Sioux Falls, SD
Some teenagers from New Holland, South Dakota, are starting their summers by helping others. Every couple of years, a youth group goes to Guatemala to help those in need. As they found, the path to their destination was quite the journey.
"For most everyone, there was huge breakthroughs in their spiritual life," Traci Niewenhuis, group leader, said.
This is what the youth group from New Holland Christian Reformed Church found during ten days in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala -- which is also known as Xela. Members returned to the Sioux Falls Regional Airport Thursday night. They went to area schools to teach children about Christianity, but they ended up learning a few lessons themselves.
"I was handing out toothbrushes, and we only had limited ones. I just, when we ran out, I almost started crying," 15-year-old Kennedy Muckey said. "Whenever I don't feel like I have anything, I just, I'm going to be more conscious of what they don't have. I just have so much."
This all started with a New Holland man named Tom VanderPol. VanderPol was heavily involved with an organization called Living Water Teaching. In 1998, the 28-year-old pilot flew a group of South Dakotans to Guatemala on a medical mission trip. Tragedy struck when a hurricane brought down the plane, and killed everyone on board. VanderPol left behind his wife, a one-year-old daughter, an unborn baby, and a spark of inspiration that spread like wildfire.
"A lot of people knew him, and wanted to honor him and continue what he started," Muckey said.
Word about these trips travelled throughout the small South Dakota town and surrounding areas.
"Because of all of this, because he started this, it keeps growing and growing and more people learn about Christ every day, and it's just amazing to see," 17-year-old Erika Veenstra said.
More than 200 teenagers have taken this trip.
"We're a family and we can go to each other for anything. We've become a lot closer to God. It's amazing," Veenstra said.
Though Tom VanderPol never reached his Guatemalan destination, his journey has provided a path for others to follow.