"And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the 
least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me' " (Matthew 25:40)

Editorial 4/9/08

St Francis Nat'l Park Foundation
The Mission
Ripon Mission
Christian Medical Missions

"Giving feels good, whether you're 19 or 72"

Over the years, those who’ve come to Wacuco, Panama, to help Ripon-native Fr. Wally Kasuboski come from all walks of life. From construction worker to county supervisor, engineer to journalist, the volunteers that fly to Panama every couple years offer varied and often starkly different skills. But none likely have come to Wacuco from such different viewpoints as those on the 2008 mission trip.

On one end of the spectrum: 10 Ripon College students, many of whom never before have left the country. On the other end: 72-year-old grandmother Bernadette Krentz of Berlin (originally of Ripon), making her third visit to help her cousin, Father Wally. But, drawn to this remote region to help, all came with a common purpose, and left with a sense of amazement at what “Padre Pablo” has been able to accomplish in the middle of nowhere. And in their appreciation of the area and desire to help the people of the Wacuco area, each found common ground.

ONE OF THE MOST EXP-erienced members of the group, Bernadette came to Panama with a good idea of what to expect; frankly, her biggest surprise was how much progress has occurred since she’d last visited. “I never expected to see it as up-to-date as it was,” she said, joking, “It takes a lot to surprise me ... [But] the growth of [Torti] itself [surprised me].”
Her first trip was made in 1998, and she returned three years ago. “[I love] to come down here and see how different it is from our way of living,” Bernadette said.

The students, however, entered wide-eyed. “I’ve never been to a third-world country, so this really was eye-opening for me,” sophomore Kassondra Meyer said. “I really tried not to have expectations,” sophomore Hannah WendLake added. “I just wanted to help as much as I could,” sophomore Theresa Kedinger of Rosendale said.

FOR BERNADETTE, TWO major reasons have kept her coming back over the years: the people, and the sense of accomplishment. “The people are so good to you,” she said. “... They appreciate all we do for them. They’re always happy, and have not a care in the world.” And, despite being the most senior member of the group at 72, she feels as energetic as the younger members of the group. “You can work all day and never feel ‘tired’ tired,” she said.

The students noted some of the same thoughts, too. “Personally, I could see myself living here,” Theresa said. “Everyone is so friendly, so down to earth ... They care about us a lot.” “It’s a good feeling of accomplishment every day,” Kassondra said. “It feels good to work hard and accomplish something.” Hannah pointed to a trenching project the students finished. “They have running water [now] ... We made that.”

While the students were amazed by what they were able to do in their week in Wacuco and Torti, what they haven’t seen is how much better the people are doing today than a few years ago. But, for Bernadette — who has made this trip before — their improvement has been remarkable. “Since my first trip to now, they’ve really come a long way,” she said. “You can see how much healthier they are.” Bernadette added she noticed even properties are in better shape. “Their grass used to be this high [indicating her waist], with a path to their hut.” She knows, though, much of this can be attributed directly to her cousin, Father Wally. “It’s just marvelous [what he does].” And that’s something everyone agrees on: how much Father Wally has impacted the people of Panama. “I’m just completely amazed by everything he has done,” Kassondra said. “He’s built the economy, he’s built roads, he’s solved disputes between cities.” “I really didn’t understand [until I came] how much impact he has,” Hannah said. “He has so many projects going on at one time.”

Regardless their age, it’s the call to help another that brought all to Panama — and makes them hope to return again someday. “It’s like, in your heart, God is calling you over there to do this,” Bernadette said. “He’s beside you all the time.”

For some of the students, a trip such as this could mean a future in volunteerism. “I hope I can come back as a senior,” Hannah said of a possible return trip by Ripon College in two years. “Every time I take a [service trip] it makes me want to take another one,” Kassondra said. “It just is something that makes you feel good inside.” “I’d love to do stuff like Father Wally does,” Theresa said. “People just need to be more understanding [about other cultures],” sophomore Molly Breitbach said. “They are people just like you; they have a heart just like you. They laugh; they have fun.” She later added, “This really opens your eyes how much we take for granted ... We’re spoiled ... It makes me appreciate how much we have.”
“I know I’m going to appreciate everything more,” Kassondra said. “I know I want to keep helping people.” “I feel I got so much out of this,” Theresa said.

Last modified: June 18, 2013