Student veterans are humble servants to the people of Ghana

By Kim Chaudoin on 8/1/2011



 Elijah Fetzko treats children at a medical clinic at Village of Life Orphanage.
 April Herrington and Susannah Leonard with the children of Bakpa.
 The Lipscomb mission team.

Below are thoughts from first-time mission trip leader Kim Chaudoin, director of university communication and marketing.

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Sometimes in life you get to experience something that is much bigger than yourself … something that turns your world upside down … and you know that you will never be the same.
For nearly two decades, I have had the opportunity to write about numerous service projects and mission trips. Lipscomb students, faculty and staff have served untold numbers of people throughout the world through mission trips. However, it wasn’t until two weeks ago that I participated in my first mission trip. It was an amazing chance to observe our students serving others first-hand. And it has changed my life.
I had the good fortune of co-leading a team of six student veterans representing three branches of military service, along with my colleague David K. Hughes, director of the Yellow Ribbon Program. Hundreds of students participate in mission trips every year and we wanted to provide a special opportunity for our student veterans to participate in a mission trip to immerse them in the Lipscomb experience. (Most of our Yellow Ribbon students are older than a traditional undergraduate student and often have families and jobs that keep them from being fully engaged in campus life.) So last fall we began planning an experience that we hoped would be meaningful and make a lasting impression on our student veterans.
On June 25, we embarked on a journey that took us more than 12,000 miles via plane, bus and boat, to the village of Kete Krache on Lake Volta in Ghana, Africa. The group partnered with Brentwood’s Dr. David Vanderpool and his team from Mobile Medical Disaster Relief (MMDR) on a weeklong journey to this third world country to serve the poor by installing water purification systems and conducting medical clinics on three islands in the area.
I have always been proud of the way our students represent themselves and the university through mission trips and in the community. On this mission I had the opportunity to witness this special group of students demonstrating the true nature of servanthood —getting their hands dirty and putting everyone else’s needs above their own.
Serving others comes naturally to our student veterans. In choosing the military, they made the ultimate commitment to serve. That heart for service often remains with them long after they leave the military to pursue other paths in life. So, the fact that they were eager to serve others on this trip did not surprise me. But, the depth to which they embraced this opportunity and the way they participated was very humbling to me. Each day the student veterans saw the need and filled the need, always looking for a way to help and never having to be told what to do. They cared for the people in the villages as if they were their very own brothers and sisters and showed them a love and respect that we all long for.
Our work conditions weren’t easy. We found lodging on the top floor of the partially air conditioned Kete Krache Credit Union, and for the majority of the trip were without toilets, electricity or running water. No one ever complained. They were just grateful for what they did have. And, we found ourselves amazed at the joy that we saw in the people that we served in the villages who lived in those conditions their entire lives and didn’t know what modern conveniences they were missing out on.
The mission took our team to the islands of Bakpa, Manayekpo and Lala on Lake Volta, the very polluted source of drinking water for the region. (Bottled water became our lifeline as we fought against dehydration but knew we couldn’t drink any water we would find on the islands or from the faucet in our resting place each night.) We partnered in Ghana with the Touch a Life Foundation in Kete Krache to work with the Village of Life orphanage to identify locations to serve. We began each day eating breakfast at the orphanage before embarking on an hour-and-a half-long ride across Lake Volta in a boat that was barely hanging together but faithfully delivered us to the remote islands targeted for this mission. The villages have no electricity or running water.
Each day’s work included installing 900-gallon water tanks with purification systems that provide clean drinking water to villagers as well as conducting medical clinics to treat scabies, ring worm, parasites, cuts and other medical needs. In these clinics, the team treated nearly a thousand men, women and children over our five-day visit. Hundreds of people at each stop crowded the clinic workers in hopes of being treated. Our students worked tirelessly for hours until they treated everyone who gathered. They always kept a smile on their face and a great attitude in their hearts.
Some of the most touching moments were watching our students wash the legs and feet of the villagers that were caked with mud and then treating their ailments. Often, they would sing to and talk to those they were treating — even when they didn’t speak the same language. They treated everyone with love. And, the villagers loved them back.
At each stop the team was also surrounded by throngs of laughing, happy children who were excited to have visitors to their village. Each and every one of our team members spent a lot of time interacting with the children — running, playing, singing, listening and loving them. One of our team members had a real gift for connecting with the children and became the “pied piper” of our group. He not only brightened the day for the children, but for all of his teammates as well.
I could not be more proud of a group of students than I am of the student veterans who allowed me to share this experience with them. I have enormous respect for their servant spirits, their work ethic and their love for others. When you’re in the middle of Africa with none of the modern conveniences that we’re used to here in America and working together, you really get to know what a person is really like. And, our student veterans are great reflections of what we hope all of our students represent. I know that my life has been forever impacted because of the humble servants that I shared nine days of my life with. We laughed together. We held each other up when we were weary. We cried together. And we loved each other … and the people of Ghana.