Two Who Help International Students in Small Ways That Turn Out to Be Very Big

March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m going to brag on a couple friends of mine. Both of them are shining examples of devoted service to the international students who come to our communities. Both of them live in small cities in the Midwest: one in Pittsburg, Kansas, and the other in Joplin, Missouri. And while they are content to serve in quiet ways, each has recently been highlighted in local media.

Helping Students Get Around . . . on Two Wheels

1653027386_4dba5e754a_qFor over three decades, Don Smith—through Campus Christians—has been ministering to the students at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. Throughout that time, more and more of those students have come from other countries.

In fact, today, a significant part of Don’s work is collecting, repairing, and distributing bicycles to the more than 450 international students at PSU. It was this bicycle ministry that caught the attention of The Joplin Globe, which ran a story about him.

Don told The Globe that he got the idea to loan bikes to international students 30 years ago, when he saw a similar program at the University of Missouri. That story means something to me, as I was a student at MU 30 years ago, living at the Christian Campus House, the place where Don got his inspiration. A few years later, I became the campus minister to inernationals at CCH and took over the bike ministry. But Don’s efforts go well beyond anything that I was able to do.

One of the first lessons he learned was how to keep bikes in the program. It was easy to give bicycles out. “But the first year,” Don told The Globe, “not one bike came back. Not one.”

The solution came in two parts: using stronger locks and charging a deposit of $35, which is refunded when the bike is returned. That’s increased the return rate to about 75%.

Since the beginning of July, Don has distributed 200 bikes. And as word has gotten around, American students are taking advantage of the ministry as well.

Word certainly has gotten around, not only about the bikes but about all the work that Don is doing. Two years ago, he received the Ralf J. Thomas Distinguished Service Award from PSU, and last month he and his wife were honored by Ozark Christian College, their alma mater, with the Seth Wilson Outstanding Alumnus Award.

(Andra Bryan Stefanoni, “Have Bike, Will Travel: Campus Minister Provides Wheels to Students,” The Joplin Globe, February 14, 2014)

A Mom to Many

2956042901_4e983192a0_q“Mom.” That’s what scores of international students at Joplin’s Missouri Southern State University call Linda Keifer. For nine years, she and her husband, Jerry, have invited guest from around the world into their home.

“It started with a few, and then they invited their friends,” Linda told The Chart, Missouri Southern’s student newspaper. “This is what God wanted us to do.”

Several students also shared in the article what they liked about being part of the Keifers’ extended “family”:

“It’s family Sunday: to eat, relax, listen to each other, to talk about worries, hopes, dreams and wishes,” said Stephanie Kiessling from Germany. “They are sharing the American tradition and the international students [are] sharing theirs as well.”

And Lei Lei, from China, said, “When I speak to them, I feel like I’m talking to a genuine mother and father. They make me feel appreciated, welcomed, and at home.”

Linda’s ministry came full circle last year when she and Jerry traveled to Asia, becoming the guests and receiving hospitality from the students and their families.

Being part of a family means sharing in the highs and lows. So when Linda was diagnosed with colon cancer last year, the students gathered around the Keifers and comforted them. That comfort has continued as Linda has gone through surgery and receives treatment.

Just a few weeks ago, Jerry told me how much the students’ kindness has meant to them. That’s often the way it is: When we reach out to help others, we often receive as much, if not more, than we give.

(Xiaoyu “Jamie” Wu, “Mom Opens Home to Students,” The Chart, October 31, 2013)

Don and Linda wouldn’t meet a strict definition of “globally famous,” but that doesn’t mean they haven’t gained international fame, at least among those who have been touched by their simple generosity, by those who call them friends . . . and sometimes “Mom” or “Dad.”

[photos: “Bicycle,” by JMC Photos, used under a Creative Commons license; “Door Knob,” by zizzybaloobah, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Our TCK Makes Plans for the Peace Corps—Wait, Not So Fast

November 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

Here’s another article from my son Peter. It’s about his time at the Summer Peace Institute in San José, Costa Rica, and also about his post-graduation plans. Peter spent nearly half his life overseas before graduating from high school, so another trip to another culture should have been a piece of cake, right? And heading back to Asia with the Peace Corps shouldn’t be a problem, either. Here, Peter shares about how it can be hard to cross cultures alone, even for a TCK.

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Peter (in yellow shirt) enjoys the Costa Rican outdoors with some of his friends in the Summer Peace Institute.

In 1999, my family and I left Joplin, Mo., for the other side of the world—Taipei, Taiwan. Before that, I’d never been outside the Midwest, let alone the United States.

If you are not familiar with Taiwan, it is a small tobacco-leaf-shaped island off the southeast coast of China, having about one-fifth the land area of Missouri with four times the population.

When we took our first trip to Taiwan, my parents were in the process of considering whether they wanted to become missionaries there. We spent two weeks traveling around the island, sightseeing and meeting Taiwanese friends who had once been international students at Pittsburg State University and at my father’s alma mater, the University of Missouri.

Two years later, my family and I left Joplin again for Taiwan. This time, I stayed for eight years.

After I graduated high school, I returned to Joplin to attend MSSU. I have enjoyed my time at this university more than any other time in my life, but now I am near the end. I will graduate this December with two bachelor’s degrees and, like many of you, still have no idea what I want to do next.

Well, I should not say, “No idea.”

Ever since returning from Taiwan, I have been fascinated by the world outside Joplin, outside Missouri, outside the US. I had tasted another culture—Taiwanese food is delicious, by the way—and I was ready to experience more.

When I heard about the Peace Corps, it sounded like a perfect fit. Started in 1958, the Peace Corps is a US government-run volunteer program that sends American citizens out into the world to learn about other cultures and serve the people of developing countries. Volunteers spend two year stints anywhere from Zambia to China to Peru to Jordan.

About six months ago, I submitted an application for the Peace Corps. Even before that, I had watched as two friends, fellow MSSU students and past McCaleb winners Luke and Caitlan Smith, were sent off by the Peace Corps to Rwanda.

By the time I left for Costa Rica, I was several months into the Peace Corps application process.

During the UPEACE-Berkeley program, I got to talk with two people who have experience with the Peace Corps: Dr. Jerry Sanders, a former Peace Corps volunteer [and co-founder of World Policy Journal and director of the Summer Peace Institute], and Manuel Davila, a former employee of the Honduran Peace Corps office. I asked them about their thoughts on the Peace Corps.

Sanders volunteered in Colombia in the 1970s and became disenchanted with the Peace Corps halfway through his two years there.

“I wasn’t any more satisfied with [the Peace Corps’s] policies—so-called development policies—than I was with the war in Vietnam,” he said.

Sanders felt the policies prevented efficiency. He encouraged me to go into the Peace Corps with a willingness to criticize the system.

Davila said the volunteers he met had great experiences, and he became friends with some of them. He told me the Peace Corps takes very good care of its volunteers.

I thought my time in Costa Rica would make me more excited for the Peace Corps. Instead, it made me realize how hard the Peace Corps would be. Though I had lived and traveled internationally, I had always done it with family or friends.

By the end of my first day in Costa Rica, I had already faced several difficulties.

My luggage was held up in Houston, Texas, so I lacked a change of clothes, toiletries, and even cleaning solution for my contacts. I was overwhelmed by 30 students whom I had never met before and who already seemed to know each other. I could not keep up the lectures on topics I had never studied. I could not speak Spanish. I did not know my way around town and got myself lost wandering home from the bus stop.

As I familiarized myself with my host town, learned a few Spanish phrases and befriended—and was befriended by—the other students, I felt more and more comfortable in Costa Rica.

Some of my favorite moments of the trip were whitewater rafting down the Pecuare River, learning how to say “God bless you” in Spanish, taking walks around my host town, visiting the Caribbean coast, trying new Costa Rican dishes, having intellectual and non-intellectual discussions with fellow students and watching soccer on television with my host family.

Nevertheless, being away from my family, my church community and my other close friends in Joplin was difficult throughout the trip.

While I truly enjoyed my time in Costa Rica, it did open my eyes to the realities of living overseas by myself.

In a Facebook message about the Peace Corps, Luke Smith writes, “The hardest part for me though has just been being away from my family. Diet and living conditions are a cake walk compared to not being able to see the people you love.”

Two weeks into this semester, I received a Peace Corps invitation to volunteer in Indonesia as a secondary English teacher, with a March starting date. I was given seven days to make my decision.

About an hour later, I decided to decline it. It feels like the coward’s move. But right now, I am not ready for the Peace Corps, and that is okay.

Now I am trying to figure out what is next. I will still graduate in December, and I still have no jobs waiting for me. Though I am not yet ready to live in Indonesia for two years, I am ready to explore more of the US, especially her big cities.

I do not plan to give up my aspirations of international studies. I know if I do move somewhere like Chicago or Philadelphia, I will meet people from other countries and cultural backgrounds, and that is exciting.

Maybe I will pursue a master’s degree in international relations. I am still very interested in cross-cultural issues. I follow global current events in my free time, and I try to pick up bits and pieces of other languages.

My thirst for cultural diversity will never be quenched. The Peace Corps may still be in my future, but I am not looking that far ahead. I am looking at what is next, one decision at a time.

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