Release Date: 7/26/2010
The 2000 hit movie "Pay It Forward" popularized the concept of repaying generosity or altruism by having the person you've helped pass the favor along. Those familiar with the Walton Scholars Program, which brings students from Central America to three Arkansas universities, are familiar with how those students come here for their degrees and then return home to use what they've learned to help their own countries.
But the Walton Scholars have paid it forward in another way as well.
“Twelve years ago,” said Dr. Rickey Casey, Executive Director of International Studies at the University of the Ozarks, “a group of our Walton Scholars expressed the feeling that not enough was being done to promote Christ on campus, in the local community, and internationally, so they decided to do something about it.”
From that group, Casey said, Alpha & Omega was born.
Alpha & Omega is open to all students on campus. On its web site, the group describes itself as “a Christian, non-denominational group at U of O focused on worshipping God and spreading His name throughout our campus, community, and world through weekly worship sessions, small group bible studies, concerts, mini-mission trips, and a ‘bodaciously’ big summer mission trip.”
The group just finished another “boadaciously” big summer trip, this one to León, Nicaragua (population 650,000) and surrounding areas.
“We like to say we want to meet their spiritual, medical, and physical needs,” said Dr. Casey. The students volunteer their help with local medical facilities, distribute food, and offer spiritual help as well.
Rick Casey was their sponsor from day one. “Our first trip was to Nicaragua,” he said. “When we go, we work through local Walton scholar alumni and parents of current students to find ways to help locally. On this trip, for example, our alumnus Claudia Aguerro’s father, an opthalmologist, was able to get us connections with a pharmacy.”
Alpha & Omega member Kayla Casey, who made the trip, said the volunteers were able to set up a prayer station at the pharmacy and so were able to offer to pray with people after dispensing the medications. “We served 546 people in one week,” she added. She said they also handed out 200 food packages, each containing enough food for a family for one month, and organized children’s activities, including piñata making.
“We also went on door to door ministries,” she said, adding the students are able in that way to offer personal testimony, sympathy, and even money, to people who otherwise would never get it. “One woman was unable to go visit her dying mother, because she lacked the money for the trip. It wasn’t that much in American money, but as it happened one of us had that exact amount in his pocket. You can’t tell me that was a coincidence!”
He said the students have been on multiple trips to El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. “Actually, any country in the world would be up for suggestion,” he said. “We’ve tended to focus on Central America because of the number of students we have from there, but there’s no rule saying we couldn’t go elsewhere. The students do a Power Point presentation making their recommendation of where they’d like to go, and they put it to a vote.”
Casey said the trips are funded by a combination of church donations, the U of O Student Government Association, and individual donors. “We pay for 40 percent of the student’s plane ticket, and they pay the rest,” he said.
It is said a butterfly flapping its wings in Central America can change the weather in Chicago. In this case, with dozens of student butterflies flapping their wings over all these years all the way from here to there, the result must be a hurricane.