NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Lowell Wyse was on a mission, but he was also going home.
Wyse, an admissions counselor at Bethel College, recently delivered a check for $1,179.57 to Hopi Mission School in Kykotsmovi Village, Ariz. The money came from a fundraiser that was part of the college’s display – in place of spending the equivalent amount on giveaways – at the Mennonite Church USA Youth Convention and delegate assembly in San Jose, Calif., last summer.
Besides the check, Wyse also brought a large sheet of canvas covered in writing. The youth who visited Bethel’s booth and dropped off their tickets (which added up to the donations made to several service projects, including Hopi Mission School) also signed their names on canvases to be given to the organizations along with the money.
Wyse’s department, Admissions, was heavily involved in both creating and staffing Bethel’s San Jose display, but that isn’t the main reason he was the one to deliver this check. Wyse spent the 2001-02 school year as a volunteer on the Hopi Mission School staff.
Wyse first laid eyes on the starkly beautiful high desert landscape that encompasses the Hopi Reservation in northern Arizona in early August 2001. He, his parents, Ned and Debbi Wyse of Camden, Mich., and his younger brother, Layne, helped move sister Julia and her husband Chris Richer to Hopi Mission School, where they would be teaching under the auspices of Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS). Lowell Wyse had recently graduated from Hesston (Kan.) College and was planning to attend Goshen (Ind.) College starting that fall.
“It was clear this was a unique setting,” Wyse recalls, “and it was also apparent that help was always in demand.” His “pattern in life so far,” he says, has been to see a need and think about how he, potentially, could fill it. After hearing that the school had been without a maintenance director or physical education instructor for almost a year and “on a whim,” just before going home, Wyse asked the administrator if the school might be interested in having him in those roles.
They were very interested. When Wyse got home, there was paperwork waiting from Goshen College and also – mailed express – from Hopi Mission School. “With school only weeks away, I decided to stick to my original plan and finish my degree,” Wyse says. “But then I changed my mind.” Four weeks later, he was on a train for Hutchinson, Kan., and MVS orientation at Camp Mennoscah.
For the next nine months, Wyse’s official titles were “maintenance director,” “volunteer coordinator” and “physical education instructor.” In those capacities, he picked up and dropped off children mornings and afternoons, coached basketball, made countless trips to Flagstaff, stocked the restrooms and organized volunteer projects.
“It was mainly my availability that qualified me for the job,” he says, “my willingness to just go and try. I mostly had to learn as I went along. The learning curve is not that steep when it comes to mopping floors and collecting tumbleweed from playground fences but nobody told me how to be a PE teacher or how to build a storm window.
“Much of what I learned, I owe to the older volunteers who came to help,” he continues. “In the nine months I was there, we had at least one temporary volunteer helping at the school every week but one. These were often retired couples from Mennonite or Baptist churches across the country who would come for a week or two at a time. The arrangement was essentially this – as maintenance director, I would organize the work and then the older guys would show me how to do it. With all of this help, I was involved in replacing all the school’s toilets and windows, replacing school doors, roofing a house and many other projects along the way.”
In addition to gaining new practical skills, Wyse learned about Hopi culture and about the realities of living in an isolated setting and working with children who faced numerous challenges in their personal lives.
“My goal was to help the kids get away from things for awhile,” Wyse says. “This was especially important in PE class, where the primary objective was having a good time.
“The best was when one of my activities really got everyone excited and involved, especially when I knew what was going on for some kids behind the scenes. I believed in the school as a safe place and I hope the kids were able, for a few hours each day, to come to the ‘island’ of Hopi Mission School and experience home.”
After his year at Hopi Mission School, Wyse spent two years working at Hesston College and attending Bethel part-time before finishing his degree at Bluffton (Ohio) University in 2006 and then coming to Bethel as an admissions counselor.
Because the San Jose convention took place in the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, Bethel chose projects within that geographical area as recipients of the fundraiser. In addition to Hopi Mission School, Goldensun Peace Ministries in Glendale, Ariz., and Mennonite Urban Corps in Los Angeles have received or will receive a check for $1,000 or more.
Wyse’s latest visit to Hopi Mission School (he traveled there with Jim Yoder of Newton and Bill Zuercher of Hesston) was his fourth since leaving the school in 2002. The presentation of the check, he says, “was a lot of fun. I had the kindergarteners unroll the canvas and the older kids hold it up. The kids were amazed at all the names. One of them said, ‘There are a million names on that!’ They loved it.
“I explained the connection between the two schools [Bethel College and Hopi Mission School]. Many of the same people support both of them. I told them that all the names on the canvas were a reminder that a lot of people know about Hopi Mission School and support it.”
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.