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VT Cast #27: Faith-Based VolunTourism


How is the Faith-Based Community playing a role in the development of Volun-Tourism products & services? Should we expect to see continued growth in this sector in the years to come? These questions and more will be addressed during this episode of The VolunTourist.

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Past Webcast - March 11, 2008

Research Forum

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Richard Duerksen, of Maranatha International [Bio]; Seth Morgan, Founder of Orant Charities [Bio]; Aaron Smith, Founder of Venture Expeditions.[Bio].


[How do "elders" of a religious group, who often finance youth mission trips, respond to young people participating in activities that have a tourism-related components as opposed to simply being entirely service/mission-based?]

"Let me give you two different responses to that. The first is: very, very, very, very, seldom, when groups come back from visiting Cambodia, or visiting Thailand, or India or anywhere, do they show their pictures of the Taj Mahal or of Angkor Wat first. That's not - that was a wonderful part, they enjoyed going to Angkor Wat, they were blown away by the animals they saw in the Galapagos - but that is always an addendum. It's like the sub-paragraph c, d, e, and 1. What they really want to talk about is the man who biked beside them; the nationals who helped, who they had the privilege of helping making bricks out of Mozambique sand. And they want to talk about the Christian worship celebration they had when the church was opened on that weekend for the service. They want to talk about putting their arms around those kids, the other kids. They want to talk about holding the orphans as during their first day when they had the privelege of being in their new bed in their new home in that orphanage.

And, although the tourism is nice and it's crucial for the whole process that we understand well, that's not what the people talk about when they come home. And that is truly transformational.

The second way I'd like to, and I find that the faith-based people in the churches, or the schools, or the hospitals, they love giving money because they see what has happened in the eyes of those they love and respect. One quick illustration of that:

We had a group of teenagers building three churches in Ecuador last Spring Break. One of the girls, before she went, she grabbed all the money out of her piggy bank, which was, if I remember right, $320, and a may be a few off and she stuffed it in her sock. And she said, 'I don't know what I'm gonna use this for God, but You show me while I'm there.' Well, she went the entire two weeks and she couldn't figure out where to spend that money; she was so frustrated. And finally, near the end of the experience, she said, 'I'm just going to go downtown and look around.' And in the process of that she found a lady whose house was falling apart and was going to have to leave her home and she didn't have any place to go. And the girl asked, 'Well, what would it cost to give her a new house?' Well, believe it or not, there is a place there that makes bamboo mats that become houses and for $320 she, in fourty-eight hours, provided a brand-new house for that lady - that is all that girl wants to talk about.

But it wasn't that she gave money, it was the party they had in the lady's new house. That was what was the most important part of her trip. And, Aaron and Seth, you understand exactly what I am talking about. That's why we do all of this." Richard Duerksen

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[What elements did you want to make sure were part of Orant Charities based upon your VolunTourism experiences abroad? ]

"I'll give you a couple of examples and I'll go back and try and answer the question as concisely as I can. And that is, of the people we've taken on trips or that we've worked with before or the transformations I've seen. First, I've seen it in my own life, how I came back and I was so appreciative and then working with people who are going through college or some type of transformation in their life, where one gentleman I saw on a mission trip went on - he was in college - went on a trip, and decided to go back and be a missionary for six months and now he's entering the Peace Corps. I saw someone else who was a marketing major and then they came back and changed their major, and now they're doing all non-profit work and social work and they were gonna just go out in the regular, secular world and get a marketing job - not that there's anything wrong with that - but they really changed what they wanted to live their life for. And I saw someone else change their major to epidemiology and they're working on AIDS projects around the world.

And when you see that, that was really important. We wanted to have something that was conducive to allowing people to experience something very different than their own lives - to give people a very deep understanding and a perspective far beyond just going on a vacation, or far beyond just telling them a story. If I tell you story you're going to hear it and that's good; if I show you something you're going to understand it to a certain degree; but if you go and experience something with your own eyes, and your own hands, and your own body, then it becomes part of who you are. And, so that was really, really important to the whole process." Seth Morgan

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[Do you think that more mission-based trips could benefit from incorporating the travel and tourism elements into their overall experiences?]

"I definitely think that it should be an important part of any, even missions trip, I think, because it's such a shame to go, say if you're going to Thailand and serving there and you're not learning about the culture, not really interacting with the people. It's not really - - I don't feel like you're really doing much besides just going there and building a house and leaving. I think that's, I think it's a really noble and worthwhile thing, but you definitely need to connect with the people and see the sites while you're there, if you're going to go all the way over there and spend that kind of money from the United States, you might as well go into the jungle and ride the elephants, or stuff like that because it's just a great part of being there.

And I think for us, again, like I said, we cater to people who would do this stuff anyway. They're excited about it and we just offer an opportunity to join it with something that's beneficial to the community that they're visiting or to some group that's doing humanitarian work. And so on all of our trips - - what's great about our trips is that you get to the heart of the country that you're traveling through. You get, you go through every demographic of each country. We biked through Thailand; we were in the rural places, the places that people never go and it's just awesome to stop at little, local community places for lunches and interact with the people. We had a Thai person bike with us, which is great.

This summer we're doing a trip across the U.S., biking from LA (Los Angeles) to DC (Washington, DC) raising money for an organization called Blood Water Mission - they dig wells in Africa and do sanitation projects. And there's a Kenyan that's going to come with us, that's a beneficiary of this organization, they're biking across the U.S. with us, which is awesome because they get to interact with the people that they are benefiting. Not only that, but we're interacting with every demographic in America; we're sharing the vision of this organization and just rallying around it, and it's such an exciting thing." Aaron Smith

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Guest Bios

Richard Duerksen, of Maranatha International


Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT

Dick Duerksen is Assistant to the President of Maranatha Volunteeers International where he serves as Storyteller.

Dick has worked within the Seventh-day Adventist church as a pastor, administrator, editor, planner and consultant for creative ministry.

In his Maranatha responsibilities, Dick hosts the weekly television show, Maranatha Mission Stories, and authors a variety of articles and stories for the organization. Additionally, Dick and his wife Brenda work as “storycatchers” while traveling to Maranatha project sites around the world. Brenda’s skills as a registered nurse, health educator, and experienced “Mom” help enhance the health impact of Maranatha’s projects.

As a writer and photographer, Dick also authors a regular feature article for the Lake Union Herald, and provides weekly screensavers and “environmental impact” photographs for a variety of hospitals, magazines and spiritual displays.

Brenda and Dick are celebrating 38 years of marriage and enjoy spending time with the families of their three children—Jeremy and Suzanne in Colorado; Julene and Rouru – and Chuckie, Griffyn, and Gwen in New Zealand; and Joy in Southern California.

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Seth Morgan, Founder of Orant Charities

Seth graduated from the University of North Texas in 1993 with a BA specializing in International Business, Third World Politics, and Biology. He was actively involved in different campus sponsored organizations as Financial Chair, Historian, Project Leader, Construction Manager and Training Coordinator.

He also spent time studying abroad at the University of Northumbria specializing in International Business and Marketing.

While growing up, Seth worked several years in the construction and engineering fields. Here he gained experience in project management, budgeting and forecasting, business reporting and group management.

Within months after graduation he started working in the financial securities industry. His primary work background now includes fund-raising, sales, consulting, business integration planning, marketing, public speaking, project management, team management, client service, event planning, and personnel management.

Seth has been actively volunteering in mission and outreach work for over 15 years. He has special skills in international mission work, travel logistics, consulting, process implementation, project planning, recruitment and youth activity planning.

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Aaron Smith, Founder of Venture Expeditions

Venture Expeditions started in 2002, when Aaron Smith and two college friends decided to bicycle across the United States to raise funds for a church in Argentina. Since that first adventure, Aaron Smith and Venture Expeditions has arranged multiple fundraising and awareness adventures in Europe, Asia, and Africa and has raised over $200,000.00 for various humanitarian and Christian-mission projects around the world.

With Venture Expeditions, Aaron Smith has biked Across the United States, from Minneapolis to New Orleans, from Portugal to Poland, through Southeast Asia, and all over Minnesota.

This year Venture Expeditions is organizing the Ride:Well Tour, a bicycle trip from Los Angeles, California to Washington D.C. to raise funds and awareness for Blood:Water Mission and its 1000 Wells project. The Ride:Well tour has received national media attention with celebrity endorsements and participation from multi-platinum, Grammy-award winning band, Jars of Clay and New York Times best-selling author of "Blue Like Jazz," Donald Miller.  

For more about Aaron Smith and Venture Expeditions, visit www.ventureexpeditions.org.

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