“Did this trip change my life? Not in the past tense, no. It’s changing my life.”
Emily Van Gerpen wrote that sentence more than a year ago when she reflected on her service-learning trip to Nicaragua in June 2017 with Resonate Global Mission and Dispatch Project. But her statement is more true today than it was then: just a few months ago, she quit her job, ended the lease on her apartment early, and moved away from family and friends to return to school and pursue a career as a counselor.
Emily had considered becoming a counselor during college—she even studied psychology. But the thought of partnering with others through the grit of life intimidated her and she wasn’t sure she could handle it. So, she launched into a marketing career.
She had just started working as a writer at Click Rain, a marketing technology agency in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when she learned about the opportunity to serve short-term. Click Rain offered opportunities for employees to volunteer, and Nicaragua was on the list.
“No detail about what the trip actually entailed yet,” said Emily, “but all I could think was: ‘You should go to Nicaragua.’”
So, she did. In June 2017, Emily was one of eight individuals who partnered with people and organizations in Nicaragua. Over the course of 10 days, they assisted teachers in classrooms at Resonate partner ministry Nicaragua Christian Academy in Matagalpa; learned how the organization Luke Society provides water to villages; and painted a building in Jinotepe.
“I was experiencing a country that faces a lot of political struggle and has for a very long time, which has affected every other aspect of daily life for Nicaraguans,” said Emily. “It was overwhelming to be there and want to make everything better—only to realize I never will.”
“There’s no way we could help solve such big problems in a ten-day span,” she added. “[But] we could be there to support [people].”
Emily spent the week assisting a teacher in a first-grade classroom; she played games with students, distributed assignments, and graded papers so the teacher could focus on working with individual students. As the week progressed and she gained a wide variety of experience, Emily discovered the potential behind using her gifts in partnership with others. And when she returned to South Dakota, she knew her life was changing.
Just as God called Emily to Nicaragua, he was calling her to another path in life.
“I have no doubt this trip was meant to be part of my life,” she said. “A short-term trip [wouldn’t] resolve the pollution, corruption, and other daunting issues … our purpose there was to encourage—to reassure those we encountered of their worth, their work, and their role in fulfilling God’s plan.”
Now, more than a year after she volunteered with Resonate, Emily is back in school to earn a master’s in education, specializing in school counseling.
“I want individuals to know what they’re worth, that they have a purpose, and that they’re not alone,” she said. “I know that people have potential to make things better, both for themselves and for others, and I feel that my mission is to help them see that potential for themselves.”
This time, however, she isn’t afraid of her inability to handle counseling.
“One of the biggest takeaways [from the trip] was a greater appreciation for my own insignificance—in a good way,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of strength in knowing how small and powerless you are on your own. Only by knowing that can you know true strength comes from a much more powerful source: God.”