blast learning dance moves to bring home to Iowa,” said Ver Mulm.

“I have never been on a mission trip so this trip was very good for me,” said Natalie Feenstra. “It not only opens your eyes to another culture, but it gives you the opportunity to examine yourself and think about what you value in your culture. It helped me appreciate the daily things such as hot showers or good drinking water from the faucet. But it also helped me realize that it’s good to get away from technology and focus more on what’s really important, the time you get to spend with others around you.”

“Seeing the happiness of the people we met and their willingness to give, even when they had so little, was humbling. I admired the people there who were so dedicated to the well-being and improvement of Christian schools,” noted elementary education major Sierra Zomer. “This AMOR trip made me reflect on the importance of serving others.”

“I wish I could have stayed longer to learn about their culture and to help them more,” commented Rachel Gorter. “I hope in the future that I can return in some capacity to the country to do that.”

“It's interesting because you go on a serve project with the intention of helping the people down there, but I feel like they helped change me and helped me grasp the larger meaning of life and what it means to serve,” concluded Elizabeth Brand.

Nicaragua Team
Participating in the Dordt College AMOR trip to Nicaragua were (front row from left) Marne De Bruin, Whitney Elgersma, Joelle Van Gaalen, Jenn Roetman, (middle row) Matthew Kunnari, Pamela Schutt, Beth De Kam, Monique Lieuwen, (back row) Stephanie Kroeze, Shawna Van Wyhe, Nicaraguan host, Benjamin Witte, and Danielle Mellema.

The Nicaraguan team included 11 students: Joelle Van Gaalen and Whitney Elgersma, Sioux Center; Stephanie Kroeze and Shawna Van Wyhe, Hull; Jennifer Roetman and Beth De Kam, Rock Rapids; Marne' De Bruin, Oskaloosa; Danielle Mellema, Willmar, MN; Pamela Schutt, Crestwood, IL; Benjamin Witte, Wauconda, IL; and Monique Lieuwen, Lethbridge, AB, Canada. They were accompanied by Matt Kunnari, Dordt Class of ’06 and Dordt Learning Community Assistant.

Their work included both construction and demolition in preparation for additional second story classrooms. They hauled out rocks, old wood and metal; removed an existing roof; knocked down walls with sledgehammers; and bucketed tons of concrete to the top of existing walls to lay a cement foundation for a new second floor of classrooms. The volunteers also painted metal sheeting for roofing, and cleaned out some rooms in preparation for painting.

The Dordt group had the opportunity to work alongside a construction staff and volunteers from the local church. “All the people we worked with were very kind, commented Jenn Roetman, who is a sophomore psychology and pre-med major. “It was hard to communicate knowing small amounts of Spanish, but hand gestures and translators work out well.”

Nicaragua Team

Beth De Kam, a sophomore social work major, noted that working alongside the people of Nicaragua allowed their focus and attention to be drawn away from a typical North American individual’s desire to “get ‘er done” as quick as possible into recognizing the importance of relationship building in making a difference within others lives. “A unique testimony to us was observing individuals who put time and energy into projects despite their own significant needs … Through a materialistic society’s perspective, the majority of Nicaraguan people have nothing, yet walking alongside them allowed me to see that many of them hold what we often lack, a confidence that the Lord will provide.”

Team members noted that Nicaragua has many gorgeous scenic spots within the capital city of Managua, as well as in Chinandega, Masaya, and Granada, where colorful buildings and murals proudly display the country’s history.

They also spent a day at a volcano, where they laughed over the irony of being told to park their vehicle facing the roadway in case of eruption, but yet we allowed to hike the entire area. Roetman noted “Most of the roads had speed bumps and pot holes, and speed limits were more of a suggestion, not enforced. There were bikes, motorcycles, and pedestrians cluttering the streets, and at stop lights you would see people walking up to your car selling food and newspapers.”

Nicaragua Team

At one site they ran into some teenagers who knew a fair amount of English, so they were able to hang out and play some volleyball, soccer, and kick ball. “Working together and seeing how they do things was just fun,” remarked Roetman.

This was Ben Witte’s second AMOR trip to Nicaragua, and this year he was invited to the home of a friend he met in 2008. “That’ll stick with me forever; that was an eye opener.” Witte said Mario’s house measured about 250 square feet, with a dirt floor and a roof full of holes. “It’s one thing just driving by, but when you know the person that lives there, it makes it personal.”

Jenn Roetman noted, “Going on AMOR has made me fully appreciate how God had blessed us. It also made the idea of God’s church being worldwide become more real. There were many Christians down in Nicaragua living their lives out for God to the fullest, even though they have very few belongings.”
Beth De Kam adds, “Hearing the translated prayers of the pastors within the church/school systems we ministered to allowed me to be ministered to as well. A local Christian coffee shop owner expressing his faith by sharing his active participation against the injustice of the Nicaraguan government allowed me to understand the importance of working as an active participant as a child of God.

“It also allowed my heart to be opened to relationship building as brothers and sisters in Christ. As Acts 10:34b-35 states, ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’ These verses explain my experience to the full. I feel as if I have a much better understanding of the vast variety of the members in the family of God.”

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