Release Date: 8/27/2014
Fernando Valenzuela has been on numerous mission trips in his young life, but nothing impacted him like the one he participated in with the student organization Alpha & Omega this summer in Guatemala.
"This mission trip affected me deeply and personally," said Valenzuela, a senior business administration major from Panama. "We saw this great need and we saw how people can come together and make a difference. After this experience, I made a commitment that for the rest of my life I would do whatever I possibly could to help others who are in need."
Valenzuela was one of about 30 University of the Ozarks students, alumni and faculty members who took part in the week-long mission trip in July. The group partnered with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), an international Christian organization that works with college students in more than 150 countries with the mission of sharing the Gospel among other university students. Their motto is "Students Reaching Students."
Alpha & Omega members (from left) Anaeli Rodas, Belkys Fuentes and advisor Dr. Rickey Casey were part of the U of O contingent.
"The mission trip was a time of learning about service and community," said Anaeli Rodas, a senior sociology and strategic communication major from Guatemala. "Working with other university students from Guatemala was a true learning experience. We learned about their commitment that they have to share the Gospel in their universities, making extra efforts to have the time to prepare Bible studies, evangelistic activities on campus in creative ways, and also having the time to share with one another."
The University's Alpha & Omega Christian organization has organized a summer mission trip each of the past 17 years. This year, the U of O contingent worked with a Guatemalan Christian organization called GEU (Grupo Evangélico Universitario), according to A&O President Belkys Fuentes.
"The GEU owns a house near the University of San Carlos and they offer rooms at a very affordable price to students that come from remote towns and want to study at the university but have no resources to pay expensive apartments located around the University," said Fuentes, a senior marketing major from Nicaragua. "The same house also serves as a meeting point for their activities, such as fellowship and planning for events. Alpha & Omega was able to remodel and fix several parts of the house that needed repair. We provided paint, created two murals, built a garden, and painted the entire house."
The garden and murals proved to be popular projects with the local community and also served as a conversation spark.
"When people saw us painting or doing gardening, they asked us why them, why Guatemala; what our purpose was," said sophomore Andrea Leiva. "We answered that God was the one who sent us there, the one who wanted us to be there and spread His word. So by answering that, something was left in their hearts, even if it was just a smile that lit up their day. And besides the religious matters, we also served as examples to the people there of the importance of studying and being ambitious about what is coming in life. Belkys, our president, said something important that I think summarized our purpose: 'Maybe we won't see immediate results, but a seed was planted in the hearts of each person we worked with, and those seeds will grow and will keep growing in other hearts.' "
One of the projects that the Ozarks students worked with GEU on was an evangelistic skit for the college community written by GEU students. The A&O students helped put on and perform in the skit as well as spread the Christian message to the audience.
"The name of the drama was Hope and Hopelessness," said Rodas. "This was a huge challenge for those who were going to act because they had to prepare themselves in such short time. The ones who weren't in the play invited people to come to the drama and afterwards they talked to people about the play and the message. The content of the drama was very realistic and human. It was about the reality of our world, and how we, as humans, have such a great influence in what happens and what does not happen in it. This was an eye-opening realization for the students who were part of Alpha & Omega, GEU, and all those who stopped their normal academic activities to watch the drama."
The most heart-wrenching part of the mission trip came near the end when the Ozarks students visited a large municipal dump near the city of Chiquimula.
"We provided food packages to about 100 families who live in the dump and we prayed and evangelized with the families that live there," Fuentes said. "We also provided the resources to build tables for the families to eat on. Before tables were given, families would sit on the ground next to the garbage and eat. It was very touching to see the conditions that some people live in every day."
Fuentes said that several Ozarks students got sick during the mission trip, but that it didn't hamper their efforts.
"Many of our members fell sick but that did not stop our group to continue working and serving with all our hearts," she said. "Every day we would engaged in Bible studies that strengthened the faith and spirit of our members. Working alongside with other college students that share the same passion and conviction for Jesus Christ was an amazing thing. It is so amazing to see that God calls his people everywhere and that we, as college students, are not alone in the mission that He has sent us to do."
Leiva said the mission trip had a lasting impact on her as well.
"Mission trips are incredible experiences, not only for the people we help but for us too," Leiva said. "I definitely grew up a little bit because you sometimes feel selfish and just think about yourself, but then when you go outside of your comfort zone you realize how many people need God and need you as His instrument. For example, when we went to the dump of Chiquimula, I was totally shocked and felt so bad about myself. I said that it was so unjust to complain about simple things like food, or the 'shower doesn´t have hot water,' or 'there is no Wi-Fi,' and then you see people who don´t even have a roof for protection from the rain. And, I wondered what am I doing with my life? And why do people not see this reality? So, that´s the moment when you leave your selfishness aside and start thinking about others, and when you think about others, just as Jesus did, you find the real happiness that you won't find in clothes or a new car or money. I would like more students at University of the Ozarks to get involved in this organization, to realize the reality that is surrounding us, and to know about what real happiness is: Jesus who love us."
Members of University of the Ozarks' Alpha & Omega organization teamed with the Guatemala Christian organization GEU to spread the Gospel in Guatemala this summer as part of their annual summer mission trip.