'God Found Me in Africa'

Monday, July 28, 2014

DWU group returns from service trip to two African countries

Beauty and hardship. Atrocities and forgiveness. Poverty and rebirth.

East Africa is a paradox best understood by breaking bread with the people who live there.

Members of a Dakota Wesleyan University team recently spent two weeks in Uganda and Rwanda, volunteering, gifting livestock, and providing other services like agricultural advising and workshops for teachers. They talked to locals about their needs and built a church. Several members stayed on an additional three weeks to take those services one step further.

Dr. Alisha Vincent, director of the McGovern Center at DWU, led a group of 13 people, including DWU students: Thara Ali Said, Muscat, Oman; Andrew DeVaney, Sioux Falls; Amanda Hart, Alexandria; Ana Morel, Gilbert, Ariz.;  Kyle Gerlach, Stickney; Michael Stier, Onida; Kelli Swenson, Chamberlain; and Kayla Vanden Hoek, Corsica; as well as, Sandra Vanden Hoek (Kayla’s mother); Tonya Anderberg, Mitchell; Vincent’s daughter, Esperance; and Lacey Aderhold, a student at Mitchell Technical Institute.

Anderberg, wife of DWU’s former associate director of young adult ministry Brian Anderberg, who passed away last October, came in part to help dedicate a church in her husband’s memory, Revival Tabernacle Church, in Namayemba, Uganda. The church was funded in partnership with Mitchell Fusion and DWU.

Fusion and the university also partnered to create a library for a school that has 600 children. Some of the students also taught volleyball and soccer skills and offered a teacher training workshop. While in Uganda, students visited the source of the Nile River and assisted with a water improvement project, and a women’s conference at which 200 women receive education and assistance related to personal and maternal care.

“Being home … I am seeing that the things that have stuck with me were the relationships I made, were the people I encountered, and the love I was shown,” DeVaney said. “The projects that could be done are endless, the support needed is insurmountable; however, there is something you cannot take away from putting people first. That is what Brian Anderberg taught me … ministry and missions are about people and they’re about relationships. They’re about serving in the moments that seem insignificant, wearing Jesus wherever you are, and more than anything, remembering that Jesus cared about the person and the soul within them.”

In Rwanda, the group volunteered at the Crimson Academy, a primary school for grades K-5, and researched the feasibility of starting a school lunch program at the school. DeVaney, an education major, also conducted teaching workshops for adults and raised enough funds to donate five iPads and teach educators how to use them. Hart, a 2014 graduate and former standout on the women’s basketball team, conducted a basketball camp for sixth- through 10th-graders. Gerlach, a junior, visited farms and advised locals on an agricultural research project, a service so appreciated he was gifted a chicken, which is one of the highest honors.

The group saw firsthand how the people of Rwanda are trying to rebuild their lives and relationships following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered by extremist Hutus.

“After learning about this history, students were amazed at the ways in which Rwanda has reconciled this tragedy and they themselves took part in projects where victims worked side-by-side with perpetrators of the atrocity,” Vincent said. “Through this, they realized that forgiveness is a powerful weapon against evil and people can recover even after the most horrific atrocity imaginable.”

“It is hard to put into words the sense of commitment people in Rwanda have to rebuild their beautiful country after the 1994 genocide,” Swenson said. “Hearing first-hand accounts of the horrors and atrocities that many people faced in the country during 100 of the world's darkest days, I came to realize that the people in Rwanda are some of the strongest, committed dedicated, hard-working people I've ever met. Their ability to look at a seemingly insurmountable amount of obstacles in their path with a sense of unwavering bravery is unbelievable and absolutely remarkable to me. I am still working to wrap my head around the amazing beauty that arose from the ashes, from the atrocities that happened a mere 20 years ago. A true beauty and sense of reconciliation that could have only come from God.”

DWU’s team also donated 40 goats and a dairy cow through the McGovern Center’s Livestock for Life program, having raised funds to pay for the animals. The goats were gifted through a program designed by the local school’s headmaster and Parent-Teacher Organization, in which the poorest families in the school receive the animal, care for it until it produces offspring, and then gives the primary goat back to the school for redistribution.

The dairy cow was given to help support nearly 200 children at Crimson Academy primary school to provide milk for the children. DWU students also offered advice and assistance on animal care.

“Ceremonies are a significant part of East African Culture and the students were privileged to be the guests at seven different ceremonies during their stay in Uganda and Rwanda,” Vincent said. “These ceremonies were a way to acknowledge accomplishments of the community, celebrate with song and dance, proclaim goals and vision for the future, and more.”

During most ceremonies DWU students also provided music, speeches and gifts. They also received gifts that included handmade art and sometimes even a chicken or two.

“Kyle Gerlach was one of the students who received a chicken as a gift for his help in agricultural education,” Vincent said. “This gift is traditionally given as a form of highest honor from community leaders.”

Students also found ways to communicate using more than just words.

“Soccer is like another language,” said Al Said, who came to the DWU women’s soccer team from the country of Oman. “Although my Lugandan went as far as ‘thank you’ and my Swahili was broken, it turned out that we communicated through our love for soccer. On the second day of our service projects when we did soccer instead of volleyball, I conducted some simple drills and then we played a game. When I joined in on one of the teams it was as if a barrier was broken between our two backgrounds. It didn’t matter now that I was from another country or that we spoke different languages. Taking me on and ‘humiliating’ me in terms of skills, I was quickly treated as one of them.”

Vincent, along with Swenson, DeVaney and Morel, stayed in Africa another three weeks to continue work through the Esperance Education Institute, a U.S.-Rwanda NGO begun by Vincent. The EEI’s mission is to provide short-term education opportunities to underserved adults and Swenson gave workshops on interview skills and resume building. DeVaney and Morel also helped as classroom assistants at Crimson Academy, DeVaney focusing on teacher education and Morel joining another group from the U.S. to do outreach projects at orphanages and local hospitals.

“God found me in Africa. I saw Him on my visits to the hospital in Kigali (Rwanda); in the eyes of a little girl who asked me to pray for her,” Morel said. “I saw Him while holding a new born child who had just lost his mother. I felt Him as I held the hand of an elderly lady who would not stop smiling as I attempted to communicate with her.

“I found that all I had to do was be there. All I had to do was what we all do at home on a regular basis and that is to share life with one another, build relationships, demonstrate love. God would do the rest.”

By Mari Olson
University Relations

Categories: News
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