With summer vacation comes freedom from school and responsibilities for many of Wilsonville's youth, but for a handful of Community of Hope Church members, this past summer served as an opportunity to give back and gain a one-of-a-kind experience at the same time.
For the first time in the church's history, a handful of Community Hope youth traveled to Santiago, Dominican Republic, on a mission trip to learn about a new culture and do their part at the same time.
The foundation for the mission trip started when Community of Hope Director of Student Services Hillary Krippaehne decided early on in her tenure with the church that an adventure to the Dominican Republic would benefit students. She had spent two years as a homeschool teacher in the Caribbean country herself, and had quickly fallen in love with the culture and people who live there.
Wanting to give Community of Hope's youth a similar opportunity, she returned the Dominican Republic in September to meet with the people she had stayed with during her time there. She wanted to reconnect but also figure out ways in which the church might be able to provide some help in the form of a service project.
She met with the wife of her local church's pastor, who had recently opened a pediatric ministry for a nearby low-income neighborhood, and discovered there was a perfect opportunity for her and her students.
"I went and visited for a day to tour their building and meet their kids, and the whole time I was thinking, 'Our youth aren't doctors or nurses, what could we do here?'" Krippaehne says . "I had the idea of prayer walks in the neighborhood or something, and she said a vacation bible school camp would be perfect."
Krippaehne and other members of the church spent the year reaching out to community members to garner interest and recruit students. She says it wasn't particularly hard, and soon enough the church had a group ready to embark on
their trip to the Dominican Republic.
"We raised money throughout the year with different fundraisers, and for about a month and a half we met every Sunday to practice songs, practice our Spanish and also teach students about the culture," Krippaehne says. "I didn't want them to be shocked by what they saw, because for many of them it was their first time even leaving the country."
Four students — Colby Garnett, Ben Carman, Brittany Sawyer and Annika Sellke — made the trek to the Dominican Republic. Accompanied by Krippaehne and parent chaperone Jim Garnett, the group arrived July 14 for an eight-day trip. They spent the first couple days exploring the city of Santiago while simultaneously prepping posters and materials for the vacation bible school. They worked alongside members of the local church to prepare games and activities, while getting to know locals at the same time.
Students say there was a bit of a culture shock, but
they quickly grew to love Santiago.
"At first it was a lot different and hard to get used to," Colby Garnett says, an incoming freshman at Wilsonville High. "The driving, they don't stay in their lanes, which is really weird. It was pretty scary. There is also trash everywhere all over the streets, that was another big one, but everyone was also a lot more inviting. That was really cool."
"It was very different than the U.S., with different foods, customs, and an entirely different language," Sellke says, a sophomore at Newberg High School. "My favorite part was how hospitable the people were, especially the kids. They didn't care that we were foreigners who didn't speak Spanish, they took care of us anyway."
After a few days of planning, Community of Hope was ready for their three-day camp, which lasted from 9:30-12:30 a.m. every day. They led 55 kids each day in Bible stories, crafts, songs and games. They finished off the camp with a giant group picture, preserving memories Community of Hope youth are likely to never forget.
"Travelling and serving opens your eyes up to so many neat things," Krippaehne says. "I know it was a great experience for me and for our youth as well. My goal is to make this a regular, yearly trip for our high school students."
There were a variety of adventures over the course of the eight-day trip — most notable of which was trying goat meat, according to Garnett. But students say learning about Dominican Republic culture and connecting with locals was their favorite part of the trip. If schedules permit they add that they'd love to return for another mission next year.
"My favorite part was making new friends and interacting with the kids. What I will remember most from the trip are the people who helped us and became our friends, and the kids that we taught," Sellke says.