Six from Willowdale Chapel journeying to Africa

Photo by Candice Monhollan From left: Jim Conkle, Daniel McClure, Dave Wilks, Ed Dart, Andy Kolb and Paul Gouge will head to Burundi and Rwanda Aug. 9 to work with HOPE International and Younglife.

In order to truly appreciate life, sometimes you need to step out of your comfort zone and for six Chester County men, they will be leaping far beyond those boundaries when they travel to Burundi and Rwanda in August.

The men come from various backgrounds and careers. One is an attorney, another a surgeon and even a “data geek,” but all of them come together as members of the Willowdale Chapel, which has two campuses located in Kennett Square and Jennersville.

“Willowdale has exposed us to these stories and it’s nice to hear (them) from the comfort of Kennett Square,” said Andy Kolb, of Kennett Square. “It’s another thing to meet the people and be exposed and try to bring that back to this community.”

Leaving Aug. 9, they will fly to Africa and work with HOPE International in Burundi.

HOPE brings microenterprise development to impoverished areas. Instead of just giving them handouts, they teach the people how to save and even invest in their dreams with small business loans.

“It would take someone (in Burundi) 25 years to save, on their own, $100 to buy a sewing machine,” said Dave Wilks, of Chadds Ford. “You have no hope of achievement and yet you have talents, you have ambitions, dreams, dignity and children to feed and send to school.

“What if you bring a lot of people together and we all save together? Even if it’s just a 10 cents per week thing. Pretty soon, you can amass that $100 and you can change somebody’s life, a family’s life and a community’s life forever just by pooling this power of savings.”

All of this is done through the work of Christianity and the church, which has played a part in attracting these men to the trip as well.

Each man has his own reason for wanting to go, but they all want to bring something back with them to use in the Chester County community.

“Going to see how HOPE does this and to learn from an organization that has figured it out because at the end of the day, the principles for fighting oppression and poverty are the same here as it is there,” said Jim Conkle, of West Grove, and associate pastor at the Jennersville campus. “To go and learn from some guys that are in deep in some of the hardest places, I just think that it’s transferable. I’m going to learn, experience what they’re doing and finding out those principles that we can bring back and, as a church, use to bring compassion to those hurting in our own neighborhood.”

For Paul Gouge, of Kennett Square, his wife did a similar trip to the Congo and what she is experienced is something he wants to do as well.

“Going there and seeing what they live through on a day-in and day-out basis, but yet, they want to give,” he said. “They want to be charitable. My wife had said that she experienced compassion and community there that she’s never experienced before. I want to see how that works.

“One of the sayings we have here is ‘Change of place plus change of pace equals change of perspective.’ Anywhere I can have a change of perspective and be able to show that or communicate that to the next generation is what I’m looking to get out of it.”

Ed Dart, of Coatesville, also wants to teach the next generation, but more specifically, he’s doing it with his four young children. Most of what he’s been instilling in them so far has come from a book HOPE has given the group, called “Strength in What Remains,” written about a man who escaped the Burundi genocide and has now returned.

“I’ve really enjoyed taking what I’ve learned and educating my kids,” he said. “Being able to take these lessons I’m learning from the book, from what I’ve watched on YouTube and what I’ve tried to learn of the language, which is French, I was able to tell them the story about this individual who escaped the genocide and watch them wide-eyed. It’s a great opportunity for us to take the stories we’re learning and bring them back and share them with whomever.”

Once the Burundi part of the trip is over, the group will then work with Younglife in Rwanda and shift the focus there on the teenagers.

Younglife tries to introduce these teens to Jesus Christ in a fun and relational way and give them some attention they don’t normally receive.

“In Africa, it takes on a cool twist because a lot of these teens have never been anywhere or done anything fun,” Wilst said. “They don’t have any shoes and they don’t come with any clothes. It’s an opportunity for people just to love on them and make them feel special and important and cook them some great meals and pay attention to them, which is something they don’t get. We’re going to go there and serve for a couple days, pick up, clean up, love on kids and come home.”

With the days ticking away until they board the flight, the men have all been preparing by researching on the internet what important things to pack, which includes mosquito repellant, sunscreen and plenty of toothbrushes.

More importantly, they have also been getting shots - and lots of them. They all need to be vaccinated for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, yellow fever and typhoid.

“I had three (shots) yesterday,” Dart said.

Along with those, the six will also be carrying malaria pills with them on the trip.

But it will all be worth it for the group as the 11-day trip will open their eyes to a new part of the world and enrich their lives in a way they could never achieve at home.

“(I’ll) be pulled out of my comfort zone and learning from them,” said Daniel McClure, of Kennett Square. “They, materially, have so much less, but learning from how they still take joy in things and take pride in changing their lives – that would be my reason (for going).”

To follow the journey and experiences of the six as they travel to Africa, visit their blog at www.sevenmeninburundi.wordpress.com.

About the Author

Candice Monhollan

Candice Monhollan is a 2012 Temple University graduate. She loves to cover sports, especially hockey. She enjoys marching with the Reading Buccaneers Drum & Bugle Corps and has a love of U.S. military history, which includes reenacting. Reach the author at cmonhollan@dailylocal.com .