This summer, while many people vacationed or hung out by the pool, a group of local high school students worked to make lives better in Ecuador for 10 days in July.
The 13 students worked for months to raise the money for the trip, which was the first of its kind the youth group of St. Paul United Church of Christ in Waterloo has done internationally in a while.
Mina Feilner, a member of the youth group and one of the international travelers, said life was very different in Ecuador.
“We helped build a house for a family of three on the son’s farmland,” Feilner said.
They barely used any power tools, aside from a cement mixer.
Emily Taake, another youth group member and traveler, said she appreciates what she has after visiting Ecuador.
“We really learned to appreciate all we have,” she said. “The house was so minimal, but they all just work together really well.”
Mina’s brother, Jeff, also went on the trip as a part of the group and said he hopes to go on another trip, either to Ecuador or some other country like Haiti.
“When I came back, I felt like I changed a lot,” he said. “It’s just a whole different lifestyle and culture from there to here.”
The group worked building the house during the week for around eight hours a day and got to travel on the weekends.
They visited the equator, schools, daycares and local attractions like outdoor markets, all while battling the language barrier.
“We only had so many translators, but we made it work,” Taake said.
The group as a whole said the families they worked with were some of the friendliest people they had ever met.
Though they went in July, the group stayed up in the mountains where it was cool, not by the coast where it is warmer.
The capital of Quito was about two hours away.
Fundraising for the trip began last November, and the group did everything from raking leaves to chili cook-offs to bake sales to raise money.
They were able to raise $14,000 from last November to July 2013 before they left.
One of the more entertaining fundraising activities the group put on involved kidnapping the youth director, Jane Kramer.
“We told the congregation they had to raise $2,000 before we let her go,” Mina said with a laugh. “They ended up raising that money alone in just the first service that Sunday.”
Kramer said she is extremely proud of the group and everything they did to make the most of their trip.
“They worked so hard during their time in Ecuador and completed more construction on the house than any other group has in past years,” Kramer said. “They really bonded before, during and after this trip.”
Kramer said since they have returned from the trip, the group has been busy spreading the word to other organizations and church gatherings for future years. One of the travelers, Jessica Chapman, has even decided to pursue becoming a national ambassador after she completes college.
“They are truly showing what it means to be God with skin on,” Kramer said.
The church hopes to offer the international trip every four years, along with in-country mission trips yearly.
“They always exceed my expectations as far as what I think they will and can achieve,” Kramer said. “With this group, I never know what to expect!”
The group from Waterloo and Columbia who participated were: Nick Busch, Jessica Chapman, Austin Evans, Jeff Feilner, Mina Feilner, Jennifer Fohrell, Sarah Kimme, Alexis Matzenbacher, David Matzenbacher, Andy Mayer, Quinn, Rudloff, Kendra Schmieg and Emily Taake.
Others who joined from other locations in Illinois South Conference were Jerry Bennett, Kent Lytle, Janet McCready, Beth Rosenthal. They were from Highland, Edwardsville and Carbondale.