Most 13-year-olds would give anything to spend a week away from home, traveling with their friends. But Kelsey Kiander, of Cedar Springs, is not your average kid.
Each year, 8th grade students at Cedar Springs Middle School have the opportunity to go on an East Coast trip to visit Niagara Falls, Washington D.C., and many historic sites. But Kelsey’s parents, Shila and Kevin Kiander, gave Kelsey another choice.
“In early spring of 2010, my husband and I gave our daughter a choice to either plan to participate on the East Coast trip at the end of her 8th grade year in 2011, or to go on a mission trip. She chose a mission trip,” explained Shila. “Peru was her choice, as our former pastor (Garry Cruce) and his wife had become missionaries to Peru.”
Kelsey spoke with the missionaries, then went before the board at the Springs Church and asked them to approve the mission trip, which included team members Kelsey, Shila, Pastor Barry Briggs, and former Cedar Springs school teacher Judy Stark.
They decided to participate in “Brighten Their Christmas,” a Christian program that has ran for the last two years with the focus on raising funds to give Christmas gifts and supplies to needy children in Peru.
They went to Peru over Christmas break, and provided “Chocolatadas” to 5 different communities in the Tarma area. “Chocolatadas are a Peruvian custom that was started by the Catholic church that provided hot chocolate and ponetone (a Peruvian Christmas Sweet bread) to poor children in the community. A small gift is sometimes also given to the children,” explained Shila.
The team ministered to over 150 children in 5 different communities that included two churches in Tarma, the Village of Yanamayo (a farming community), Ayas (a dairy farming community), and Huacapo (a sheep herding community).
While there, they had the opportunity to visit all three regions of Peru. They visited the desert coastal region, hiked in the Andes, found all manner of bird and sea life, trekked through the jungle, visited the presidential palace, a world famous water park, and the Huaca Pucllana ruins that date back to 400 A.D., 900 hundred years before the Incas. They also experienced many types of Peruvian cuisine.
Kelsey said she had a great experience that was life changing. She said she learned three things. First, that a language barrier can’t stop people from communicating God’s love to others; second, sometimes we don’t think we have enough things but the Peruvians they met don’t have many things and yet they are happy and content with what they do have; third, serving God is more than going to fun youth group events. Serving others is about sacrifice, which is giving up something for others.
“She learned this from the four teens who asked for time off of work and didn’t get paid to travel with the team to serve others,” said Shila. “That was sacrifice.”