MARSHALL - When Marshall Area Christian School teacher Steve Harrison and his family accompanied other church members on a mission trip to Oklahoma this past summer, he couldn't wait to come back and spread the word about a parachute project he had learned about.
The mission group traveled to Bartlesville, Okla. where Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), a magazine is produced by a Christian organization, to volunteer for a week.
"The magazine highlights different Christians around the world who have been persecuted for their faith," Harrison said. "In the summer, we went down there and learned about these parachutes. They're used to drop Christian literature, Bibles and also radios over terrorist camps in Colombia."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Under the supervision of their teacher, Angie Kesteloot, center, Marshall Area Christian School first-graders Kayden Clark, left, Jersey Leysen and Taylor Koerselman work on constructing a parachute, which will eventually be dropped over guerrilla camps in Colombia as part of a mission project. The parachutes will contain Christian literature, a Spanish Bible and a radio, pre-tuned to Christian stations, in hopes of spreading the Gospel.
For more than four decades, Colombia has been terrorized by kidnappings and murders resulting from power struggles between drug lords, paramilitary groups and revolutionaries. To help, people in America have made parachutes and sent along $5 for the price of the book and radios. The parachutes are then dropped over the camps.
"It's a good opportunity for everyone," Harrison said. "We pray for the parachutes. We pray for the people who are going to receive the Bibles and radios, that God will save them and change the nation. It's pretty neat."
According to Angie Kesteloot, MACS first-grade teacher, students gathered for a full assembly to hear about the project two weeks ago.
"We all watched the video," she said. "We talked about what we were doing as a mission for the year to help other people."
Harrison said the DVD showed a man referred to as "Russell," a pilot, on an actual mission trip over Colombia.
"The kids got really fired up about the project," Harrison said. "Russell is a really neat guy. He's in his 40s and he and his daughter do this."
Each MACS class took turns, making a total of 30 parachutes. Even some of the youngest students, the first-graders, understood the value of helping others.
"We're going to make parachutes to drop down on the guerrilla soldiers because they are evil," Abby Thoreson said.
After politely correcting the first-grader by using the word "mean" instead of evil, Kesteloot asked Thoreson why they were mean.
"They don't know who God is," Thoreson said.
The children knew a lot about the project. Dominique Van Winkle Nuese said the parachutes would include a radio that makes noise. Anna Brusven pointed out that the radios would be operated by solar panels.
"It plays two radio stations," another student, Shauna Fricke, said. "One with a little bit of talking and mostly music and one with lots of talking and a little bit of music."
Kesteloot asked Jersey Leysen to explain how the parachutes would get to the soldiers.
"The parachute rides in the airplane and then they let it go," she said.
Before breaking into three groups, which contained three first-graders in each, Kesteloot gave the students detailed instructions. Then they all got to work. Using a black marker, students began by tracing a large circle from a pattern underneath, then continued by cutting out the circle.
"Cutting it out was very hard to do," Brusven said.
Still taking turns, each student helped mark out six sections, then wrote "Dios es Amor" on the parachute.
"We wrote 'Dios es Amor,'" Taylor Koerselman said. "It means 'God is love.'"
Next, first-graders measured out red ribbons.
"Cutting out the ribbon was the easiest," Thoreson said.
The students finished up by squeezing out glue, which was somewhat difficult, following the lines marked earlier, and then attaching the ribbons to the sticky lines.
"Nice work," Kesteloot said.
Afterward, while the parachutes were drying, the entire class posed for a picture.
"It was fun," Koerselman said of the project.
The one disappointment, expressed by a few students, was that it was too dangerous for them to help drop off the parachutes.
"If they go too high, they can be shot by the government planes," Harrison said. "If they go too low, they can be shot by the soldiers in the camps. So it's pretty dangerous."
The Bibles are in Spanish and the radios, which the pilots turn on, are pre-tuned to a Christian station.
"When these radios are dropped down, they have the Gospel right there," he said. "It's solar paneled so the batteries never run out. It's a pretty cool mission."
Kesteloot told the first-graders to be proud of their efforts.
"You might not ever see the reward of it until you're in heaven," she said.
Harrison felt so strongly about the mission trip that he hung two large banners in his classroom, exposing the locations where people are being persecuted for their faith.
"It's encouragement to believe in the Gospel," he said.
The parachutes, carefully prepared with love, from the MACS children will be sent off soon, Harrison said, with plans to be delivered in January.
"The thing I like about it, is it gives the kids a tangible way to be involved with helping other people," he said. "That's really important. Then, they can connect with what we've trying to accomplish. The kids have really loved it."