Students, a parent, and an alumna reflect on their experiences with service during the past year
‘Welcome to Uganda.” This large rectangular sign, with navy blue lettering on top of a white background, is located in Entebbe, Uganda, about a mile from the only airport in the country. Something about the sign tugs at my heart every time I see it. The Emmaus Road project in the summer of 2009 was my third time in this beautiful country, which has captured my heart since I first arrived in June 2007.
How can I describe six weeks of experiences in one word? Exciting. Fun. Amazing. Challenging. Blessed. Wonderful. Revealing. For the first time in my life, I saw myself as a vessel for God’s love. We worked with kids who live at God Cares School and don’t go home to parents and a family every night. Although they are well taken care of, there is no way 200 students can receive all the love and attention little kids yearn for and need. Living with these students taught our team that they have their imperfections. For some reason, it shocked me that these kids have the ability to get jealous, argue and ditch class, so I learned to love unconditionally. It’s easy for me to focus on people’s faults instead of their strengths. However, this is silly because I am a sinner, and we are all created in God’s image. Each person on Earth reflects God in a way no one else can. God loves me despite my imperfections; how much more should I be able to love the people of this world?
I also learned that my faith is so small. Living in America, many things are handed to us and there is no room for faith. However, in places like Uganda, people thrive on faith alone. Their faith is so big compared to mine.
Every time I leave Uganda, something seems wrong. I feel like I’m leaving the place I love, the place where God has blessed me with a unique passion. I am leaving my home. To me the sign “Welcome to Uganda” always means “Welcome home.” — Julie Darcey
God Cares School was out of session when we started, so we spent the first few days painting classrooms. The youth of the local church were going on their first missions trip, so we tagged along. We spent time building a church, planting sweet potatoes and evangelizing. The work was hard physically, but we felt blessed to have the opportunity to serve. When we returned, the kids arrived! We were so excited to spend time playing with them, and we began doing jobs such as brick paving, more painting and building a swing set. We worked while the kids were in class and played with them during breaks. Seeing the true joy in every single kid I met was a humbling experience. Each night at 8:30 p.m., the kids who board at the school gather in a large room for prayer. They start out with worship, then devote about 10 minutes to personal prayer. I watched kids on their knees, hands in the air, tears streaming down their face out of conviction. They have so little to call their own; many don’t have a family or a home outside of school. Yet they have a passion and joy for life and for God that was incredible to see. The constant joy and the powerful faith in the face of every situation is something I hope to learn from them. — Meghan Day
One of the most striking characteristics of Ugandan culture is the way the people treated us because we were white. From the minute we got there, high schoolers took our bags and carried them up the five flights of stairs to our room. The founder of the school had us over for dinner the first week, and they prepared tons of extravagant food. They insisted that we sit at the dining room table, and the entire family ate on the family room floor. The Ugandans treated us like celebrities — strangely, I have never been more aware of my own wretched insignificance, especially before the Lord. The serving hearts of the kids and the adults we encountered will be burned in my mind forever. They genuinely enjoyed serving us. It was a stretch for me to humble myself enough to be served, especially by people who have so little to give away. My time in Uganda can be characterized by a burning desire to be insignificant in this world, by wanting nothing more than to decrease so that the Lord would increase in my life. — Brian Johannesson
When we arrived in the warm heart of Africa, our six-person Emmaus Road team had been wearing the same outfit for three days and spent the night in the airport. But we jumped right into village life in a small house surrounded by red dirt, chickens, goats and tons of bright faces. We cooked our food over the fire, heated up water to pour out as a shower, had one light, and braved the bathroom, which was quite an adventure in itself. We began to do ministry with the kids at Grace of God orphanage, playing with them and taking care of them. We began to get to know the staff as we ate meals with them, went to church together, cooked together and lived in the same house. I quickly embraced the African way, letting my hair go wild and trying to speak Chichewa.
After we had been in Africa for little more than a week, we found out that many of the workers and pastors at the orphanage had been deceiving us. The director and others had been misusing the money sent for school, meals, buildings and staff salaries. It was honestly heartbreaking. The ministry that we came to work with was a lie. This was definitely not the Africa trip I had in mind, but God was able to accomplish His will through us and expose us to the harsh realities of missions. My heart for this country became even larger as I witnessed all the corruption. We had the director step down in front of the children, chiefs and village. I simply had to trust in the Lord that He would still use me powerfully despite how helpless I felt.
Our team decided we would stay and see what God had in store. We went to live at African Bible College (ABC) because our parents felt it would be safer. I really missed life in the village. I wanted to see the kids from the orphanage because it felt like we abandoned them. It didn’t even feel like we were in Africa anymore. During this time, God revealed to me that my only cause is Christ. People will disappoint me and circumstances will shift, so I must solely seek His Kingdom. God was challenging me to serve in ordinary ways at the college when I was looking for something big and mighty to do. In reality, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. During the next two weeks, I helped at the missionary school on campus, did outreach in other villages and invited kids from the orphanage to ABC.
This trip was full of new experiences. I spent the night in an airport. I shared a bathroom with cockroaches, flies, a mouse and chickens. I had a monkey pee on my backpack. I was sick. I missed home. Through it all, I clearly saw God’s presence. I had to learn to rely completely on Him, unlike at home where I bury myself in false securities. I saw His grace in a fresh way as we all were forced to forgive someone who betrayed us. It was the most challenging experience of my life, but God was glorified through it all. — Kelsie Harper
In Malawi we experienced the difficulties faced in missions across the globe and saw how God prevailed throughout the whole situation. We were all upset when we were forced to leave the village; we did not want to be living it up on a college campus that looked like a mini-America. I felt there was no reason for me to be there. But I was wrong. God is so much bigger than the box I put him in. He had plans for us and for the orphanage all along. I had a decision to make: either jump on board completely and do what God had planned for me or simply go through the motions and be upset the remainder of the trip. I went with the former and was blessed with an amazing time.
We got to know the students at African Bible College (ABC) and built relationships with the American families there. We saw the different ministries they have going. Because Westmont forced us to relocate, the Grace of God Orphanage became connected to the college. Through ABC, the former director was arrested for stealing, and the new director of the orphanage is an ABC student. A professor at the college and the mother of one of the students now serve on the board of trustees. The orphanage will be more legitimate and better structured than it was before. God used this bad situation for His glory. The kids will eat three times a day. They will attend classes and have a place to sleep with blankets and new clothes. It’s crazy how much the situation has changed; it’s something only God could have done. I have come home with an incredible story to tell of God’s greatness and with the knowledge that He truly is all-powerful. I know I can trust in Him. — Skye Sander
The purpose of my five-week Emmaus Road mission trip to China was to serve and love the children at the Sarang Orphanage and teach at the Korean International School. We had a daily routine of waking up early at 6:30 a.m., teaching English at the Korean International School, teaching English at the orphanage, playing with the kids, joining in praise and worship, and teaching English to the orphans in school. After five weeks, we were fully immersed in the Chinese culture and established life-long relationships. As we were living at the orphanage, God taught me a lot about simplicity. The Sarang House is a community of believers who love God and others. They take scripture literally when it says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” They loved spending time with us and being with one another. They didn’t need technology to be entertained as we do. Instead of watching TV or playing video games, we went on bike rides overlooking the countryside and enjoyed playing Asian rock games. I also learned to be more patient when caring for the disabled kids and not having to rush all the time. I felt God’s presence most at the orphanage, as it was so peaceful and quiet.
God opened my eyes to the suffering in China and the orphans who need to be loved and cared for. I know God has planted a seed in my heart about returning to the orphanage and growing the relationships I developed with the orphans. I pray that if it’s His will, I will go back as a missionary and serve in Asia. God convicted me of my calling in life. I will continue to pray that He will send me where He wants me to be. I realize that it may not be comfortable, but I know that He has given me the gift of relating to kids and sharing His love with them. We are all characters in God’s story, and we need to be obedient to where He wants us to further His Kingdom. — Josie Haugh
I had a different relationship with the children, the caretakers, and the locals because I speak Chinese fluently. Worship at the orphanage is nothing short of astounding. To any outsider it seems to be 40 minutes of three languages (Chinese, Korean and English), cacophonous tambourines, clashing drumming rhythms, and unsynchronized dancing. But I saw it as expressing their amazing love of God powerfully, unabashedly and passionately. A time of intense prayer, where we are prostrate, follows worship. The orphanage truly encompasses the meaning of humbleness. The kids were worshiping and loving God with all their minds, hearts and souls. During prayer I was able to lay down my life and my will for those precious moments of being completely in God’s glorious presence. I was able to cry in anguish for those who do not yet know God and to cry in joy for those He pursued and found.
One of the lessons I learned at the orphanage is that God provides without us asking because He knows us so intimately. At the orphanage prayer consisted of thanking God for His will being done and not in asking God for something. One day a monsoon ripped through the orphanage, causing lots of damage in the houses where the orphans live. The orphanage had been in the process of building new structures, which had depleted their finances. But the next day, someone donated the exact amount of money needed to repair the roofs.
I have been blessed with the privilege of being in a place that is continually worshiping God. Daily life is scheduled around God, not the other way around. I pray that our hearts will all beat with God’s will, with God’s purpose, and for God’s glory. — Tammy Tong
The Smithsonian unveiled plans this year for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in our National Mall. The director hopes it “will evoke the resiliency, optimism, spirituality and joy” of the black community and says it “must help the nation see all the dark corners of its history.” This best summarizes our Racial Equality and Justice service-learning project during spring break in 2009. My daughter, Kelsey O’Hara ’10, and I joined 15 students and one other staff member for a week in Mississippi and Alabama. While we visited some dark corners, we also sat in the presence of civil rights heroes who exemplified hope, resiliency, and a strong spirit.
Wayne Perkins, son of John and Vera Mae, directed us in three days of work (the service) around the grounds of the John Perkins Foundation. We created a gravel sidewalk one day (think of the movie “Holes”) and cleaned a house top to bottom another. On our third day we literally picked up and moved a metal carport about three blocks with the help of 30 students from Bethany College in Minnesota and did extensive gardening, weeding and raking.
The learning is still in process, perhaps for a lifetime. We began our journey with 55 hours of training before leaving for Jackson, Miss. This preparation included a series of documentaries and discussions, a visit to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, an overnight conference on Racial Reconciliation at Biola University, and an evening with Marion Wright Edleman, the first female black lawyer in Mississippi and the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Edleman’s example of activism underscores one of the lessons we learned about those dark corners of history: the inequities of our country’s economic system still affect us today. Thankfully we can celebrate the end of slavery, the end of segregation, and the end of lynchings by the Klan. However it struck me that some of the greatest tragedies in recent history happened after the 1954 case Brown vs. Board of Education, when integration became the law. Resistance to the idea of true equality persisted. In 1963 alone, when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, civil rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson in his driveway, the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., was bombed and four little girls were killed while getting ready for the church service, and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in the midst of championing civil rights.
A highlight of the trip was meeting Charles Evers, the 86-year-old brother of Medgar. We sat with him at his blues and jazz radio station while he told stories and answered questions. After Medgar was killed, Charles became the first black mayor of Jackson to help continue his brother’s work. He and Medgar’s widow and children were invited to meet President Kennedy at the White House. He was later invited to campaign with Bobby Kennedy at the Democratic Convention in 1968 and was with the candidate when he was shot and killed June 5. Earlier that year, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4. It was overwhelming to try to comprehend the kind of pain Charles and countless others have lived through. Yet Charles said to us, “You’ve just got to forgive, love everybody and not discriminate.”
John Perkins said, “It’s easy to find someone to hate; we need to look for people to love.” Perkins has suffered too; he was jailed in 1970 without cause, and the police nearly beat him to death. Today his foundation buys homes in the local neighborhood and rents them primarily to single-parent families. The ministry emphasizes education to create the possibility of change and seeks to instill self-respect and dignity.
For me the trip was like going back to school and finding out how much I didn’t know and still have to learn. I’m deeply moved when I think of the stunning contrast between the four little girls lost in the church bombing and the two little girls now living in the White House. Resiliency, optimism, spirituality and joy are overcoming the dark corners of history.
Twelve years ago, our entire family joined Potter’s Clay for a week of adventure, worship and service. I’m grateful to Westmont for such meaningful opportunities — and to my daughter for joining me in this ministry and giving me a gift of deep joy. — Marcy O’Hara, Director of the Westmont Counseling Center
Nineteen years ago, after my freshman year at Westmont, I traveled with seven other students to a rural village in Honduras, deep in the Central American jungle. For a few weeks that summer we ministered to the villagers, who lacked both electricity and running water. On this trip I first felt the call to pursue nursing as a career. The next summer I joined a larger group of students in a different Honduran village, where I established strong relationships with some of the residents. I knew then I wanted to be a nurse, so I came back to Westmont, earned a degree in natural science and enrolled in nursing school after graduating. There would be a need for nurses wherever life took me, whether to the U.S. suburbs or to a remote part of the world.
I went back to Honduras a third time the summer after I finished nursing school to visit friends and the beautiful countryside. As I took a long bus ride along rutted roads, I listened to music on my walkman and felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to work in community health. But back in the United States, jobs were hard to find due a surplus of nurses, so I accepted a part-time night shift in pediatric hematology and oncology. During three challenging, exhausting and rewarding years of hospital-based nursing, I gained incredible clinical knowledge and experience. But as much as I loved working with such amazing children and families, I knew in my heart that community nursing was my true calling, and I was excited to find a position in this field. My personal life also changed as I had married and was thinking of starting a family.
I never forgot those trips to Honduras, and God used them to prepare my heart, body and mind for another journey to a developing nation. After 13 years of nursing, 10 years of marriage and two children, I fulfilled my dreams of global nursing by traveling to Thailand for 12 days with a medical team from Newsong Church. We worked with a local public health department in Thailand and Sustainable Development Research Foundation, a non-governmental organization.
It took 48 hours to travel from Los Angeles to our home base in Bo Klua, Thailand. The day after we arrived, we set out over steep dirt roads to our first village, Ban Naam Juun, which is only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles. We spent two nights there, which allowed us to see as many residents as possible and experience everyday village life.
The team set up a series of stations to see patients. The first collected information such as medical histories, the number of hours the villagers worked, whether or not they boiled their water and ate raw meat and fish, and how much access they had to medical care. I was surprised that many questions were similar to those I ask my U.S. clients even though living circumstances are so different in the two countries.
At my station we started a client form that listed chief complaints and took blood pressure and other vital signs. Patients then saw the physician or dentist (or both) and ended at the pharmacy to get any prescribed medications.
The villagers were surprisingly healthy for people with limited access to medical care, running water, food and resources. The most common complaint was pain in the neck, back and knees, mostly from the rigorous work of harvesting rice. Another common diagnosis was dehydration. Days are long, hard and hot and water simply isn’t available, so many people don’t get enough to drink, which can cause tachycardia and fatigue. The doctors advised people to drink lots of water and to boil it first to protect against parasites. We saw some hypertension and diabetes in older adults and urinary-tract and upper-respiratory infections.
As we returned to Bo Klua, we felt blessed by the power of prayer and the protection of the Holy Spirit as we enjoyed dry weather in the midst of the rainy season, which made the difficult drive much safer.
The second village, Ban Sapan, was less remote, and we couldn’t believe how many people were waiting for us when we arrived around 9 a.m. Many had walked as much as three hours to reach our site. The first day we saw as many people as we had seen during the entire time we were in Ban Naam Juun. The common complaints were similar: pain, dehydration, common infections.
The school-aged children in Ban Sapan were quite healthy as the public health department provides immunizations to protect them from certain diseases. We treated each child with a dose of mebednezole to cure common parasitic infections. When teachers expressed concern about students’ behavior and development, we had another opportunity to provide education and assessment. Schools have limited resources and information about mental health and normal childhood development.
This time in Thailand blessed me beyond anything I could have imagined. I’m excited to explore new ways to pursue global nursing and learn how God can lead me to different aspects of nursing. I’m thankful for fulfilling my dream of global nursing, and I know He is faithful to carry out the work He begins in me — and in all of us. — Robyn Madsen Baran ’93, RN, PHN