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Mission trips bring fun and hard work

LINDEN-Two local youth from Cornerstone Church in Linden who recently returned from separate mission trips have arrived back in Marengo County wiser and grateful. Jake Oakes, 16 and Lauren Dickie, 17, recently traveled to Panama and Mexico for extended stays and in their visits learned how lucky we are in the United States and what a huge difference they can make on the rest of the world.

Oakes, who spent three weeks in Panama, said the first week there was very different, but some of the comforts of home were still available.

“My first full week in country I went to San Feliz, which really wasn’t like a village it was more like a small run down town,” Oakes said. “They actually had electricity and running water and things like that.”

Once the group arrived it was straight to work. Oakes said they grabbed shovels and Bibles and immediately tried to make an impact.

“We dug a hole for a septic tank that was six feet deep, 15 feet across and 12 feet wide,” Oakes said. “Every afternoon we did Vacation Bible School with the kids. We did a lot of house-to-house ministry and got to know the kids around there too. It eventually led up to starting a ministry for them. We spent a whole lot of time with the kids.”

Dickie, who spent a week in Mexico, said her experience was similar.

“We had three separate teams and in the morning two of them would work on building houses,” Dickie said. “We actually ended up building three houses while we were there. The teams would be divided up into different groups where some would build and the others would go minister to the people in the town. That was one of my favorite parts. Getting to know the kids in the area.”

On both trips the impact of their hard work was felt by young and old. Oakes said they were greeted by one local youth right away who was by their side throughout the trip.

“There was a little boy there named Mohammad who was about 12 or 13,” Oakes said. “He was literally there as soon as we dropped off our backpacks. We had to make him go home at night and every morning when we woke up he was there at the church.”

Oakes said the young man was so enthused by the group he even spent his quiet time with them.

Dickie’s group also had a positive impact on one particular young man. She said a chance meeting turned into a special miracle they would never forget.

“While we were out we met a lady whose son had a tumor on his neck,” Dickie said. “We prayed with him for healing and financial stability and we went back there two days later and she told us an American had offered to pay for half of his $1,000 surgery and someone else offered to pay the other half. That was pretty cool.”

Near the end of their trip Oakes said they also had a life changing impact on a local man who has in turn, impacted many other lives.

“We got a young man named Santiago saved while we were down there,” Oakes said. “They have actually gotten him to the point where he has his own Bible study.”

Both said the experience was life changing. Oakes said one of the most memorable experiences from the trip was also one of the most strenuous.

“The coolest thing we did in Ortensia was the mountains,” Oakes said. “We thought we were going to be building a larger pavilion for the church and they told us we were going to pick up some supplies. We figured we were going about four huts down.”

Oakes said they started on a long trip over the river, through a field across a stream and into a jungle. Then proceeded to climb a rock wall until they hit a waterfall. Oakes said they then climbed upward, scaling a mudslide with only tree trunks to hold onto.

“You literally had to stick you hands in the mud and climb while you slid,” Oakes said. “You would climb and slide and cross over and finally think you were there and you would get there and they would point to another mountain and say we were going over there.”

Oakes said they cut around 200 palm branches a day, stacked them and threw them on their shoulders and hiked back down again. They did so on three separate occasions.

Dickie said one of her most memorable experiences was not the most pleasant, but turned out to be enlightening.

“We went to the dump one day and it was hard to see people working in the dump to see what they could salvage and living there,” Dickie said. “We would see two and three year old kids, dead animals all over the road. A lot of us just started crying seeing how horrible the conditions were.”

Dickie said conditions worsened steadily until an event showed them that everything was going to be okay.

“As we went along it seemed like it just got worse and worse,” Dickie said. “We finally saw a house and walked in and as we were walking a Monarch butterfly landed right in the middle of one of the trash piles and it was like “wow.” It was really a reminder that God actually used places like that for good stuff. There is beauty in places like that you just have to look for it.”

Dickie said they ended up finding several Christian families in the dump, talked to them and played with the kids.

“The families were really open,” Dickie said. “They went in their houses and brought out all their couches and chairs so we would have somewhere to sit. We talked about our culture, their culture and lots of other things while we were there.”

Both Dickie and Oakes are heavily involved with the youth of Cornerstone Church in Linden. Their contributions to the church extend from teacher and mentor to cutting the grass and general maintenance of the church. Both agreed their trips were well worth the tough experiences and would like to go again.