|News and Events
Thailand and Albania Mission Trips
By Bruce Yingling
and Krystallyn Martin
This spring break a total of 11 staff members and 45 students participated in two separate mission trips, one to Thailand and the other to Albania. Commenting on the importance of outreach to the overall school program, Principal Doug Schmidt stated, “Service for others is one of the pillars of Rio. It is exciting to see so many students desiring to impact their world and to experience the joy of serving others.
The Thailand group of 37 students and nine adults spent two days traveling by plane, train, and bus to Pakia, a small mountain village located three hours outside of Chiang Mai. For a week the group lived with the villagers in their huts, ate authentic Thai food, and worked with ADRA in bringing fresh drinking water to the village. Every day there were three work options: the water project, Vacation Bible School for the local village children, and a dental clinic led by Dr. Charles McKelvey of Sonora, California.
The water project team started out each day hiking two miles into the hills, sometimes carrying pipe on their shoulders. The team went all the way to the fresh water source, a mountain spring, and began to dig a ditch for the pipe all the way down the hill, through small valleys and canyons, over hills, through bamboo jungle and eventually to the village. They would then lay the pipe, glue it together, and cover it. Upon completion of this job, although it was difficult to work in the heat and humidity, the team felt really good, knowing that the villagers would now have fresh drinking water.
This water project, led by ADRA Thailand, accomplished more than just bringing clean water to a village. It also helped the village become self-sustaining. To begin with, to become Thai citizens and consequently receive any government services, remote villagers must have an income source, which is only possible with easily accessible water. Without water, one of the main sources of income for families is selling girls as sex slaves, so in many ways a water project is literally life-saving.
The VBS team started the day working with the water project team and then after lunch headed back to the village for an afternoon with the children. The Rio students, who planned and led out in the program, filled each day with singing, Bible stories, coloring and crafts, a health talk, and games. Both the Rio students and the village children looked forward to each afternoon as they learned more about Jesus and bonded through the games and crafts. Chrissy Eberhardt truly enjoyed working with the kids. She said, “The kids were so loving and innocent. They didn’t care what you looked like or how you dressed. They were just happy we were there to play with them.”
The kids also impressed Anika Anceves. “Seeing the kids’ smiling faces brightened my days,” she said. “Every time I saw them, I got so happy. They showed me true genuine love.” The last day was emotionally draining for those who worked with the children as the Rio group said “goodbye” and gave away gifts and clothes.
The dental team each day would both clean and pull teeth. Many of the older Thai people chew beetle nut, which ruins teeth over time and turns them black. Most of the teeth pulled were a result of beetle nut. The students who participated in the dental clinic enjoyed helping people, whether it was through blood pressure checks, holding their heads while Dr McKelvey worked, pulling teeth, or just offering an encouraging hand to a frightened patient. Describing her experience, Candace Pennisi said, “It was awesome helping Dr. McKelvey in dental. He even let me pull a tooth. The people were very grateful for our help.”
By actually staying with the villagers in their homes, the Rio group felt as if they had actually become part of the village, and they formed many friendships. “At first it felt impossible to break through the language barrier, but by the end of the week I felt like the family I stayed with was my own,” Geordan Kenner commented.
The last night, the village people put on a goodbye party for Rio to say thank you to the group for the fresh water provided. All the tribe members dressed in traditional clothing and performed traditional dances around a large bon fire.
According to Pastor Krystalynn Martin, “The trip was a great experience that none will forget. Many students can't wait to return, and everyone hopes to see our new friends from the other side of the world in heaven one day.” Summing up the feelings of most of the group, Mauricio Urrutia stated, ”Going to Thailand was definitely a life-changing experience. I can’t wait for my next mission trip!”
In the other spring break mission trip, eight Rio students, three sponsors, and a student from Arizona traveled to Albania, a small country bordering Greece in Southeastern Europe, to assist ADRA in the refurbishing of four rural clinics in the central part of the country.
For forty years, Enver Hoxha, a communist dictator ruled Albania with an iron fist. After the fall of communism in the early 1990’s, this poor country has been ravished with social unrest, violent blood feuds resulting in over 10,000 deaths, and political and economic instability. It’s only in the last five years that the country has been able to emerge from the chaos and begin the difficult process of becoming a modern country fully integrated into the European community. ADRA has been actively involved in helping improve the lives of the people as they have begun to rebuild their lives and their country, particularly those living in the country where most of the violence took place
After the 10-hour overnight flight to England, the exhausted group summed up the energy for a London city tour before crashing at their hotel and then continuing on the next day to Tirana, the capitol city of Albania.
The group stayed at the ADRA compound on the outskirts of the city, driving each morning an hour to the work site. The main portion of the work consisted of painting the interior 2nd floor of one clinic and the interior and exterior of three other clinics. A group of 29 from Madison Academy in Tennessee also worked on the same project.
According to Brianna Clare, working side by side with Albanians at the clinics and getting to know them was what made the tedious work worthwhile. “The people working at the clinics were so sweet and generous,” she explained. “One lady offered us water, flowers, and rosemary. She inspired us so much because she was on the job 24/7, and she was always totally selfless.”
Although their primary focus was working at the clinics, the group also got to visit an orphanage in Tirana on Sabbath and interact with the children. Ariana Weinert was excited because she had brought her collection of “Beanie Babies” to give away, and the children at the orphanage were thrilled to get them. According to Arianna, “The Albanian people were so much nicer than I expected. I never thought I’d make so many friends. The overall experience was absolutely unforgettable.”
Echoing the sentiments of those on the Thailand trip, Ken Larsen, Rio staff member who organized and planned the Albania trip, stated, “The trip was a wonderful success, and we were able to complete all of the work we planned to do. Most of the students hated to leave and would like to return to Albania in the future. “
Jonathan Riddle, who was part of the Albania group, identified one of the most important reasons for the effort and cost of planning and implementing short-term mission trips when he said, “Albania was a great experience because I definitely feel I got closer to God on the trip.”