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Go east, young man

"Go east, young man" Continued...

Issue: "Superheroes strike again," Aug. 6, 2005

God also gave Jacob a certain taste in film: "Tarzan was one of my favorite movies. . . . From the time I was 5 or 6 I longed to go to other lands, particularly Africa." He spoke of his plans to be married next year and to return to Africa with his new wife. He says she "always longed to be in a ministry with children who need love"-and as they became an item, Jacob reports, "we've always said, 'It's Africa.'"

Other college students volunteer out of a desire for adventure or the opportunity to stretch their wings-and then fall in love with the children who come under their care. Lydia Alder and Jaimie Bugaski, both recent college graduates, teach the two regular classes at the Children of Zion home in Namibia (see "One church, one orphanage, July 23). They have a particularly challenging assignment because of the wide differences in age and ability levels in each class: A 12-year-old new to schooling has to learn her ABCs while an 8-year-old is doing three-digit multiplication.

Older volunteers also show multiple strengths. Jodi Canapp, 28, returned to America last month after spending nine months over two stays at Children of Zion. While there she became the home's Jill-of-all-trades: She washed clothes, changed diapers, taught school, washed dishes, shopped, cut hair, and even delivered a baby goat. When the cook quit, she learned to make nutritious meals for 65 people. Every night from 6:30 to 7:00 she dispensed drugs to the HIV-positive kids. The local staff called her "nurse Jodi" or "chef Jodi," depending on the hat she was wearing.

Volunteers need to be flexible and they also need to learn perseverance because in Africa nothing comes easy. Wounded healers are also welcome, as long as they are adaptable and willing to help. One short-term mission group at Loskop in June, from Indian Creek Community Church of Olathe, Kan., included members who were older than the average college student or 20-something, but they had a typical experience in one sense: They came to serve and found that in the process they were served.

One member, Chad Phillips, 37, said, "I've always felt that I don't have much to offer. . . . Both my parents are from broken homes themselves. I grew up feeling rejected by both. That feeling of being abandoned opened up the door for temptation . . . but maybe I had a twisted upbringing for a reason, to make me more compassionate to orphans. I know how much they need to be nurtured, held, and loved. . . . I've changed a lot this past year, and this trip helps. I see hope now. I realize that God loves me and loves these children."

Another older helper, Steve Robbins, 35, spoke of three blows he suffered during 2004: His wife filed for divorce, he was laid off, and he broke his leg and so had plenty of time to think about the first two disasters. On his last Loskop day he said, "God's been taking my whole life and twisting it around." The twists he encountered in Africa-seeing poor-quality tools, missing needed supplies, and suddenly finding that he was crew chief because he was the only visitor who was handy-helped in his resolution "not to be so rigid, to go with the flow, not to get upset."

The leader of the Indian Creek group, Brad Hill, 28, is an associate pastor working to create niches within the church of 1,400 people for those seeking what he calls "a non-formulaic church environment." He said, "I've been to all the conferences, dude-Willow Creek, etc. Those places work for some people, but a lot of us want something real . . . to be a part of God's big story, to have adventure. Sometimes in the States we say we're reaching new people, but it's mainly people who have been disenfranchised from the church they're in. Here we can reach new people, and that's exciting."

Tim Stout, 53, and his son Trevor, 18, were the oldest and youngest members of the group. After working at Hallmark for 17 years-he now consults in the creation of e-cards-Mr. Stout grabbed the opportunity to come to Loskop and make a video that Agathos will use in fundraising. He also noted that his father died three months ago and he wanted to bond more with his son: "The two weeks here is the longest we've ever gone without fighting."

And one member of the group, Ivy Wagner, 23, was staying on at Loskop for two months rather than two weeks. She had already spent a half-year in Tanzania, because "cross-cultural experience rocks your world." But doctors had already rocked her world when she was 16 and they diagnosed her with thyroid cancer. After surgery, radiation, and seven years gone by, she has a clean bill of health, but the experience "made me think how short life is." She bonds with a similar African sensibility and generalizes, "People in the U.S. are always looking for what's next. Here, people live one day at a time, and I think there's more joy in anything they have today."

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