Finding her passion in Peru

Jennifer Oftedahl is all smiles while surrounded by schoolchildren from Luz del Saver in Iquitos, Peru. It is a school administered by the ChildHope program.

By ruth erickson

A Barron woman made it home for Christmas and a taste of winter in Wisconsin while her students in Lima, Peru are home on summer vacation. Being south of the equator, Peru has opposite seasons than the United States.

Jennifer Oftedahl, daughter of Larry and Peggy Oftedahl, is a missionary associate with the Assemblies of God denomination who is working for ChildHope.  

Formerly called Latin America Child Care, it is a sponsorship program of education and compassion based in Springfield, Mo. For $36 a month, sponsors provide a student with a uniform, education and food during the school day.

Overseen by Bill and Lena Shrader of Ohio, ChildHope has six schools in Peru. Oftedahl teaches English and Christian education in Lima, a coastal, desert city of 10 million people where she lives in an apartment and travels weekly to the other schools, helping in many ways.

She arrived in Peru in May 3, 2017 after 8 months of language study in Costa Rica. Her journey to Peru has taken almost 4 decades, with many twists and turns as she made her way through schooling and previous jobs.

Born in Iowa, raised in Missouri and Michigan and Wisconsin, she graduated from the former Growing Lights Christian Academy of Barron in 1994?

She went on her first mission trip to Mexico City in 1996, when she found that reaching out to others in foreign lands with the love of Christ was her passion. Throughout her college years, she went to Mexico five times, for lengths from 1 week to 5 months, getting a little better at speaking Spanish each time.

In 1998, she graduated from Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, N.D. with an associate of arts degree in business management. In 1999, she began working in accounts payable at North Central University in Minneapolis, working there for 18 months until feeling the pull away to teach children.

In 2000, she returned to her hometown of Barron to teach at GLCA, the Christian school she had graduated from. She did that for 5 years until deciding to go back to college, this time at Evangel in Springfield, Missouri, to get a bachelor’s degree in Christian school teaching.

Returning home again, she worked in the information technology department at Jennie-O Turkey Store from 2007-2011. When an opening arose, she went back to  teaching at GLCA in 2012 and 2013, then took a teaching position at Grace Christian Academy in Winterset, Iowa, from 2013-2016.

Living her dream

With growing experience in teaching and technology, Oftedahl’s childhood dream of teaching Latin American children grew stronger, and she started looking online for teaching opportunities.

In a newsletter to her supporters, she explained how that dream began.

“I first heard of Latin America ChildCare when my Grandpa supported a child,” she said.

That Grandpa was her dad’s dad, the former Ken Oftedahl of Rice Lake.

She continued, “He had received a calendar from them and had hung it over his desk. One day I noticed it, and the faces of the children waiting to be helped touched my heart. I wondered if one day I could be the one to help them. I kept it in the back of my mind and went about my life as normal.”

Eventually all the different paths of her life converged with Latin American children at the center.

She explained, “I have spent some time in Mexico. I worked in accounting in Minneapolis. I worked in IT for a corporation. I taught 10 years in a Christian school setting. Each path seemed so different from the others. Now, they all converge. I can see so clearly that God was preparing me.”

Finding her passion in Peru

She applied through LACC, now ChildHope, to work in several Spanish-speaking countries—Honduras, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Antigo or the Caribbean Islands. None of them panned out nor seemed quite the right fit.

In July 2015, she saw Peru at the top of a list of places where LACC needed help. It felt right and by September 2015 she was approved and asked to start raising monthly support and funds for a budget. For the next year, she shared her plans in 22 churches across Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

By mid-August 2016, she had raised the required funds and on Aug. 31, she flew to San Jose, Costa Rica, to begin 8 months  of language school.

“Peru! What an amazing place,” Oftedahl remarked in a year-end review of 2017 to her supporters.

When asked what’s so amazing about it, she replied, “Peru has a vast desert, a  coast, the rugged Andes Mountains, the Amazon River and the jungle.”

“Our team hosted five teams from the states and with them we traveled all over Peru,” Oftedahl said.

“My first adventure outside of Lima was when we drove north through the vast desert to the coastal city of Trujillo. I loved Trujillo and the people I met there.”

She continued, “In July, I had the opportunity to go to Bolivia to speak at a Christian Educator’s Conference. It was definitely one of the most memorable moments of my year. I loved it. On our way home, we stopped by Lake Titicaca and explored the floating islands. Beautiful!

“Next, we were off to the jungle city of Iquitos,” she said. “Words can’t describe my love for this city and the people there. It was hot, it mean HOT! But I so enjoyed this city. People are more common and friendly than in the bigger cities. We did a youth retreat and visited our ChildHope schools. Here many young people gave their hearts to Jesus and lives were touched by his love.”

Her team also traveled by Belen, a water village that is flooded so much of the time that their homes are built on 10-foot stilts.

“In August we had a team that went to the north to Catacaos, [by Ecuador] working in our schools there and constructing a new school. Then on to Cusco and Machu Pichu.

“September, October and November were spent in Lima. Every week I taught English in two elementary schools, helped with teaching a high school Christian education class, elementary chapel and Chicas de Promesa clubs at two different schools and helped with ChildHope financial reports—all of which I love so much, event though I was very busy!”

Her team revisited all the ChildHope schools in December, where they hosted Christmas parties and presented each student with a Christmas present.

“There were many, many kids who didn’t open their present because it was their only present,” said Oftedahl, who was touched by how grateful they were for even one small gift.

Throughout each of Peru’s five different regions, the missionary associate saw glimpses of five different worlds—in language, dress, housing, vegetation and animals.

She said llamas and alpacas are as common there as deer are in Wisconsin. Her favorite animal in Peru is the sloth; her least favorite is the anaconda.

What’s next?

Oftedahl returns to Peru on Jan. 22 and will be there at least through August, when her first term ends.

“I would love to spend my life there, but God knows the future,” she said.

The missionary associate added, “Missions has three parts—praying, giving and going. I am thankful for a heritage of people who prayed for missionaries, supported missions and went overseas as missionaries.

“I am also thankful for my home church, the Rice Lake Assembly of God, and all those in this area who have been so supportive both in prayer and giving.

“I am truly blessed to be a part of this ministry that helps poor children have a chance at a better future and seeing lives changed. I love Peru and am excited to see God working in the lives of people there. My term ends in August, and only God knows where my life will be after that, but living in Peru has definitely been an amazing journey.”

To keep up with her adventures, see Jennifer’s Journey in Peru on Facebook.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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