God at work in the details

Mission trip a dream come true for Bunker youths

October 12, 2011 | Young Voices
Evelyn Rempel Petkau | Manitoba Correspondent
Winkler, Man.

Kevin Hildebrand is still awestruck by the way God worked in the lives of many people to make a dream come true. “Next time I will try to get out of God’s way,” says the executive director of the Bunker, a community youth ministry in Winkler, with a laugh.

Hildebrand began his work with the Bunker four years ago and, together with co-worker Don Cruickshank, began to dream of ways to make a mission trip possible for the youths that make the Bunker their second home. Begun as an outreach of Winkler Bergthaler Mennonite Church more than 20 years ago, the ministry has expanded, now involving 10 churches that form the board, two full-time employees and 25 volunteers.

John Klassen, pastor of a supporting church, Emmanuel Mennonite, says, “The Bunker has worked hard at finding the kids on the fringes and connecting with kids that might normally not come to churches.”

“Many come from low-income families or broken homes, and so their opportunities are limited,” says Hildebrand. “There are homeless young people in Winkler. There are drug issues in Winkler. Wherever people decide not to acknowledge it, it will flourish.”

It is to many of these young people that the Bunker reaches out, giving them a safe place to hang out, participate in Bible studies, and talk to volunteers who are there to listen and nurture relationships. The Bunker even offers an alternative classroom for high school students who aren’t able to handle a regular classroom.

This summer 13 of these young people, aged 15 to 22, travelled to Puerto Rico on a two-week mission trip. The unfolding of this dream was nothing short of a miracle.

“It was 100 percent God,” says Hildebrand. “One of our volunteers, Harold Espinosa, knew of a businessman here in town who had $20,000 he wanted to commit to a foreign mission project somewhere if we had a group to take. Harold is from Puerto Rico and connected with his home church there, only to learn that they were in the process of building a multi-purpose addition for a drop-in centre and other community outreach programs. They were short of funds by $20,000!”

But God’s hand didn’t stop there. Someone else offered to donate the airfare for the group without knowing how many return tickets that would involve. Hildebrand still shakes his head in amazement at how God intervened to make the dream come true.

For Gavin McNeil, who comes regularly on Tuesday evenings to help work with the junior high group at the Bunker, the trip was a life-changing experience. “It was awesome,” he says. “The trip has changed my outlook on life, seeing other people and their situations in life, and yet how happy they were. It makes me more hopeful.”

Before the trip, the participants cleaned garbage out of ditches for three weekends and took part in other missional events in Winkler and Winnipeg. They spent many evenings in training, learning about culture, religion and some Spanish phrases. “We started every meeting joining our hands in prayer,” Hildebrand notes.

“For a lot of the kids it was the first time they left Manitoba, flew on a plane and saw the ocean,” Hildebrand says. “So many of them said they felt useful, loved and important. The people in Puerto Rico hugged us all the time and one guy said he couldn’t remember the last time he had gotten a hug.”

Hildebrand sees this trip as the beginning of a long-term relationship with the church in Puerto Rico that also has a passion for the disadvantaged youths in its community.

“I went down there with the mindset that we would get a lot of work done, but the weather prevented it,” Hildebrand says. “It was frustrating for a while, but then the work wasn’t the main focus, but the relationships and the way lives were changed. Next time, I want to listen more to what God is saying.”

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