May 26, 2009
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - While most other students were planning on relaxing and heading home after finals week, several Purdue student-athletes were preparing for their mission trip to Haiti with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The students visited a small mission in Haiti called Double Harvest from May 10 to 18.
Purdue athletics chaplain Marty Dittmar has been taking student-athletes on this mission trip for the past 16 years, sometimes twice a year. The mission where they work, Double Harvest, is a large farming complex dedicated to helping Haitians better their own lives and to sharing the message of faith in Christ to the small villages in the compound. Double Harvest is home to Haiti's largest greenhouse complex where they grow ornamental plants to sell and help with the reforestation in Haiti.
This year's travel party was made up of 13 people, mostly Purdue athletes, with a few other FCA and community members. Their largest project at the mission was to build bricks that would be used to build homes in the village. Double Harvest has a plan to build 50 small, three-room brick homes over the next year to replace the mud and stick homes that house many of the families there.
The FCA group built 700 bricks during their time at the mission; 120 bricks build a home. The group also dug a 250-foot ditch where they laid internet cable in PVC pipes to provide internet access to the local church offices.
Dittmar said FCA takes these mission trips to Haiti every year to bring the good news of Christ to the Haitian people through their actions and words, but the experience also changes the lives of the student-athletes.
"These were big jobs and God was faithful to us in our work," Dittmar said. "The students working hard to better the lives of other people provides a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that our words are sincere.
"You think you know someone, then you go on this trip and you see a whole new side of them. I love that! You can't go to Haiti and not be touched by what you see. They become better people and better athletes."
Senior volleyball player Stephanie Lynch said she had always wanted to go on a mission trip, but never really had time with the commitment to her sport.
"It gave me a different perspective on life and made me really grateful for what I have," Lynch said. "They have a different way of life. They don't need a lot of material things; they just have a lot of faith."
Melissa Willison, a member of the Purdue crew team, said that during her time in Haiti she realized that the people down there had more than she did.
"It may sound weird, but even though I may have more possessions than they do, they make up for what they don't have with faith" Willison said. "They taught me more than I can even fathom."
A K-12 school in Double Harvest with close to 500 students provided many of the athletes with their most touching experiences.
Junior soccer player Katie Seeger said her favorite part of the trip was interacting with the children.
"The most fun I had on this trip was playing with the kids and seeing their faces light up; their little smiles would just melt your heart," Seeger said. "They were so happy and grateful for everything even with all the difficulties they face everyday. I think about them every day and I really miss them."
Kurt Lichtenberg, a junior on the football team, also enjoyed spending time with the kids in Haiti. His favorite experience was playing guitar for them.
"It's amazing how much fun the kids have when you just give them some time and play with them," Lichtenberg said. "They taught me a lot about their culture, language and way of life, and through them I saw what true happiness really is. Leaving the kids was the hardest thing I've had to do in a long time."
For fellow football player Kyle Adams, this year marked his second trip to Double Harvest. His first trip, in 2008, provided such an amazing experience that he wanted to come back to help even more.
"Haiti is a place that has opened my eyes to the harsh reality of poverty in our world and is a place that has challenged me to grow in my own Christian faith," Adams said. "Most importantly, I wanted to come back to help the kids down in Haiti and try to make a difference in the people's lives there.
"There is nothing more fulfilling that knowing you made a difference in someone's life that really needed it, and the mission trip allows us, as athletes, to do this. You also get to know your fellow Boilermakers on a very deep level and get to share an experience you'll never forget,"
For senior soccer player Amy Burrell the mission trip was a perfect way to end her athletic career at Purdue, by using her talents to serve others. For Burrell, the toughest part of the trip was leaving Haiti to come home.
"Even in the short time we were there, we built friendships with the kids and adults at Double Harvest," Burrell said. "I felt like I was saying goodbye to good friends."
In an effort to provide as much help as possible in the future to the Haitians some of the students are planning to start an organization called "Athletes for Haiti". The organization would raise money and provide sponsors for the children in Haiti, so they can attend school and have at least one meal a day.
Dittmar and the FCA also plan to go back to Haiti to provide help with two teams next May.
The 2009 mission trip team
Kyle Adams - Football and FCA Officer
Amy Burrell - Soccer and FCA Officer
Lia Burrell - FCA member
Marty Dittmar - Purdue Athletics Chaplain
Kurt Lichtenberg - Football and FCA Officer
Stephanie Lynch - Volleyball
Nate Mills - FCA President
Jeff Panfil - Football
Corey Ramsey - Local Lafayette resident
Judy Rechenberger - English Department
Katie Seeger - Soccer
JD Schaumberg - Swimming
Melissa Willison - Crew