For Sally Kraayenbrink, the best part of missionary work is forming friendships with people in other countries. However, it also requires making peace with the country's wildlife.
"Some on the team have trouble getting around all the reptiles and tarantulas that live in the dorm with us," Kraayenbrink said.
Kraayenbrink, a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church, in Fort Dodge, recently returned from a 10-day mission trip to Bohoc, Haiti, to work with an organization called United Christians International.
Sally Kraayenbrink reads to children at a United Christians International elementary school, during a recent 10-day mission trip to Haiti. Kraayenbrink said the kids got excited about books and reading even though she couldn’t speak their language.
She is also a former principal of St. Paul Lutheran School, in Fort Dodge.
While in Haiti, Kraayenbrink and a team of 15 volunteers from Orchard Hill Church, in Cedar Falls, helped with agricultural projects, taught at Vacation Bible Schools, led inservices for local teachers, and took time to meet and build relationships with the people.
"What I like about this mission trip is it's a good balance between building relationships and getting the work done," she said. "We're not focused on getting all the projects done, like saying to the Haitians, 'Get out of our way, we want to do all this work for you;' instead we're ... letting them know we're there to serve them."
An example of this occurred three years ago, when the men from a mission team were helping build an addition to the school.
"The men were helping put the roof on the school," she said. "The guys from our team started, and when the Haitians arrived, it wasn't the way they do it, so they tore it off again. It just sent a strong message to us to not assume we know the best way or the right way, but to respect their way of doing things. We always let them take the lead."
UCI has a focus on education and agriculture, Kraayenbrink said.
"It's amazing how quickly this ministry is developing," she said. "When I was there two years ago, in spring 2010, they basically had constructed a worship center ... and completed their first nutrition center. In just two years' time, they added a Christian elementary school and are up to seven nutrition centers. They're building a Bible and trade school/university, with three majors: religion, elementary education and agriculture."
The organization looks both to feeding people now, and helping them develop sustainability for the future.
"Their goal is to teach the people of Haiti to be self-sufficient. Through all these nutrition centers, they're feeding lots and lots of children, but they don't want it to always be that way. The leaders have said, ... we want to teach the parents how to feed their own children, and support their own family."
Kraayenbrink's team helped clear brush, rock and roots out of some fields.
"When that was done, they were showing us how they're creating their gardens. We were there to assist with the planting," Kraayenbrink said.
But her favorite part was working with the kids.
"I'm a teacher and a school administrator, so any time we're teaching and working with the children is my favorite part of the trip," she said. "At three different locations we led Vacation Bible School."
The group sang songs with the kids, taught Bible verses, and split the kids into three groups to do craft time, snack time, and recreational time just like in any Bible school back in the U.S., she said. However, in the second most food insecure country in the world, snack time took on heightened meaning.
"The snack time is vitally important because many of these kids are malnourished, so we'd serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a cup of juice. We sent as much food home as we could, because that may possibly feed their family for the evening."
Kraayenbrink helped read to and play with the kids, and they seemed to soak it up, even with the language barrier.
"Even though they couldn't understand my words when I was reading a story to them, I could model enthusiasm for books, and how to turn the pages, how to follow the story through using the pictures to tell the story. That was fun, the kids got really excited about that," she said.
"They don't have books in their homes, and don't have toys; everything's new to them. They'll sit down at a puzzle and don't know what to do with it, they've never seen it before."
The conditions are more primitive than what North Americans are used to, she said.
"We take cold showers and drink warm water," she said. "I'm not a real adventurous eater, so the food is sometimes a hurdle for me.
"It's a little unnerving the first time as we land on the grass runway there."
And, of course, there are the aforementioned lizards and spiders.
"They say tarantulas are very passive; if we leave them alone they won't disturb us," she said. "It's not unusual to see geckos all over on the walls in our dormitory. Sometimes they're outside the screen and sometimes they're inside. They just come and go as they please."
She said this was her third trip to the country, and she plans to go back.
"Probably the first thing you notice is the people. The people are so open, so warm, so loving, they just welcome us with open arms.
"Once you go you're hooked. You want to go back and continue."
Kraayenbrink got involved with the Cedar Rapids church because her sister-in-law is a member there. In the future, she hopes to get more people from her own church involved.
"Part of my goal is to establish a team from here. Whether it's through St Paul, or the Fort Dodge community, I'm hoping to be a team leader some day and take my own group down to Haiti.
"It's fun after being there to form those relationships. One of our team members said, you know, you step off the airplane the first time down there and you look into all these faces of strangers. The second time you come, you step off the plane and look into the faces of friends."
Contact Joe Sutter at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org