International Community Development - and the HEART of a Marriage

October 27, 2011

By Bob Holmes

Tawa Saune grew up in Lima, Peru.  He is Quechua – an indigenous people who descended from the ancient Incas.  His father is from the mountains, his mother from the jungle.  And Laura, “the girl of his dreams” is from Columbia International University.

As husband and wife they are developing a HEART for the underdeveloped world.

Tawa and Laura Saune are the first CIU students in a new CIU minor “International Community Development” or ICD.  An important aspect of ICD is an agreement with the HEART (Hunger Education And Resource Training) Institute, an educational ministry of Warner University, a Christian school in Lake Wales, Fla.  HEART operates a village community on the Warner campus that simulates many aspects of underdeveloped world living.  The HEART website says that “participants acquire problem solving and coping skills that will enable them to adapt more readily to the challenges they will face overseas.”  Tawa and Laura are spending this semester at HEART, a requirement of the ICD program.  They are living in primitive quarters, butchering animals and learning about sustainable agriculture.

"The Girl of My Dreams"

Tawa and Laura met in Peru where Laura’s parents are Wycliffe Bible Translators. 

“After I had started college I returned to Peru for five months to be with my family,” Laura said in an email interview from HEART.  “It was there that I met Tawa. He had become really good friends with my younger brother in my absence.”

Tawa says he was attracted to Laura whom he calls “the girl of my dreams,” before he became friends with her brother – even before he realized they were siblings.    

“I had seen her in the jungle long before (becoming friends with her brother), and had fallen in love with her,” Tawa said in the same email interview.  “One weekend I walked into my best friend’s house, as I did every weekend, and when I looked in the living room I saw that the girl of my dreams was sitting there, watching TV.”  They married in January 2010, and transferred to CIU for the fall 2010 semester.

Florida: Mostly Hot with only a Chance of Privacy    

HEART’s location in sub-tropical Florida means that as this semester began, the newlyweds have had to endure the heat of the late summer and the chilly mornings of fall, while living as they would in an underdeveloped country.

“Probably the most difficult thing for me has been living with the heat at the beginning of the semester,” Laura said.  “We would sweat constantly throughout the day.  It was difficult to take a nap or rest during the day because of the heat. We have no heating or AC in our cabins.  Also it was an adjustment not to have electricity.”

Tawa says the biggest challenge for him is what he calls one of HEART’s best and most educational features – lack of privacy.

“Laura and I have our own cabin, but 90 percent of the time we are surrounded by at least five people, though a lot of the time all 20 students (in the program) are together,” Tawa said.  “This is an important aspect of the program because on the mission field one does not always get to choose who he ministers with.  Privacy is thrown out the window.”

The Importance of Community

For Laura, living in the close community that HEART creates has had a big impact on her. 

“In the United States, many people are isolated from other people, causing loneliness and a lack of support,” Laura said.  “I love being able to walk out of my cabin and find a group of people I know to talk with and fellowship.”

Tawa was impressed by a trip the HEART students took to the Central American country of Belize to study the community development programs there. 

“It was inspiring to observe a whole community in Belize benefit from a water distribution and filtration system, Tawa said.  “The missionaries who started the project are HEART graduates.  They succeeded in making the project in a way that impacted many needy people, yet in a way that was (inexpensive) enough to be sustainable by the community.”

The HEART Experience

Laura and Tawa say the HEART experience is “eye-opening” as they learn to live without, and focus on sustainability, especially in agriculture. 

“We've learned that God desires us to take care of the earth,” Tawa said.  “We've learned how to maintain the life of the soil in order to prevent land from becoming infertile; how to raise, breed and butcher small animals; (and use) technology in a way that is appropriate, depending on the culture and people. We have to be concerned about the generations that come after us and not use up the available resources.”

What about the Gospel?

The question that is often raised by many evangelicals when there is focus on human need – how do you merge meeting those needs with the proclamation of the gospel?  Laura and Tawa are ready with an answer.  Laura points to James 2:16. 

If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

“We can tell someone about the gospel.  But if they are hungry why should they listen to what we say?” queries Laura.  “I think the presentation of the gospel, accompanied by meeting the physical needs of a people is much more powerful than solely presenting the gospel.”

Tawa knows the power of meeting human needs firsthand.  He says when American medical missionaries came to Peru and met the needs of his people – the Quechua – they started to ask questions.

“They asked me, ‘Tawa, why do these Americans who have such a good life in the U.S.A. care about us?  Why do they sleep in the freezing cold and suffer just so they can give us medical help?’  When I tell them the reason, they understand the love of Christ, because they see it is genuine.” 

Future Preparation

It’s the desire of Laura and Tawa to one day return to Peru as missionaries.  They recommend CIU’s International Community Development program and HEART to others, especially couples.

“There are so many people who have gone to the mission field and have not succeeded because they were prepared in their minds, but not for the physical aspect of missions,” Tawa said.  “HEART stretches people in every way.” 

For more on the HEART experience, check out Laura’s blog “Tin Roofs”.

Get details on CIU International Community Development program.