by Lisa & Dan Kunkleman
“Oh wow! I didn’t know you could to that; just go on a family mission trip. I wish we had known it was okay to do that.” Dudley Stone grinned as he greeted us after church the Sunday Walt announced our family and a couple of friends were travelling to do mission work in Chimbote, Peru, a Pacific coastal fishing city of over 400,000. We were stepping out of our comfort zone with help from our savings and our children’s educational funds, pet sitters, and a lot of prayer. It was late July, 2013 and with three rising high school juniors, Sarah, Sam, and Joe, and their engaged older sister, Danielle, a recent UNCC graduate, we decided the opportune time was upon us. Who knew when our four kids would have free time to travel all together again? Between Lisa and Danielle being part of the 2008 Providence Youth Chimbote, Peru Mission Trip and Dan’s three prior visits, preparation came easily and we knew what to expect regarding our accommodations, food, and long travel time by plane and for a seven hour bus ride across a desert. We were delighted that our friends, Jamie Belongea, and her son Eric, a rising junior and best friend of our boys, agreed to join us.
Jamie said of the trip: Eric, 16, and I decided that a service trip was the best choice for his first international travel. The opportunity to experience authentic local culture and daily life would strengthen our understanding and appreciation of the world around us. For years we have heard of Father Jack’s mission and knew that we could contribute in a meaningful way to the people of Chimbote. To share the trip with the Kunkleman family was a bonus – their enthusiasm, prior experiences, skill and warm welcome made the decision to go easy. We were in!! As intended, the trip has a lasting positive impression on us. Supporting Chimbote – near or far – is something we will choose to do.
Mission work is a bit addicting. Staying in rough accommodations, not so much. That’s the beauty of the Catholic Parish missionaries many reside in while in Chimbote. Nice beds and a real shower are perks but add in three fine meals with fresh mango and avocado after a long international trip or a full day’s work and it makes this mission work unusually pleasurable. Top it off with the kindest people who have almost nothing but huge hearts, smiles and hugs for the American Gringos and it’s easy to feel welcome.
On our first day we painted an older woman’s block home. She sang as she reached into the thin blue liquid and sloshed blue paint in every spot we missed using her hands as a brush. Other days we tore out over half of two side-by-side esterra-or basket-weave walled homes and rebuilt additional bedrooms so the children living there no longer had to sleep with their parents. We also provided new beds, bedding, and secure front doors.
It is not all work. We spent a lot of time playing with kids, petting animals from dogs to donkeys, and working on our Spanish. People of Chimbote play volleyball and soccer in the streets and we joined in when time allowed. Those not playing, socialized, took pictures, and lifted the volleyball net high enough to allow a stray car to travel through the street.
Several evenings each week, after supper, we attended masses at one of four locations around the city. The music and mass though completely in Spanish translates well enough to all. Dogs that lie around the streets all day, wander in and lie down in the service as well. All are welcome.
Participating in activities with the people we serve further cements our friendship with the people.
It is a ministry of presence. The friendship, kindness, appreciation and love given by the people of Chimbote in return is more than enough payment for long air flights and bus rides across a desert that looks like a lunar landscape. While we wanted nothing in return, we know, when serving others, you always receive far more than you give.
So, yes, Dudley, it can be done. Families, small groups, and individuals can go on mission trips. We have been fortunate as volunteer youth leaders to take many summer Youth Mission Trips within the U.S., and now that our first self-directed international one is complete, we look forward to what opportunities lie ahead. It might have been the trip of a lifetime, but really we hope it is the first of more to come. Leaving a legacy of service, kindness, and love while having some of the best times of one’s life seems very much like these words from Acts 20:35, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’.”