I have been intentional in efforts to do more than "vacation" when traveling outside of the United States. Most notably, I have participated in a medical mission to Nicaragua and an English summer camp in mainland China.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated the Southern United States, Mexico and Central America. Much of the slums of Nicaragua were left in ruin. Families were torn apart, homes were destroyed and crops were killed. In the aftermath, the government grouped together survivors, created new families and housed them in makeshift shacks; the intent was to create temporary homes to return stability to the region. These homes became permanent for most the residents.
I visited Nicaragua in May 2013 with a team of 12 people. I spent most of my time in Chinandega and a small town called El Limonal. Though the story of El Limonal begins in darkness, it is far from over. Even today, after such amazing progress, this town will continue to grow.
During our time in the town, we assisted in running a health fair that was set up by Food for the Hungry (FH). Such tasks included delousing of some residents, cutting and cleaning finger nails, giving fluoride treatments and teaching residents how to brush teeth. It was very humbling. As one of our teammates, Kathleen, said, “I never would have thought I’d have so much fun doing fluoride. I don’t even like having my fingers in my own kids’ mouths.” During our down time, in between the health fair and lunch, we would entertain ourselves by playing with the local children.
We had three reliable translators throughout the week, not including the one student we had in our group who is fluent in Spanish. Eleven group members were rendered incapable of using verbal communication. But that is not the only way to communicate. This is depicted best in a relationship I developed with a little girl in El Limonal. Her name is Kimberlin. Her dark hair, wide eyes, beautiful smile, joy and enthusiasm caught the attention of many. She craved love from each one of us, and we were happy to oblige. Throughout the week, she and I were tied to each other. She didn’t say a single word to me, in Spanish or English, through the whole week, even at my behest or with a translator standing nearby. Yet, at times, our eyes would meet; all we’d do is smile. We didn’t need any words. That simple expression was just enough.
The day would end and we’d load up into our bus to head back to our hotel in Chinandega. The kids would crowd around, upset to see us leave, unsure if we’d even come back. They’d chase us and wave to us as we pulled out. On Monday, it was sad, at worst. But by Thursday, our last day in El Limonal, it was heart-crushing.
This experience humbled me in a way I hadn't experienced. Every group member was challenged throughout the week. I grew as a communicator, as a team member and most importantly, as a servant.
I visited China in July of 2014. Prior to leaving, I personally knew two other people I'd be going with. When we arrived in Nanning, I was surrounded by 50 strangers from all over the world (predominantly, from America, Canada and Australia). This trip continues to be my best (yet most challenging) endeavor I've ever embarked upon.
A number of people have asked, “Why did you choose to go to China?” My answer is simple. In the past, students in China needed to pass an exam to continue on to university. A section of this exam included English. To be specific, every student needed to be proficient in conversational English in order to get into a university. Without university, most of the teenagers I worked with would be relegated to poverty in the foothills of southern China. Education is a very important part of escaping poverty, and I wanted to be a part of the empowerment.
I had the privilege to teach English as a second language to the teenagers of Du Gao High School in Du’An, China. It was exhausting. The kids were demanding. The language barrier was incredibly troublesome. The schedule was non-stop. The curriculum was packed. The teams struggled. Little sleep was had.
Within the confines of the classroom, per government demand, we were only to teach the kids conversational English, morals (through daily multi-media sessions) and an introduction to Western thinking. So, we did just that. We taught the kids English through pronunciation exercises, thinking games and oral readings. We introduced the "Western tradition" of weekly gatherings on Sundays through our "cultural service." The teens were very engaged.
The group that had been very quiet and reserved at the beginning of camp were now talkative, confident in their English skills (and in our patience, as teachers) and expressive of their questions. They were appreciative of our presence there to teach them English. By the end of the week, they felt our love as what it was: selfless and beyond logic.
We expressed to them one purpose for our being there: love. We told them we wanted all of them to feel that love. I know they did. And I pray that those seeds planted will grow and bear fruit for the rest of their lives.
While we played our games, spoke English, did our exercises, sang our songs, performed our skits and formed our relationships, my desire to see a revolution in these kids grew and grew.
China remains in a special place in my heart. I look forward to returning and serving, whenever that may be. China continues to grow as a world power, and my experience thus far has prepared me to interact with this culture in the future.
International consulting and development
As the subject of my International Consulting and Development course, a group of ten students came together to design a sustainable business plan for a coffee shop on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University. We chose to pursue fair trade and ethical sourcing practices. We secured various suppliers for every product in the café (from napkins and cups to coffee and pastries) and created a management structure. The "international" component of this class and business plan was accomplished through our securement of a coffee. We chose to work with EÔTÉ COFFEE, which sources coffee from Uganda, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Upon completion of an exhaustive business plan and financial analysis, we presented to the dean of spiritual life and director of plant services, both of whom were thoroughly impressed with our work. This plan will be considered for implementation during the summer of 2016 (when construction on the coffee shop is expected to begin).