Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Feature Article: Rogers man, 97, finds service opportunities on international mission trips

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the January edition of the Arkansas United Methodist newspaper. It can be found online - in the pdf form - here.

With a walker by his side,
Kruger sifts sand and rocks
for a construction project during
Central UMC Rogers’
2010 mission trip to Costa Rica -
Photo provided by Kruger.
By Kaylea Hutson
At a time in life when many may chose to take things easy, Kenneth Kruger was up for a new challenge: going on an international mission trip.

In fact, since turning 90, the member of Central United Methodist Church in Rogers has taken three such trips—to Chile, Belize and Costa Rica, along with an excursion to Israel.

“I like to see what’s over the next hill,” Kruger said with a smile.

Kruger’s venture into international missions began in 2004, when he talked with Constance Waddell, then co-director of Campamento Metodista in El Tabo, Chile.

After learning about the ministry, he decided to travel to the facility on a trip led by Les Oliver, minister of music and worship at Central UMC.

“Something was nagging me,” Kruger said. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something. I like to see what the other half looks like.’”

During that trip, Kruger helped with painting and general repair projects. He also helped to construct an 18-foot addition to a building.

Since then, his travels have taken him to two Methodist elementary schools in Belize in 2006, and to Alajuela, Costa Rica, in 2010, where he helped construct a fellowship hall and kitchen for a United Methodist Church.

He made the latest trip even though he needed some assistance, which came in the form of a rented walker.

“I [knew] I could do things even though I am walking around with a walker,” Kruger said. “I knew I was adaptable to any kind of work.

“So I just did it.”

Oliver said Kruger is the “youngest” 90-plus-year-old person he knows.

“Our team considers him one of the ‘worker bees’ just like they are,” said Oliver. “He encourages those who are a young 70 that might think they can't do a mission trip. Ken’s attitude is always up, never down.”

Kruger said that during the Costa Rica trip, he helped sift sand to remove pebbles, so team members could use it to build the walls of the new building.

While he enjoyed traveling to other countries, Kruger said he mainly enjoyed meeting the different people—those on the work teams and those they were going to serve.

“I like people,” Kruger said. “When I lived in New York, before I married, I would often sit on the corner and watch people go by.

“People are like you and I the world over, we have the same aspirations and the same thoughts. People are pretty much the same the world over.”

Kruger said the trips have helped him learn how to adapt to the customs found in other countries. They have also given him a new “extended family.”

“I’ve made a lot of friends who have done things for me, without me even asking them to do it,” Kruger said.
Kruger hopes to continue to travel through the mission program at Central UMC Rogers.

“We’ve all been given talents to work with,” he said. “Why not use the talents you have?

“I would like to go as long as I can make it, and can afford it. Why waste what talents I have?”

A native of New York state, Kruger was no stranger to travel before he began going on mission trips. He got a taste of life beyond his hometown while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.

During his time with the 44th Division, 324th Infantry, Kruger traveled through much of the U.S., France, Germany, Austria, Scotland and Canada.

After Kruger was discharged, he returned to the states through Camp Chaffee in Ft. Smith, Ark.

It was then he met his future wife, Virginia J. Fine. The pair married in 1951 after corresponding by mail. They lived in Long Island, New York for more than 30 years before returning to Northwest Arkansas—and joining Central UMC—after he retired.

“If you had told me, when I was a 15- to 16-year-old kid, that I would travel as much as I have, I would have said you were crazy,” Kruger said. “[I] saw things I never would have seen otherwise.”

Central reaches beyond church walls
Kenneth Kruger’s experience with missions is due in part to his congregation’s philosophy of mission—both foreign and domestic.

Les Oliver, minister of music and worship at Central UMC Rogers, said the congregation views mission trips as “an opportunity to see beyond the four walls that our brothers and sisters in Christ are struggling.”

“It’s a humbling experience to work alongside those who live in a marginal world,” Oliver said. “The people of Central have a genuine care for persons in need, whether it’s in Rogers, Ark., or around the globe.”

In addition to the foreign trips, members of the congregation have adopted the Bonnie Grimes Elementary School—named after a retired educator who is also a life-long member of Central UMC.

Oliver said the outreach to the school, which began two years ago, includes hosting a workday in August to help teachers set up their classrooms and, for students, a shoe drive as well as a coat drive.

The congregation also strives through an Angel Tree program to provide Christmas presents for at least 25 children. And this spring, the congregation will host a book drive designed to provide every child in the school with a new book to take home during the summer.

Oliver said the book program was developed as a way to help students maintain their English reading skills during the summer, since many live in homes where English is never spoken.

Other mission outreaches for the congregation include a monthly food drive for the food pantry at Grace UMC in Rogers, and a mission trip to the Navajo Reservation in Shiprock, N.M., set for April 2011.

On the third Sunday of each month, the congregation hosts a “Third Quarter” Sunday, where people fill a large acrylic tube with quarters, which are then given to Heifer International.

Oliver said the mission team hopes to return to Costa Rica in 2012.

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