The Voice: Summer 2002

The Voice

Brad De Haan finds many opportunities to serve in Equador

By Sonya Jongsma Knauss

Brad De Haan poses with children he met while photographing in La Y de la LaguanaIt’s doubtful that living in Dordt’s dorms prepared Sioux Falls native Bradley De Haan (’97) for a recent stay in the home of two Ecuadorian grandparents. Along with De Haan, the place housed a mother, four girls, one boy, three dogs, two cats, ten chickens, five pigs, ducks, rats, fleas, cockroaches, mosquitoes, wasps, and ticks. Add in a leaky roof and a steady diet of rice, beans, bananas, and tea for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a nearby river in which all inhabitants bathed and drank water, and you get a small picture of where God has led De Haan in recent months.

“To be perfectly honest,” he says, “ I liked every aspect of the trip, even the very earthy elements.”

De Haan works for Jatun Sacha, an Ecuadorian organization that seeks to protect the rain forest. He takes digital photographs and puts together small films of nature reserves in different parts of the country.

“God has led me to work with poor and oppressed communities over the last few years,” De Haan said in an e-mail interview. “I had my first experience of service work at Dordt, and God has been leading me more and more into service work of different sorts.”

He is currently living in Ecuador on a cultural exchange visa. So far some of his biggest challenges have been sickness and parasites, but on the whole, he really enjoys life in Latin America.

“It tends to be less individualistic because the people are rather poor and need to get by,” he says.

When he’s not traveling and taking photos, he tries to go running and read in Spanish daily. He also enjoys dancing or playing cards with friends on the weekends. He’s found the language a bit of a challenge, but he says, “I have found I am not too dumb to learn Spanish, and the reward of being able to communicate more and more with the people here is wonderful.”

He appreciates the country’s diversity, both in people and in landscape. He has traveled to remote areas to take pictures, and he sends out a regular journal-type log of his activities, by e-mail, to friends and family in the U.S.

They are regularly treated to De Haan’s observations and descriptions. A recent e-mail began, “I just finished a brutal two hours hand-washing my jungle-saturated laundry from my recent ten day photographic excursion into the Tito Santos Reserva de Jatun Sacha. What a great life—being able to observe and travel in nature, capturing pieces of light, time and space, silently walking like a tiger through flora, senses pulsating, awaiting, then instinctively responding.”

“I try to be faithful in the smallest of ways and pure in intention,” he says. “I try to put myself in situations where I can take care of and help people in need.” This has required him to expand his comfort zone.

And he’s had plenty of opportunity since graduating from Dordt to expand that comfort zone. After spending his last semester student-teaching at Rehoboth School in New Mexico, De Haan graduated with a degree in English Language Arts. He stayed at Rehoboth an extra semester, coaching high school basketball and tutoring children.

That summer he worked at an outdoor camp on Long Island, New York, then traveled to the Czech Republic and found work there at a preschool the first day he looked for work. He traveled briefly through Eastern Europe, then returned to the United States to spend time with his family. After spending a month in Tennessee, he moved again to New Mexico, where he worked for two years as a Youth Mentor and Outdoor Experiential Educator for the National Indian Youth Leadership Project.

“I spent time with mostly Navajo adolescents in mentoring relationships and also in activities such as camping, rock climbing, canoeing, ropes course, cross country skiing and other sports,” he writes. He also designed the NIYLP website, which helped him learn about digital photography.

He has currently been in Ecuador for half a year, and plans to be there for another half year. Along with his work for Jatun Sacha, he does volunteer photography for other projects in Ecuador.

“When I’m taking photos I’m breathing in life like only a child or an animal can,” he says. “There is a freedom in art that I really like. I only need a bit more patience.”

But it isn’t all romantic adventure—there’s a nitty gritty aspect to the life there that De Haan acknowledges as well.

He describes one photographic journey that included four to eight hours per day of walking and sometimes plowing through the jungle in mud each day. That was the trip where he stayed with the two grandparents.

Living in Ecuador has had a profound effect on the way De Haan views the United States and the way he tries to live.

“As far as money, I don’t believe much in insurances, saving accounts, and retirement funds,” he says. He sees them as “products of a culture too selfish and independent to dare ask a friend for help.” He adds, “People here in Ecuador don’t have any of that stuff and get by all right.”

De Haan says he believes that both people and churches “should struggle to get by with as few things as possible.”

“I know that God is the goal, and what I do, where I live, whom I may marry, etc., are just details,” he says. “The Bible tells us to seek first the kingdom and everything else that you need will be given to you as well.”

“I don’t exactly know where God is taking me, but I’m pretty flexible with what I do and do all things well and confidently by his good grace,” De Haan says.

To see some of De Haan's work, check out these websites: http://www.niylp.org, http://www.jatunsacha.org