For many college students, spring break usually means one of two things: fun and sun on the beach or sleeping in late and enjoying mom’s good cooking. For many Southwestern Adventist University students spring break also means the opportunity to serve others.
For more than 20 years, our nursing department and Cleburne physician, pastor, and Rotarian, Dr. Tony Torres, have provided leadership in sponsoring a trip to the Dominican Republic. This year a group of students, sponsors, alumni, and community members travelled to Sosua and Puerto Plata and nearby areas. They set up temporary medical clinics, providing care to over 500 patients by offering basic consultations, assessments and screenings, prescribing medications, and teaching health education and dental hygiene. They visited three orphanages and distributed toothbrushes and clothing, which included homemade dresses for the girls.
Jorge Rico describes his experience as an alumnus coming back to join the team this year. “As a Southwestern Adventist University student, I truly enjoyed my experience on the Dominican Republic mission trip where I received innumerable life changing blessings. I married an alumna, and we both have wanted to use our knowledge and experience to not only help those in need in the Dominican Republic, but also to teach the students so they could learn how to help others. Our life goal is to make as large an impact as possible in as many people as possible. We have learned that teaching nursing students is the most effective method and results in exponential growth of people who have similar goals. For this reason, my wife and I chose to go on this trip, to return to our alma mater what we received from them.”
Since some of our international university students find traveling outside the country difficult, the yearly trip to serve the people living in the Navajo Nation at Fort Defiance, Arizona offered a good alternative to provide service in the United States. This month, students, alumni, and sponsors led three hours of programming per day for 30 Navajo children enrolled in a youth-enrichment program at a local non-profit community center. The curriculum featured science experiments, healthy living segments, cultural awareness lessons from international students, and good old-fashioned fun. The team also led another 3 hours per day of programming for Navajo elders at the local senior center. During the week, the senior participants received instruction in healthy living, cooking, gardening, and crafts, and were engaged in a cultural-exchange discussion with our international students. Part of the team also helped to complete a number of maintenance and landscaping projects for a couple of local churches.
Our students were exposed to the Navajo culture through Navajo guided tours of canyons, museums, and ancient missions and churches. Highlights were an evening discussion with a representative from the Navajo Nation’s Office of the President, and a performance by a family of Navajo dancers.
This is the third year that Nu Pham, a master’s of education student from Vietnam, has gone on this trip. She shares that “Each year I learn more about the culture and history of the Diné (Navajo people). Connections and relationships built with the Navajo people don’t happen in a week. It takes a long-term commitment to come back year after year to cement the friendships. Returning for my third year showed me that there is so much more for me to learn about God’s children, and it is important to listen and understand where the people are coming from. I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”
In early March, a group of 53 student athletes, university sponsors, family members, and alumni participated in a mission, athletic and sightseeing trip to Peru. The majority of their time was spent at the Universidad Peruana Union, located in Lima. Mission service projects included beautifying a community park and sports court, painting the interior and portions of the exterior of a library, and painting individual family dwellings.
After each hard day of work in the community, the students returned to the host campus to participate in athletic games and matches with the university teams. Our men’s basketball team also played the University of Lima team. The sporting events culminated with an exchange of apparel between teams.
On the weekend, the student athletes and sponsors participated in church services in the area by leading out in praise and worship, preaching, sharing personal testimonies, and also doing Bible studies with various age groups. The trip ended on a fun note with a three-day sightseeing excursion to Cusco, Peru where the group went four wheeling, shopped in town, and rode horses. They also visited Machu Picchu where they were awed by the works of the Incan civilization and the handiwork of our Creator.
Yami Nevarez, sophomore nursing major, shared that “Before Peru I had never been in a developing country. Peru most definitely caused me to acknowledge and appreciate everything I have and to be happy with the smallest and simplest things. The whole trip was such a huge blessing to me. I can say friendships grew stronger and new friendships were made in Peru. But the part that I most enjoyed was serving others. At times it was hard to move on to the next thing because you just wished you could do so much more. But it encouraged me to continue to serve, helping others who are in need and ultimately completing the mission of spreading God’s word!”
James The, Vice President for Student Services at Southwestern Adventist University, told me that the trip made a profound and lasting impact on each of the athletes. To see what they saw, to experience life outside their comfort zone, to make new friends, and to be blessed with this opportunity to volunteer has instilled in the students a new fervor of commitment to serve in whatever capacity God places them.
Alumnus Alex Castillo, Class of 2018 and participant in the Peru trip, summed his mission experience best when he used the words of the late tennis great Arthur Ashe in a worship talk he gave. He challenged that no matter where you are – home or abroad – “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
I am so proud of our many Southwestern Adventist University students who over their spring break started right where they were using what they had to do what they could for others.
This article is an opinion piece written by President Shaw for the Cleburne Times Review.