Sierra Dirksen, a 20-year-old college student from rural Goessel, left her heart in Kenya when she went to serve as a teacher among poverty-stricken children. She went to Africa in the summer of 2011 with the Children and Youth Empowerment Center in Nyeri. She plans to spend winter break following her heart back to service in Nyeri, leaving Dec. 15 and returning Jan. 15.
“My time there in 2011 was absolutely amazing,” Dirksen said Tuesday, as she finalized packing lists and hurried to get immunizations for her international trip. “I expected to enjoy service, but I had no idea how it would affect me. I went there to work as a teacher, but ended up working with the children, establishing relationships with them and finding ways to break the cycle of violence and drugs they were caught in on the streets.”
Dirksen said the experience changed her so much that she has not been able to get back to ‘normal’ since her return.
“Every individual I met there has helped to shape me into whom I am today,” she said. “I love each child, youth, and staff member with my whole heart. I want nothing more than to spend my life bettering theirs. My heart is forever in Kenya.”
Dirksen now attends Bethel College in North Newton. She also works three jobs, saving every penny possible to finance her trip back to Kenya.
“I worked in community support at Prairie View, was a waitress for Fox Ridge, and worked as chairman for student activities at school,” Dirksen said. “This time it’s all on me. I’ve worked very hard to do this and appreciate fully all who have also supported me with donations.”
Dirksen said she was not sure what her assignment would be this time when she got to Kenya, but she looks forward to establishing relationships with children in need again.
“It’s all about relationships,” she said. “That is the best way to help people. I am really looking forward to getting to know the kids and listening to their stories. They are such an inspiration because they have nothing but are willing to share of themselves so unselfishly. I feel so blessed when I am with them.”
Dirksen first became interested in service while attending Kansas State University in Manhattan.
“The timing of how everything happened had to be God,” she said. “I was a freshman, majoring in interior design and was just really struggling with a lot of things. I came home and told my parents I just did not want to go to school anymore. I wanted to take a year off for voluntary service of some kind.”
Dirksen said she went back to school that semester, but the week she was back her residence hall governing board had a meeting with the coordinator of international service teams.
“I knew at that meeting this service was something I had to do,” she said. “Even though I am now really struggling with how my going back to Kenya will affect my relationships and family at home, I know this is something I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Dirksen said her family, parents Ron and Patsy Dirksen, and sister, Brittany (Garrett) Hiebert, was supportive of her desire to go back to Africa in mission service, but it was especially hard to leave them, and other close friends, at the holiday season.
“You know, Christmas here is so completely materialistic,” she said. “My family is very traditional, and I am going to miss that so much, but there everything is so different. You get a much clearer picture of what Christmas really means. It will be such a blessing to spend time with the children again and find ways to help them cope with their realities.”
Dirksen said she asked for nothing for Christmas this year other than prayer and support for her upcoming trip back to help the children of Nyeri.
When she traveled to Kenya for her first time in service, she was part of a CYEC team. When she leaves for the other side of the world next week, she travels only with another girl who has never been out-of-country before.
“I’m a little nervous because I have terrible navigational skills,” she said. “But I am hoping together we can get through whatever obstacles come our way.”
Dirksen said those interested in following her service adventure could check out her blog at http://homesweetkenya.blogspot.com/.