By Megan Weems
Editor’s note: In July, over 200 college students and recent graduates, including many from Pacific Union College, traveled to Brazil to participate in a new volunteer program from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency to help build the Adventist Technical School of Massauari (ETAM). Below, recent PUC graduate Megan Weems shares her experience on the life-changing trip.
This summer, I was fortunate to embark on a journey along the Amazon River to a small village called Nova Jerusalem. On this boat, in the midst of nowhere, I was reminded of the attributes of service. This was not a solo mission but one that included 200 plus other college students or recent graduates, like myself, who decided to use two weeks of their summer to do something out of the norm. We were on our way to help finish building a K-9 technical school that needed a little extra tender loving care. The work included: cutting and putting up siding, laying and grouting tiles, painting, varnishing, and cleaning up the classrooms, library, and student dormitories.
I have served as a long-term missionary as a fifth and sixth-grade teacher in Fiji and also volunteered on other mission trips. On this particular excursion, I came with a sense of urgency and persistence to get the building project done. Having witnessed on countless occasions that if the project was left incomplete, it may never get done, and the children would be the ones who suffered. It was quite reassuring knowing that ADRA Brazil and ADRA Connections, a new volunteer program operated by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, had produced a flawless plan keeping everyone involved and working through the entire trip. The huge group of North Americans and Brazilians worked effectively and cohesively to do exactly what we came to do in the Amazon: provide an infrastructure for education that would offer technical skills, and most importantly educating children with eternity in mind.
Every morning, volunteers greeted each other with the phrase, “bom dia,” or good morning in Portuguese, and yelled from boat to boat that worship was starting. We’d awake from our rested slumber in our hammocks, which swung in unison on the boat’s top deck during the cool, breezy nights. Our workdays began when the sun rose and set, and later that evening, we’d end the day with worship. The work was hard, sweat was plenty, there were a few complaints about the heat, but regardless, there was nothing but smiles, singing, and laughter.
What makes me nervous with mission trips is that people are coming from many different backgrounds, which sometimes means learning to adjust to a new work ethic and understanding of the work we are required to do. However, my worries were put at ease as each boat was assigned boat leaders and interpreters who stayed with their boats from start to finish of the mission. On our boat, we were blessed to be led by an amazing couple, Julianna and Diego, who had finished their missionary work from another village in the Amazon as a nurse and boat technician. Both spoke very little English yet the interpreters from the University of Sao Paulo were so helpful to explain what they said. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, Julianna and Diego set a clear example for our group that whatever the task is, whether big or small, we do it with the love of God.
What I saw in Julianna and Diego’s leadership is the type of leadership I pray that God instills within me. They were great at recognizing the strengths of the group, while they delegated, set expectations, and exemplified hard work. I didn’t need to speak the same language to recognize a person who gives 100 percent to every task, but I was very humbled and inspired by Julianna and Diego, and the service they showed.
Another couple left an indelible impression on my heart that I will remember forever, Don and Elaine Halenz. Don and Elaine actually accompanied my group from Pacific Union College, but it would be my first time meeting them. This couple, both age 83, and married for 60 years, decided to come on this trip, very aware of the trip’s extreme destination. They have been intermittent missionaries throughout their lives and here they were with all of us 20-somethings in the field again, working hard and never asking for any modifications. Never once did I hear them utter a complaint! I was incredibly humbled and inspired by Don and Elaine because they stand for everything I hope to be and live for when I am their age. Both of these couples, however, embodied what I believe true service is.
In essence, service to me is not a single action, but a lifestyle. It is a daily choice that leads up to multiple times making an intentional decision to be the best version of yourself in order to improve someone else’s existence. It is in everything we do, whether we are in the comforts of our homes or in a land far away from anything familiar. It is intentional modeling of Christ-like love continuously and consistently from moment to moment. I was incredibly blessed by my short-term experience on the ADRA Connections trip, and was reminded of the service I hope to exemplify all the days of my life.
Read more about the Amazon trip on Adventist Today.