Lives changed on both sides of the equator: Dakota Wesleyan University sends 49 on mission trip to Peru

Monday, July 1, 2013

Dakota Wesleyan University
Member of Peru Mission Team 2

This spring I had the honor to embark on my first international mission trip and watch an amazing group of students impact the lives of strangers.

The Peruvian coast in winter is a watercolor of blue-grey skies meeting white-capped waves.

Everything they say about the ocean is true – it’s humbling, endless, a life-changer. The same can be said about mission work.

Through the generosity of people and churches throughout the country, 49 students and staff from Dakota Wesleyan University spent four weeks on the Southern Coast of Peru this May on a mission trip in the Chincha area. The mission: build a Methodist Church in Satellite City that will double as a compound to house battered women.

But if anyone knows anything about mission trips – nothing ever goes as planned. From the stomach virus that hit both teams to the work being reconfigured and then rerouted, it could easily be said that nothing seemed to go right. And yet, looking back on all the “wrongs,” the full meaning of the trip takes shape. This was always about more than building a church.

“Team 1” and “Team 2,” as they were creatively dubbed, left for Peru on May 6 and May 17, respectively, and arrived in Tambo de Mora, a small town near Chincha and DWU’s home away from home in Peru. The university has been traveling to Tambo de Mora for 12 years, partnering with the Methodist Church there and Pastor Pedro Uchuya. Over the years more than 150 individuals from the university have taken part in projects at Campamento Metodista (Methodist Camp) during eight mission trips. The university is not the only entity to work at the camp, but DWU has been a constant source of financial help, as well as manual labor.

On these two mission trips, Campamento served as home base, as all the work was set in Satellite City, about 40 minutes away.

Foundations by hand
Team 1’s students tirelessly dug trenches to serve as the foundation for the church – this work was done entirely by hand and shovel, and it was constantly changing. In the end, the trenches were four feet deep with four-foot squares at each corner. As the students dug, they also had to remove rocks, some the size of small boulders, and pile them in the center and haul them away. This was their job for a week, in addition to a few painting projects at Campamento.

“I definitely felt like I left with a sense of accomplishment,” said Kayla Summerville, junior from Platte. This was Summerville’s third mission trip with DWU and first time to Peru. “It was a whole new world. It allowed me to appreciate America more and most of all, it was an amazing feeling knowing we were bringing Christ to the struggling area of Satellite City.” 

Satellite City is the informal name of a small development to the northeast of Chincha Alta. The town, which is currently what some might describe as a “shanty town,” was created following a massive earthquake in 2007, which destroyed parts of Chincha and killed more than 500 people along the Southern Coast.

Vicky Vetter, a 2003 alumnus and wife of campus pastor Brandon Vetter ’03, accompanied Team 1 as a staff leader. One of her takeaways from the trip was the fact, “Our lives are very easy. We have air conditioning and vehicles and know where our meals are coming from. Mission trips shake us out of our comfort zone and get us to see a world that needs us to be uncomfortable, to love and to serve people that we can forgot about, globally and locally.”

“Even though we, and I, complain that hard work is a pain, to see a piece of land go from nothing to a church in a one short month makes all the hard work and sweat and sickness and injuries totally worth it,” said Brandon Vetter, when asked about Team 1’s grueling work. “We are made by God to work, not to sit and do nothing.”

On May 17, Team 1 departed Peru for home, and crossed paths with Team 2 at the Atlanta airport. It was a surreal experience hearing Team 1’s stories and what was in store for Team 2.

Graduating senior Denet Christopher, of Sioux Falls, initially signed up for the trip with his friend, Jesse Bennett ’13, because it sounded fun, and almost backed out later due in part to the extent of the fundraising that would have to be done.

“It was definitely a God thing,” Christopher said about his reasons for staying on the team. “I believe accepting Jesus in my heart really softened my heart and found a spot for helping people out. I also decided to stick around because after the first church we went to for fundraising, I just saw the relationships that I was able to build in just a few hours of hanging out with the other students. I formed so many relationships that will probably last a life time. … The mission trip allowed me to form strong bonds and really care for each and every single individual on this trip.”

Christopher joined Team 2 with Bennett and is now considering DWU’s service learning trip to Tanzania, Africa, next spring as an alumnus.

‘Don’t limit God’
Before leaving for Peru, friend and co-worker Fredel Thomas said, “The whole purpose for you going to Peru might have nothing to do with building a church. It could be any small thing along the way, any person you meet. Let it happen. Don’t limit God.”

This is paraphrasing because there was no way to tell at the time that these words would become my mantra and the general theme of Team 2’s trip.

Both teams visited a girl’s orphanage and delivered books and played games with the children. One hour was all we were permitted. This was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip for many, and where I met a 9-year-old girl named Frances.

I was reading aloud on the lawn with DWU students Ana Morel, Lynze Wobig and Leah Miiller ’13, and as girls came and went, Frances stayed, picked stories, read to me in Spanish and somehow, through terrible Spanglish and miming, we understood each other. It’s not as difficult with children, their faces are so expressive.

Before it was time to go, she was taken away to a room, and I wasn’t told why, which infuriated me. A pretty strong reaction for a stranger who I knew I’d be leaving in a few minutes. But, before we were called away, I heard my name from a window, and there was Frances holding out her hands. She then came out of the room and hugged me, eyes bright and brave, and we tried to say goodbye. Kneeling down, my hands on her hands, I tried to convey what she meant to me and explain that I couldn’t come back. I wouldn’t make false promises.

She didn’t question this.

Children are supposed to assume the world revolves around them; they are supposed to assume that pleading matters to someone. Frances let go of her tears, letting them shamelessly slide down her chin, but she asked for nothing. In silence she had already accepted that I wouldn’t stay, I wouldn’t come back, because no one does.

To stare into the eyes of a 9-year-old girl and see her at war with herself – a little girl fighting the feelings of a child’s wishes and the wisdom wrought from experience, her eyes said it all, “mine is not the place to expect things.”

A woman-child with a sweet, sad smile.

This was the event that made the biggest impact on me, the largest claim to my experience and time in Peru. We spent a year preparing to go to another continent, and for me, it was so I could meet a little girl and spend one hour making her the center of someone’s world.

Satellite City’s Culture Clash
Mornings at Campamento began early, at least for those who wanted to wander to the beach to pray, pick shells or gaze at the fishing boats that floated stationary on the horizon. Soledad, the camp’s caretaker, would take a group out to the beach at 7 a.m. every morning, both groups participated in this at will.

Work began Monday morning and the first illness already presented itself, at least one student was sick, a stomach bug that would escalate throughout the week until about 21 out of the 26 participants would have suffered some form of symptoms. By the end of the trip, the only thing “regular” about this group were the updates on bowel movements. Call it an unexpected bonding opportunity.

Two of Team 2’s staff leaders, Brian Anderberg, DWU’s associate director of young adult ministry, and his wife, Tonya, embarked on their first mission trip to South America. Brian, who has been fighting cancer for several years, was one of the few people who never got sick – despite his compromised immune system.

“It really was a great experience,” he said. “I wasn't concerned at all about my health. I knew that I would be taken care of by God and maybe even a little bit of the American pharmaceuticals as well.”

Anderberg is relatively new to DWU, joining the staff last fall, but not new to mission work. He has been to Canada, China, England, Romania, Turkey, and a brief stay in Germany, and Tonya to Mexico. This was their first trip to South America and in the end, the work and the mission stay the same no matter what continent.

“Hurting people are still hurting people, whether they are in England or Africa or Turkey or South America,” Brian said. “I – we – have a moral obligation and responsibility to help wherever we can whether it be from an oppressive government or economic hardships or a tough ecological climate or just bad luck and a tough break, we still have a responsibility to help. We can help. We should help. We need to help.”

Work at Satellite City was hot and dusty and the town was the picture of a Third World stereotype with dogs and children running around unattended, buildings in disrepair, turkeys rambling in and out of houses.

It was also much more than that. It was community in progress.

After a day of hauling rocks, bricks, and wheelbarrows of dirt and ash-laden trash, the group was told that the Peruvian workmen, different from Team 1’s, didn’t want the women to come back. They would take three men a day, instead.

In eight mission trips, this was the first time women were kicked off a work site.

To the students’ credit, they hid their reactions and engaged in a game of Pato, Pato, Ganso (duck, duck, goose) with neighbor children and everyone’s hearts were lightened, even if it didn’t quite reach everyone’s moods.

“The whole reason you’re going to Peru might have nothing to do with building a church,” were words coming back to mind. To the credit of the males in the group, four students and two staff members, they never once made the women feel like they were doing less because they couldn’t be at the church.

Instead, the women and two of the men – they rotated – stayed back at Tambo de Mora for the rest of the week and worked on three new projects – hauling rocks out of the garden to make way for expansion, painting the community room, and building a shelter for the meditation garden. This last effort was an exercise in patience, imagination and resourcefulness. The team was given sheets of hard plastic, several small boards, wire, a pocket knife and wire cutters and told to build a roof. At one point two people were on the only ladder, one was on a bed and another stood on the back of the wrestling coach. MacGyver would be so proud.

“Getting to know students outside of campus is one of the best parts of my job,” said Leah Rado, sports information director and one of the staff members on Team 2, and one of the members of Operation: MacGyver Shelter. “Having worked with most of the students through the athletic department I knew they were all good kids, but getting to know them on a deeper level somewhere other than the football field or the volleyball stat sheet is an absolute joy. Not only are they hard workers who are very creative and intelligent, they are wonderful people who gave up the first two weeks of their summer to go serve a group of people they had never met. They are all wonderful young adults who will do great things in the future, and I look forward to running into them on campus this fall.”

During all of this, both teams shared a common thread – DWU student Ana Morel, who stayed on for all four weeks as the groups’ translator. Morel has been on seven mission trips, five with DWU. She was born in the U.S. and raised in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. (pictured here on the right, with Kelli Swenson on left)

“It was probably the most intense, terrible, exciting and exhilarating experience I’ve had. It wasn’t my first time being the only translator, but it was my first time doing this for this many people and for this length of time,” she said. “It is something you have to be very careful with, misinterpretation tends to do some damage and as the only person who could understand both languages fully, I definitely felt the pressure, but I loved my job.”

The team’s experiences were vastly different and Morel had front-row seats.

“I was amazed to see so many college students digging and digging, creating the foundation of a church that will benefit people they have never met,” Morel said about Team 1. “It was inspiring to see the hope and the understanding that what they were doing was for something greater than themselves. In the trenches is where I saw the love they had for a people.”

For Team 2 “we did some scraping within our budget and were able to buy some material for the new projects at the camp,” she said. “All of the team members were very encouraging toward one another. I think that is when we started to become a team; everyone was going through the same not-so-good experience and started lifting each other up, through notes in the bathroom, words of encouragement. It was quite beautiful.”

The note in the women’s restroom came on the second or third work day, addressed to the “Ladies.” It went on to describe how valuable the work was that the women were doing at Campamento and that they shouldn’t be discouraged because this was DWU’s true home. It was unsigned, in perfect script, and assumptions spread as to which girl might have written it, until it was confirmed that the unlikely source was the gruff, sarcastic wrestling coach.

This was one of those amazing mission trip moments when preconceived notions go flying out the window.

Matt Sedivy ’06, DWU’s head wrestling coach for four years, has been on three mission trips to Peru with the college, once as a DWU student, twice as a staff leader.

“This was a very sensitive issue for me to handle,” he said. “It was easy for me to stay positive about the situation, because I was the one who was able to continue to work at the original worksite.  I tried to explain that Campamento was the heart of everything we’ve done in Peru.  It’s where the mission trips through DWU to Peru began.  If there’s one place in Peru where it’s an honor to serve, that would be it. I thought the women in the group did a fantastic job of setting aside their frustrations in order to accomplish their mission.”

Another amazing mission moment came when the students realized that the camp’s caretaker, Soledad, worked for free. Soledad lives near the camp and acted as protector and camp mother to DWU, bringing hot tea from her home when students fell ill and running over in the middle of the night when dogs barked at the gate. This woman, with the weather-worn hands and lovely heart, does all this for free. Her husband works, but they are trying to put their daughter through college so no money is left to repair or build their home, which was described by some students as something similar to what is in Satellite City. The entire group was shocked, and then decided to take up a collection; they collected more than 600 soles (about $300 American) and presented it to Soledad when they left. This is about how much it costs for Soledad’s daughter to attend one semester of college.

The next step is looking into setting up a scholarship fund for Soledad’s daughter and young son. And in two years, DWU is seriously considering making Soledad’s house the next project.

“It is important for people to invest in other countries when we have poverty right here at home because it is important for us to share our resources, knowledge and lives with those in other countries,” Summerville said when asked why Americans should reach out to other countries. “It also allows us to open our eyes to the issues other countries may be facing.  Also, to step outside of our comfort zones and explore where else God is working.”

Sedivy believes that mission work, in general, influences every facet of a person’s life, from his personal to spiritual to professional life, “It widens your perspective on people and each individual’s life experience.”

He also sees mission work, and donating toward mission work as “a compounding of goodness.”

“When a person gives toward a trip like this, the good deed compounds itself in so many directions it can’t be tracked,” he said. “An investment of a dollar impacts the people of Peru, the people on the trip, future people using a building, and countless other ways. Every party involved is vital for the experience to take place. …This trip is a catalyst to inspire Americans to return with a desire to help everyone around them in the future, whether they be travelling abroad or helping at a local food bank.

“Truly rewarding experiences are contagious. Mission trips like this create an insatiable appetite to improve lives.”

On Saturday, before catching a bus to Lima, Team 2 said goodbye to Campamento in Tambo de Mora and drove to Satellite City with the Rev. Jorge Bravo Caballero, Bishop of the Methodist Church in Peru, and Pastor Pedro to bless the new church. Almost all the walls were up and the Bishop pledged that the Methodist conference of Peru would see it finished.

Standing in that place where so many people – Americans and Peruvians, alike – have struggled to create a church, it was an incredible moment. This group was part of the first service performed there and on raw floors with open skies the Bishop blessed that place for future worshipers and as a place of protection for local women. There is something more than holy in that; it's community, which is one of the largest benefits of a church. Four walls aren’t needed to worship God, but when life is hard, the people within those walls might make all the difference.

These 49 people went to Peru to build a church, but they accomplished more than that; they helped unite a community.

EDUCATION ABROAD: 5 DWU students study in Lima, join Team 2

In addition to the mission trip, five students also took part in a Spanish immersion school experience, sponsored by DWU alumnus and board member, John Grinager. The students flew down with Team 1, for a two-week immersion program speaking only Spanish and staying with Spanish-speaking host families. The following students were members of the program: Heather Banister, Grand Junction, Colo.; Kayla Mielitz, Big Stone City; Mackenzie Stevens, Polk, Neb.; Kelli Swenson, Chamberlain; and Tara Van Hofwegen, Humboldt.

“This experience was unbelievable; to learn firsthand how another culture goes through life was just an eye-opening experience,” said Van Hofwegen, who participated in her second DWU mission trip with Team 2. “It was an opportunity I hope many others get to experience. You learn the differences between countries, cultures and language firsthand. Reading it out of a textbook just doesn’t do a culture justice.”

Grinager, Mendota Heights, Minn., is a 1975 graduate of DWU with majors in history and Spanish. Since 1996, he has been the president/owner of Approve-IT Inc., an international regulatory compliance consulting company for telecom/radio products.

For the mission trip, Team 1 consisted of: Campus Pastor Brandon Vetter and wife, Vicky; Chelsea Boddicker, Mitchell; Matt Britt, Rapid City; Breanna Clark, Loveland, Colo.; Erin Deibele, Sheridan, Wyo.; Joe Ford, Vermillion; Coleen Hannum, Bakersfield, Calif.; Christian Hildebrandt, Faribault, Minn.; Valerie Hummel, Utica; Alex Kuehler, Sturgis; Ross Leonhardt, Sioux Falls; Gabrielle McKinley, Midland; Ana Morel, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Natalie Munger, Kimball; Taylor Piper, Mitchell; Kasha Roberts, Rapid City; Sam Sandau, Tripp; Tyler Sarringer, Pierre; Jedd Schlicht, Woonsocket; Nicole Schroeder, Yankton; Kayla Summerville, Platte; Carrie Swanson, Spearfish; Jasmin Vant, Canton; and Tyler Volesky, Mitchell.

In addition to the five Spanish immersion students, Team 2 included staff leaders Brian and Tonya Anderberg, Mari Olson, Leah Rado and Matt Sedivy, and students: Jesse Bennet, Sioux Falls; Kristen Binger, Tulare; Denet Christopher, Sioux Falls; Maranda Ehrenfried, Pierre; Sam Fluck, Becker, Minn.; Kyle Gerlach, Stickney; Liz Humiston, Edgemont; Leah Miiller, Corsica; Lacey Reimnitz, Corsica; Josh Thompson, Lead; Katherine Varnado, Box Elder; Jessalyn Wienk, DeSmet; Alexis Wilde, Gillette, Wyo.; and Lynzie Wobig, Canova. Also Morel and Hummel joined Team 2.

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