“It’s early in the morning; the humidity is stifling; the rain pours down.” Anastasia Benton and 15 other students from Avondale College of Higher Education are huddling together under a small tin roof on the boat they will call home for the next two days. They’re travelling up the Amazon River to some of the most remote villages in northern Brazil. Surrounded by lush green rainforest and exotic wildlife—alligators, anacondas, jaguars, macaws and piranhas—they zip up their life jackets as they embark on the journey.
The student team worked with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) to build toilets, which will improve hygiene and help the villagers “overcome sanitary problems affecting their community”, says Megan Townend.
Despite having less than us, they seemed to serve us more than we served them, and this made me reflect on my own priorities.
Team members looked to Megan, one of the leaders of the trip, as their problem solver, particularly when their supply of food dwindled. “We’d sent for food, but the boat was two days late in returning and we were struggling to feed everyone. We had enough food for only one or two more meals. So, we were pretty excited when we finally heard the boat approaching.”
The Brazil project is only one of the mission trips run by Avondale student club One Mission. Megan joined 43 of her classmates as volunteers in Brazil, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands over the summer.
One Mission team member, Mark Singh, with children from Boa Esperanca in Brazil.
Photo courtesy: Joel Slade
For the third consecutive year, a team visited the village of Maitom on the island of Negros Oriental in the Philippines. One Mission Philippines members have raised $70,000 over the three years, which they have used previously to build a classroom and now the first stage of an auditorium for the local Seventh-day Adventist school. Co-leader Tyson Dunne says the auditorium will be a valuable addition. “Besides enabling the school to host its own events, the auditorium will provide a source of income as the school hires it out to the local community.” The team has also used the money to run kids’ clubs and evangelistic programs, through which 60 people have been baptised.
The Solomon Islands team, also in its third consecutive year, ran kids’ clubs, conducted soccer clinics, taught English classes, led Bible studies and presented a series of worship meetings in the villages it visited. Team member Jamie Stanley says the generosity of the villagers moved him. “Their warmth and openness caught me off guard,” he said. “Despite having less than us, they seemed to serve us more than we served them, and this made me reflect on my own priorities.”
Jamie’s experience is common and creates a sense of community on campus, says One Mission co-leader Joel Slade. “It unites people with similar passions to do amazing things for God.” It is also central to the Avondale experience. “Mission trips and service projects give young adults a greater vision of world needs—they discover they can make a difference,” says Lake Macquarie campus chaplain and One Mission staff adviser, Dr Wayne French. “They return home with a heightened sense of their personal abilities and are inspired to make a difference in their local communities. It often changes the direction of their lives forever.”
The service culture on campus will grow this year. Joel’s goal is for more local community-based One Mission trips. “While serving overseas is important, we can’t forget our own backyard. I want everyone to experience the joy of service, and I want that joy to spread across campus.” Jessica Ennor is the face of a new partnership between ADRA Australia and Avondale. Employed by ADRA with support from Avondale, Mrs Ennor will assist One Mission by coordinating possible overseas service projects for students and providing training for mission trip leaders. “One Mission has the leaders and the students, ADRA has the projects. My role is to provide links between the two” she says.
The potential is exciting, notes Dr French. “Avondale’s administrators, staff members and student leaders recognise the importance of service and value the positive impact it makes on our student body,” he says.