Four students from the Crossroads Christian Fellowship – Jason Harris '00, Dan Popkave '00, Cassie Gyuricza '00 and Ben Farmer '01 – will pass up package trips to Vermont, the Bahamas and Cancun to travel to war-ravaged Rwanda during Intersession to teach English and participate in a Christian outreach project.
Harris said he first devised the plan for the mission trip after speaking with members of his local church who have contacts in Rwanda with Worldvision, an international Christian relief organization. Popkave, Gyuricza and Farmer got involved when Harris opened the trip to members of Crossroads, a small Christian group on campus.
The four students, who are financing the trip themselves, have spent the past few months raising money for the project.
The group will convene with members of Worldvision when they get to Rwanda. After spending a few nights in Kigali, the capital, the group will travel to Mudasomwa, a small town in southwestern Rwanda where they will teach an English phonics program.
The phonics program is one of two Worldvision ventures that the students considered. The other possibility was a reconciliation effort in the northern region of the nation where teams are working to bring together the perpetrators and victims of ethnic violence.
Fighting between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups has wracked the tiny East African nation for most of the past century, exploding in the 1994 ethnic cleansing of the Tutsi minority by a Hutu-led government and military.
While the new year in Rwanda opened with United Nations-led genocide tribunal hearings and relative peace, ethnic tension in the country remains strong. In light of the potentially volatile atmosphere, the four students will travel with an armed guard, Popkave said.
Despite this safety consideration, the students said they expect the trip to go smoothly and that they feel strongly about their reasons for going.
"Certainly, we're motivated by our Christian faith, and our aim is to try to serve," Harris said.
"I think that each of us felt that this was something that God wanted us to do," Farmer said.
Gyuricza said she hopes this trip will lead her to future involvement in similar projects. "I've always wanted to go to Africa and am looking into doing something like this next year," she said.
Harris pointed out that the group hopes to come away with as much as they contribute during the trip, noting that spiritual strength can be gained from people whose poverty has led them to a daily reliance on faith.
Popkave – who has been involved in mission work since travelling with his high school soccer team to Jamaica – said he looks forward to the trip as "an opportunity to interact with people from different cultures." He added that he considers going to Africa "the chance of a lifetime."