By Ryan Kryska
GCU News Bureau
The lesson of love has taken on a whole new meaning for 23 Grand Canyon University students who returned recently from a vocational mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
The Honors College students spent 12 days learning from professionals in their field, but the college’s program manager, Luke Amargo, said the group’s learning spanned beyond the confines of any classroom.
“Students got to really focus on how to love people,” Amargo said. “What does it mean to truly love someone?”
For example, junior Emily McKibben‘s experience with the family of a volleyball player exceeded any lesson to be learned on a court. After a night of watching the team play, the sports management major was invited to dinner at a family of five’s one-bedroom home.
“The mom made a feast,” McKibben said as she recalled the tight quarters where a table and chairs were the only things that seemingly stood out. “She completely went out of her way.”
McKibben and the other honors students who elected to follow the sports track went to an elementary school and observed gym class. They helped with after-school activities and witnessed the Dominican’s rendition of a youth gymnastics competition.
“It was a lot more to get the kids out of their home situation — less competitive,” McKibben said. “The joy they had. … It gave me an eye-opening experience to how we see things in the States. The Lord was at the center of everything we did, and the kids wanted to learn about that.”
Maria Gonzalez, a pre-med sophomore, was able to see the medical side of middle-class life in the Caribbean country. She said her group did multiple home visits, where some injuries were severe and others were routine.
“We tried to establish a very comfortable environment,” Gonzalez said. “We slowly got into the diagnosis and we got to see how the nurse and doctor prescribed to them. Most of all, we brought love into their homes. It’s just a huge reminder of how many blessings we have over here in the United States.”
Her group also observed health care from the inside of two different clinics, one tailored to impoverished communities and the other to people who could afford the care.
“They were all amazing,” Gonzalez said. “We learned a lot from both of them. It was a beautiful experience and I really want to go again. Besides the medical aspect of everything, the reason I want to be a physician is for the personal relationships, and that’s what I saw there.”
Amargo said each student on the trip received the opportunity to lead a Bible study. He said they opened their hearts to each other — and more importantly — to the community.
“People who are poor, all they have is their reputation, their relationships,” Amargo said.
The group frequented a chapel on their trip, outfitted with plastic chairs, ceiling fans and a couple of musical instruments. Across from the lectern, there’s a wall painted brick by brick by students who have visited the chapel on mission trips.
The Honors College group painted its first brick this year in its third year of visiting the Dominican Republic, immortalizing GCU at the small-town chapel.
And as for the chapel’s community — well, it surely has painted itself on the students, too.
Contact Ryan Kryska at (602) 639-8415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.