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Returning Student Mission Groups Build Relationships and Sabbath School Rooms

Martin Surridge, May 24, 2013
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For the sixty-students who attended one of four mission trips this spring break, their evangelical and humanitarian work was preceded by hundreds of other Adventist students who came before them and worked in the same location. As the current students of PUC toiled in tropical heat and lay foundation at construction sites in foreign lands, they may not have known that their predecessors had laid a different type of foundation during the mission trips of previous years.

Fabio Maia, the Service and Mission Coordinator for PUC, explained that returning to familiar work sites is part of greater mission strategy for the college, one that develops stronger relationships between locals and PUC volunteers, as well as allowing for better quality work to be done on location, work that has an increased chance of meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the mission population.

“We decided to continue going back to the same sites and build relationships with the communities that we are serving,” Maia said. “That’s our goal. We go, become friends, and then it's easy to introduce Jesus.”

During just one week, four separate mission trips took place. In the South American nation of Brazil, 22 students joined Maia on a humanitarian expedition to provide health education to people along the Amazon River. While in Brazil, the volunteers lived and traveled on a riverboat in cooperation with a medical missionary school. In Costa Rica, 13 students assisted in the construction of a three-room Sabbath School facility at a Seventh-day Adventist church. Several hundred miles northwest of Costa Rica, in the Central American country of Nicaragua, 12 PUC volunteers returned to Empalme de Boaco to renovate a medical clinic they had constructed the previous year. At the same location students also refurbished a children’s playground adjacent to the facility. Lastly, here in the United States, 19 students traveled to Page, Arizona, to the Navajo Indian Reservation, as part of the Pueblo Project where they refurbished and cleaned a church constructed by a PUC group in past years. The trips to Brazil, Navajo Nation, and Nicaragua, were all trips were PUC groups had served in previous years, and in each scenario the previous work of students was invaluable to the continued mission work.

Maia explained that it is less glamorous and sometimes less exciting to continue to minister in the same locations, but that it’s vital for successful ministry and successful humanitarian intervention.

“It would be fun to find new places, but its not the most effective way. We’re making friends this way and we’re building relationships, which are very special for our students and for their communities, too. We’re there to minister to their practical needs.”

“Yes, there are challenges in going back to the same place,” Maia continued. “We need to always be working to create new projects and create new venues for them to work in.”

However, Maia—who heads the Office of Service, Justice, and Missions at PUC—described the planning process for each site, making it clear that the groups from PUC were not in charge, per se, but were part of a cooperative, international team, and that even when continuing to return to the same spots, the work never quite finishes.

“When we go there, we’re not just going to tell them what to do,” he said. “We sit down with students and the communities to see what the next project should be and see how we can best support the community.”

While the construction work and medical efforts directly benefit the local populations, the people of Costa Rica, Brazil, Nicaragua, and the Navajo Nation are not the only communities to benefit from these trips. In perhaps a less noticeable, yet still tangible manner, PUC’s academic community benefits also. Student volunteers gained a greater understanding of international topics such as exposure to the Spanish and Portuguese languages, tropical biology, developing world economies, and practical theology. Students on the mission trips are then able to take what they learned back into the classroom with them.

PUC Academic Vice-President Nancy Lecourt pointed to the educational relevance of international trips, such as those taken to Brazil, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, which offer “high-impact learning practices” for those in attendance.

“High impact practices are activities that research has shown to make a difference in student success in college,” she explained. “They are active learning experiences where the students are so fully engaged that they learn more deeply. They allow students to take theoretical knowledge and try it out in the real world.”

One of those students who participated in a mission trip over spring break was Jamie Wittwer, a biology major from Las Vegas, Nevada. Among other things, Wittwer appreciated how the trip taught her to be grateful in her own life.

“Going to the Amazon actually made me really realize how good we have it here,” she said. “Honestly, just living on the boat, showering in disgusting water and always feeling dirty, it just made me really thankful for the things I have here.”

“It was really challenging talking to the people in Brazil,” Wittwer continued, “but it was fun being able to communicate even though there was a language barrier that we had to cross. The most positive thing for me though was just helping so many people and having a lot of fun getting to know the other students that went on the trip with me.”

Maia shared that the transformation he observed in the lives of the students was quite incredible.

“It's great to see how the students change in just one week when they have an opportunity to go and serve a community. We’re already looking forward to going back.”