Around the World in 5 Days
By Tina Frazer Buchner
What a wonderful way to start the New Year—hungry, cold, sleep-deprived and stressed! These conditions arose from Community Christian High School’s (CCHS) visit to the campus of SIFAT (Servants in Faith and Technology) in northeastern Alabama. But I do mean “wonderful,” because students learned life lessons, conquered challenges, and developed camaraderie with each other. And even more importantly, the experience was wonderful for the insight and compassion gleaned and cultivated by walking in the footsteps of our brothers and sisters in the third world.
As part of the leadership program at Community Christian High School, all high schoolers participate in a Winter Expedition (Winter Ex), a dedicated time away from home where students can actively develop and practice the leadership skills that they have been taught in the classroom. Outdoor treks, community service and time spent in silence and solitude with God and His Word are several of the activities used to promote following, serving and leading. The students are divided into teams of 4 or 5, with a “senior leader” (a high school student who has undergone special leadership training and evaluation) and then the team works together to tackle the many challenges thrown their way.
There was certainly no shortage of challenges this expedition! The school travelled to the tiny hamlet of Lineville, Alabama, and stayed at the campus of SIFAT. Founded by Methodist missionaries who served in various South American countries, this organization works to develop and train the local people groups from those countries on appropriate technology that improves living conditions in impoverished areas around the world.
To raise awareness of the desperate conditions that much of the world faces, SIFAT decided to simulate a little bit of the third world experience in northeastern Alabama. When our group arrived, after dumping most of our gear in the dorm/lodge, the program coordinator gathered us together and handed each of us a small potato sack. She instructed us to fill the sacks with what we needed for the night—flashlight, water and whatever else. We were also allowed a sleeping bag. Like ducklings, we followed her over the creek and through the woods. Then the hike stopped. In front of us stood two tough guys with machetes, telling us to dump our sacks out. We were going through “customs.” They took everything except the essential gear that the coordinator had listed including our hand warmers, our homemade granola, toothbrushes and even our pillows. The tough guys enjoyed eating our snacks while rifling through our stuff.
Once we made it through customs, we officially arrived at the Global Village: a group of homes built in the woods according to the style and custom of that country. We visited Bolivia and Guatemala and Nepal to name a few. After visiting several countries, we split into our teams (the chaperones were their own group) and told to cook supper at a certain country. We were handed dry rice, partially soaked beans, a few spices and a small pumpkin along with a big iron pot, 4 bowls and plastic spoons. We had to collect firewood, start a fire and try to cook as best we could. Did I mention that at this point the temperature was in the low 30s and most of the scavenged wood was soaked from two weeks of rain? Or that the girls spent that night on the dirt packed floor of Uganda and the boys on a bamboo stalk floor in the Philippines? Or that all the teams managed to start a fire and actually partially cook their supper? Or that no student tapped out during the frigid night, where temperatures dipped below freezing? But the next morning, we all gladly arose at the crack of dawn to seek the sunshine and the warmth of the community fire. We were then handed corn kernels, brown sugar and 3 apples, and told to grind the corn and cook our own breakfast! Apples have never tasted so good!
As hungry and cold as we were, that experience gave us further insight into the daily challenges that many people face every day of their lives. Needless to say, there were many more challenges the next few days that contributed more to our understanding and compassion for the poor around the world. We spent three hours one evening in an urban slum, searching for a source of income in the hopes of earning enough for food, water and shelter, as the slumlord kicked us out of any hovel. The lack of work made us feel desperate.
We learned that the fourth leading cause of death among women and children is smoke inhalation from cooking and tending fires in the home. Additionally, we were shown how to construct what is called a rocket stove, made from straw and mud, which greatly reduces exposure to smoke and requires less firewood. Various water purification systems were exhibited, always reflecting SIFAT’s policy of sustainable technology: the materials must be readily available, affordable and easy to troubleshoot.
As eye opening as all these experiences were, I was most impacted by the students themselves. Because of the excellence of the CCHS leadership program, my role seemed more like that of an observer than a chaperone. The team leaders made sure that their teammates were prepared and on time and on task. Team members made sure no one was left behind, dehydrated, or too cold during that long first night. There were times of worship and group sharing of how God was working in their lives during the week. Many of the students’ favorite part of Winter Expedition was actually blessing those who were there to serve us, from the program coordinator to the staff chef, the international trainer and even the maintenance crew.
Am I up for another Winter Expedition? You bet. More importantly, however, the students of Community Christian High School are up for life—following, serving and learning crucial leadership skills that will have an impact for Jesus Christ in this chaotic world.
Community Christian School is located in northeast Tallahassee. For more information, including pictures from the Winter Ex, visit ccs-chargers.org.