Dan Kunkleman is not the first in his family of five to visit the tiny fishing village of Chimbote in Peru, but he holds the distinction of having been there the most.
The 51-year-old just returned from his sixth trip to Chimbote, having traveled there in February with 12 men on a mission with Providence Presbyterian Church.
“It is always the best week of my year,” Kunkleman said.
Kunkleman’s wife, Lisa, 55, and oldest daughter, Danielle, 25, were the first to experience the village the family now considers a second home. They traveled there with the church’s Youth Group as part of a foreign mission trip in 2008, the summer before Danielle’s junior year at Providence High School, with 28 other teens and chaperones.
“It was life-changing,” Lisa Kunkleman said.
Kunkleman had to wait until 2011 for his first trip because he was caring for his elderly parents and couldn’t leave. He first visited Chimbote with friends from the church, then with his family in 2013.
Then, “our triplets wanted to go,” he said, so he organized a family mission trip in which they spent a week painting houses and learning about the community. In 2013, he began the first of what now are annual missions through Providence Presbyterian Church.
Kunkleman organizes the trips for the church and led the group of 13 men who went there in February.
The group started in Lima, where they acclimated to the country and each other. They then took an eight-hour bus ride to Chimbote, to a parish compound to complete service projects Kunkleman organized ahead of time with Asociación Civil de Apoyo Familiar, a local service agency that works with an American nonprofit called Friends of Chimbote to administer mission programs.
The men built a three-room extension for a family of six that had been living in a 10-by-10-foot room, and took a busload of people with disabilities for an excursion to the ocean.
Among other tasks, the group also visited the local hospice hospital and school, where they decided how funds they were donating on behalf of the church would be allocated.
On their final night, they made soup for 200 community members.
Each man on the trip donated $500, which was pooled with the church’s contribution of $1,500. In addition, the congregation donated $4,700 that was divided among housing construction, micro-loans and education.
“We give our time, talents and treasures,” says Jude DiClemente, 42, who was visiting Chimbote for the first time. “The grace that you feel in giving of yourself and being able to help others is something that no money in the world can buy.”
“As much as we give and we help them, they help us more,” Kunkleman said.
James Hill, 48, on his second mission trip, said the experience teaches him “to be present in the moment.”
“It puts the other 51 weeks of my life in perspective,” he said.
“Everyone should experience something like this at least once in a lifetime,” DiClemente said.
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Katya? Email her at email@example.com.