FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 6, 2009
Office of College Communications
WENHAM, MA-Over the Christmas holiday, Gordon College students left snowy New England and traveled to places like Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico, South Africa and Mississippi. They weren't traveling to high end resorts though--they were going on service-oriented mission trips. The Guatemala teams partnered with Beyond Partnership and Compassion International as a Bridgebuilders team; the Ecuador trip did initiative and game training and built ropes course elements with El Refugio; students traveling to Mexico volunteered at an orphanage; Gordon students traveling to South Africa partnered with Monte Christo Ministries doing construction; and the Mississippi trip partnered with the John M. Perkins Foundation doing construction and reconciliation work.
Each team went with the intent of aiding local communities through construction projects, offering Vacation Bible School for children and putting money raised in the United States to good use. Many of the teams have long-standing relationships with the project sites that they visit. For the Mexico Outreach Team, which works with La Casa de Esperanza orphanage in Tijuana, this is their 14th year visiting the orphanage.
"It's not important if the kids don't remember the individual students, as long as they remember Gordon College," said Mark Stowell, who along with being the assistant director of physical plant was a leader of the Mexico Outreach team. After five years of visiting La Casa de Esperanza, Stowell sees the benefits of returning consistently to a place. "For me short term missions have the potential to be detrimental, especially if it's a one shot deal," said Stowell. "What do we actually think we can accomplish on a site for one week that has any lasting value? If we are going to continue these trips we need to lessen that problem by returning and building relationships. Even if it's not all the same faces every year, they'll remember that Gordon came back. I think it means a lot to folks and to the kids at the orphanage." La Casa de Esperanza houses 60 children with only five workers on staff. The team's annual visit provides some much-needed aid to the orphanage.
The people each Gordon team worked with weren't the only ones benefitting from these service trips--Gordon students also benefited immensely. "Actually seeing poverty with our own eyes was very challenging. It shows how much we have and it shook people up," said Cory Strnad a student team leader. "We were living with the Guatemalans for a week, but that wasn't our reality. We could walk away after our week there. They can't." Strnad was impressed with the people her team interacted with. "They were patient, joyful and exemplified hope where it doesn't seem like there would be hope. There's a lot to learn from people down there."
Nate Hausman, the director of La Vida and one of the team leaders for the South Africa trip, saw that his students were affected in a similar way to the students on the Guatemala trip. "Our American mindset makes us think we're going to change these people, but we were quickly put in our place," said Hausman. "You're not going to change Africa," Hausman told his students, "Africa is going to change you."
The team that traveled to South Africa worked at Porterville Farm and then spent some time in Kayamandi Township. One of the remaining apartheid neighborhoods, Kayamandi is a square mile area housing 300,000 people. The team witnessed the harsh realities of recent South African apartheid history as they cut a running track in the local gym for neighborhood kids to train in a safe environment, rather than in the dangerous streets.
Each team while abroad, became keenly aware of the differences between the cultures they were witnessing and what they were used to in America. But there were also some similarities they noticed. "We were Americans, they were Guatemalans," said Maggie Roth, a senior who went on the Beyond Partnership Guatemala trip, "but we also recognized that we worship the same God. Even though our lives are drastically different we could see it was the same God."
Many of the trips ended in tears as Americans and nationals said goodbye--these weren't necessarily tears of sadness, but tears of understanding and friendship. "It always ends in a cry fest," said Stowell. "The students need to process and work through what they've seen." The majority of the teams took a few days to process their trip--like the Guatemala team, which met in Antigua for two days of rest and reflection. Some teams continue their reflection now that they're back in the U.S.
Gordon students are now gearing up for spring break and summer service-oriented mission trips. "We send students out nationally and internationally on a consistent basis," Stowell says. "Although short term missions is not primarily about us and what we get out of it we do encourage students to serve and go on these trips because it largely enhances their education, their faith and the way they look at the world, especially after they graduate."
Gordon College is a Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston's North Shore. The college offers majors in 37 fields and has graduate programs in education and music education. Leading the way in Christian college merit, Gordon is nationally ranked for its excellence in academics and its role in character building. These achievements recognize Gordon as one of the nation's top Christian colleges.