October 23, 2012 by Kristen deRoo VanderBerg / Topics: 50th Anniversary, AIDS, Community Development, Discovery Tour, Kristen deRoo VanderBerg, volunteer
Heather Wind-Mulder has never had a dream of becoming an international missionary. In fact, even travelling internationally isn’t something she has aspired to. But in February 2010, she spent nearly two weeks in Kenya with World Renew (known as CRWRC from 1962-2012) and it changed her life. “My Dad was the one who first heard about CRWRC’s Discovery Tour and strongly encouraged me to go,” she said. “I wasn’t too keen to go all the way to Africa, but as I prayed and wrestled with the opportunity, God spoke to me. He said, ‘Heather, I am with you in your home in London, Ontario and I will be with you in Kenya. It will be good.’ Well, if God says it will be good, then it will be good, so that helped me decide to go.”

During the trip, Heather toured the Kenyan countryside, met with a variety of people, and got to hear about projects that World Renew was a part of.  The specific focus of her trip was to examine environmental issues that the Kenyan people are facing, see the steps that they are taking to combat these issues, and consider what each tour participant could do to use their learning when they returned home. 

“I tend to do a fair bit of book learning, but the experience of going to Kenya was totally different than if I just read about it,” said Wind-Mulder.  “There was a wide variety of issues discussed, and there was hope. I enjoyed meeting World Renew staff and getting a better picture of their work in Kenya. Although Kenya is facing some large environmental issues, it was a hopeful tour, with many good projects being undertaken.”

Heather was just one of several people who participated in a World Renew Discovery Tour that year.  In fact, every year World Renew offers three or four different tour opportunities that invite people to go overseas and see the ministry of World Renew first-hand. 

These experiences are modeled on trips that World Renew and Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) encouraged deacons and church representatives to take in the 1980’s.  At that time, World Renew and CRWM would invite church diaconal conference representatives to visit their program sites, learn what was happening on the field and then go back to North America and share a slide program with various churches in their church classis. Many of these church representatives came back changed. 

“I went to the Dominican Republic around 1986,” said Sue Kuipers of Kalamazoo, Michigan.  “It exposed me to so much stuff and had a lasting impact.”

Not only did Sue gain a new appreciation for the knowledge and professionalism required to be a career missionary for the church, she also saw poverty first-hand.

“One of the things we visited was a sugar cane factory.  Sugar is a commodity that we don’t even think about in North America, but I saw who makes it and how they make it.  The factory was a terrible place.  I can’t even tell you how hot it was and what the conditions were like for the people who worked there.  It changed my viewpoint on commodities like that when I now see them in a store,” she said.

Twenty six years after her trip, Kuipers still remembers her experiences vividly.

“One evening we were inside a church where an adult literacy class was being held.  It was night so there was a kerosene lamp and the people had come here after a long, hard day of work.  As the class was held, one man asked how they could pray for us as visitors.  I was truly – wow – taken back by that.  It really touched me,” she said.

After returning from the trip, Kuipers spoke at her church and at other churches in her area.  She pursued Spanish and later returned to the Dominican Republic for another visit.  She also passed her experiences on to her children.

“I’m pretty sure that my daughter became a missionary as a result of that trip that I took back in 1986,” she said about her oldest daughter who is now a missionary with CRWM  in Nicaragua. 

Seeing the impact that these experiences had on the church representatives who had been invited to go, World Renew decided to expand the program and offer the tours more broadly.  They also began to incorporate a more intentional focus on learning.

The Discovery Tours are a very different experience than other [World Renew] international volunteer opportunities... the focus is on meeting with people and on learning.

“World Renew started offering Discovery Tours in the mid-1990’s as a way to help our constituency get a first-hand account and basic understanding of our work,” said Ruth Buntin-Majawa, who managed volunteer opportunities for World Renew for several years.  “A few years later, we added orientation and workshops on poverty & justice to the tour process.  The workshops took place before the tours departed as well as on the field.  In addition, we made sure that all tour participants spent a day with a family in the target country so that they could experience some of the issues of poverty first-hand and see how World Renew’s programs make a difference.”

The Discovery Tours are a very different experience than other international volunteer opportunities.  There is no work-team component or focus on having North Americans provide something to the communities they are visiting.  Instead, the focus is on meeting with people and on learning.

“The tours are designed to give participants a more intimate look at our work.  We design the tours so that participants can be present in their emotions and observations, rather than trying to figure out all the different ways they believe they can solve people’s problems,” said Majawa.  “The Discovery Tours are designed to enable people to be challenged with some of the aspects of poverty and justice that the community faces.”

Ryan Gelensye teaches two boys in Malawi about his camera photos by Karmen Meyer That’s just what happened to Ryan Gelensye who went on a Discovery Tour to Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa in the Fall of 2011. 

“I was forced to struggle with my perception of those ‘in need’ and how it was we are called to seek and act out of justice in our community,” he said.  “So many of the friends I made in Africa are such incredible leaders within their respective communities, and my preconceived notions of what I had to offer were flipped upside down.”

Since the introduction of Discovery Tours back in the mid 1990’s, World Renew has offered approximately 44 tour opportunities.  These groups travelled to Bangladesh, India, Haiti, Romania, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Niger, Cambodia, Ecuador, Honduras, Laos, Sierra Leone, Senegal,  Nicaragua, and the Philippines.  Some of these tours have focused on specific issues such as HIV&AIDS or the environment.  Others were geared to a specific group of people – such as North American pastors who toured parts of Africa alongside African pastors. 

Right now, World Renew is accepting applications for two Discovery Tours in 2013.  From January 12-25, eight people will tour parts of Kenya to explore the impacts that climate change has had on those in poverty.   And in June 2013, a second group will visit Uganda to learn about HIV & AIDS Community Health programs and see how people are fighting that epidemic in various communities.  To find out more, or to apply please e-mail mdykstra@worldrenew.net.

To those who might consider these opportunities, Kuipers says “If you get a chance to go on a tour like this and be led around by those that now the area, you never know where God is going to lead you.”

Gelensye agrees.  “You should ask yourself not what you can do, bt what you could learn. A cross culture upheaval leaves one on vulnerable ground, and vulnerable ground is a great place to stand when seeking the Holy Spirit break and build you together again."

 

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