African church dedicated to former Mitchell man’s memory
By Mari Olson Dakota Wesleyan University
Beauty and hardship. Atrocities and forgiveness. Poverty and rebirth.
East Africa is a paradox best understood by breaking bread with the people who live there.
Members of a Dakota Wesleyan University team recently spent two weeks in Uganda and Rwanda, volunteering, gifting livestock and providing other services like agricultural advising and workshops for teachers. They talked to locals about their needs and built a church. Several members stayed on an additional three weeks to take those services one step further.
Dr. Alisha Vincent, director of the McGovern Center at DWU, led a group of 13 people, including DWU students: Thara Ali Said, Muscat, Oman; Andrew DeVaney, Sioux Falls; Amanda Hart, Alexandria; Ana Morel, Gilbert, Ariz.; Kyle Gerlach, Stickney; Michael Stier, Onida; Kelli Swenson, Chamberlain; and Kayla Vanden Hoek, Corsica; as well as, Sandra Vanden Hoek (Kayla’s mother); Tonya Anderberg, Mitchell; Vincent’s daughter, Esperance; and Lacey Aderhold, a student at Mitchell Technical Institute.
Anderberg, wife of DWU’s former associate director of young adult ministry Brian Anderberg, who passed away last October, came in part to help dedicate a church in her husband’s memory, Revival Tabernacle Church, in Namayemba, Uganda. The church was funded in partnership with Mitchell Fusion and DWU.
Fusion and the university also partnered to create a library for a school that has 600 children. Some of the students also taught volleyball and soccer skills and offered a teacher training workshop. While in Uganda, students visited the source of the Nile River and assisted with a water improvement project, and a women’s conference at which 200 women receive education and assistance related to personal and maternal care.
“Being home for a week now, I am seeing that the things that have stuck with me were the relationships I made, were the people I encountered, and the love I was shown,” DeVaney said. “The projects that could be done are endless, the support needed is insurmountable; however, there is something you cannot take away from putting people first. That is what Brian Anderberg taught me … ministry and missions are about people and they’re about relationships. They’re about serving in the moments that seem insignificant, wearing Jesus wherever you are, and more than anything, remembering that Jesus cared about the person and the soul within them.”
In Rwanda, the group volunteered at the Crimson Academy, a primary school for grades K-5, and researched the feasibility of starting a school lunch program at the school. DeVaney, an education major, also conducted teaching workshops for adults and raised enough funds to donate five iPads and teach educators how to use them. Hart, a 2014 graduate and former standout on the women’s basketball team, conducted a basketball camp for sixth- through 10th-graders. Gerlach, a junior, visited farms and advised locals on an agricultural research project, a service so appreciated he was gifted a chicken, which is one of the highest honors.
The group saw firsthand how the people of Rwanda are trying to rebuild their lives and relationships following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered by extremist Hutus.
“After learning about this history, students were amazed at the ways in which Rwanda has reconciled this tragedy and they themselves took part in projects where victims worked side-by-side with perpetrators of the atrocity,” Vincent said. “Through this, they realized that forgiveness is a powerful weapon against evil and people can recover even after the most horrific atrocity imaginable.”
DWU’s team also donated 40 goats and a dairy cow through the McGovern Center’s Livestock for Life program where they raised funds to pay for the animals.
Vincent, along with Swenson, DeVaney and Morel, stayed in Africa another three weeks to continue work through the Esperance Education Institute, a U.S.-Rwanda NGO begun by Vincent. The EEI’s mission is to provide short-term education opportunities to underserved adults and Swenson gave workshops on interview skills and resume building. DeVaney and Morel also helped as classroom assistants at Crimson Academy, DeVaney focusing on teacher education and Morel joining another group from the U.S. to do outreach projects at orphanages and local hospitals.
“God found me in Africa. I saw Him on my visits to the hospital in Kigali (Rwanda); in the eyes of a little girl who asked me to pray for her,” Morel said. “I saw Him while holding a newborn child who had just lost his mother. I felt Him as I held the hand of an elderly lady who would not stop smiling as I attempted to communicate with her.
“I found that all I had to do was be there. All I had to do was what we all do at home on a regular basis and that is to share life with one another, build relationships, demonstrate love. God would do the rest.”