Local missionaries return from teaching English in Peru
A compassionate heart and a willingness to say “yes” is all it can take to transform lives and create a future for children and families in impoverished regions.
That is what a group of 42 missionaries from six area churches realized during a trip to a shantytown outside of Lima, Peru, this January.
The mission trip was through Peruvian Partners, a multi-faceted ministry founded by David and Gina Stavros, formerly of Plymouth. David is a former youth director for Wayzata Free Church and former assistant football coach for Wayzata High School.
The couple’s mission work began in Peru in 1987, and within 10 years they established a church and opened a safe house for children on the street in Flores de Villa.
Eventually, as Peruvians were displaced from the mountains by terrorists in the 1990s and “established their scrap lumber homes” amidst a former landfill, the couple sought a preventative approach to poverty by providing education and leadership. The ultimate goal of Peruvian Partners is to serve the disadvantaged of Flores de Villa by bringing them spiritual, physical and economic hope and essentially “helping them help themselves.”
As part of a week-long mission trip, members of six churches in Plymouth, Wayzata, Edina, and Maple Grove, taught English as part of a summer camp for the village children. Peruvian Partners began the summer English camp 13 years ago with just 12 children. The camp has since grown to 700 children being taught each year (12 classrooms at two sections a day).
Though English is a subject in high school, it is poorly taught, said Gina Stavros.
“These summer classes are an encouragement and impetus for kids to really want to dig in and learn English well,” she said. “It motivates them.”
The idea is that through English and education, the cycle of poverty can be broken, explained Ranelle Kuehl, a member of the Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, who took her first trip to Peru 10 years ago and now coordinates the annual mission trip.
Up to four teachers (missionaries) are assigned to each classroom, and with the help of a translator, teach the youth basic English terms. One doesn’t need to be a teacher, for even children, who are on the mission trip, help teach the students, Ranelle noted.
Before each class, the students get time to color. “[The children] see a box of crayons, and they think it’s the greatest thing,” said Julie Hoogenakker, a member of Plymouth Covenant Church, who returned from her sixth mission trip to Peru. “They don’t want to stop coloring because they don’t have coloring crayons at home,” Ranelle added.
Since the English camp is for ages 5-20, youth are encouraged to participate in the mission trip. “The kids break open the doors for the adults,” Ranelle said. “They are the heart of the mission team.”
Ranelle’s 16-year-old son, Crosby, has been going since he was in first grade, as well as her two grown daughters.
“[This trip] has literally changed their lives,” Ranelle said, noting that her daughter is now in Seattle teaching fourth-graders in which English is not their first language.
Lisa’s 14-year-old son Jacob said he keeps going each year because he loves seeing the people, teaching English and spreading God’s love. It’s also “super fun.”
This trip has also made him realize just how lucky he really is. “Even though I go down there to teach, I feel like I’m the one learning life lessons,” he said.
A testament to the impact the school has had on the youth in Peru, the mission group witnessed children lined up outside the school starting at 4 a.m. to register for this year’s English camp.
While there, the Ministry of Education took notice of the English camp and were “impressed with the didactic way the classes were taught,” Gina explained. “The truth is that the love the teachers emanated inspires the students to do their best and to participate.”
At the end of the English camp, kids have a chance to sign up for a year-long small group Bible study through Peruvian Partners as a way of providing love and support through the year. “That is when real permanent change takes place,” Gina said.
This year, 213 kids ages 14 and older signed up for the year-long Bible study. “It was incredible,” Ranelle said of the participation.
In addition to those missionaries whose desires are to work in the English camp, Peruvian Partners also looks for people to make a greater commitment by sponsoring one of the families.
“What we’re really looking for are people who want to be in it for the long haul,” Ranelle said; people who are willing to invest in these family’s lives year-round not only financially, but emotionally.
Julie explained how she keeps in touch via e-mail with the family she supports throughout the year with the help of Gina who hand-delivers the letters and translates them for the family in Peru. “We’re staying close to them. It’s nice,” she said.
It is these relationships that sustains the program, and in turn provides a partnership in which everyone involved can grow and be transformed.
“We can’t imagine not going back now,” Ranelle said, noting they have made life-long relationships with the families in the Flores de Villa community.
She also sees how God is working through this partnership, she said.
“We get to see it first-hand – eyes open – what he is doing there, and it’s amazing,” Ranelle said.
“You can see how one life can transform people,” Julie said, explaining how by one student being involved in the English camp can make a positive impact on the entire family.
For information on the Peruvian Partners, visit peruvianpartners.net.
Contact Kristen Miller at [email protected]