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Sikeston native visits Kosovo over break

Thursday, April 15, 2004

(Photo)
Sikeston native Aaron Senter (reaching for cards, spent his spring break in Kosovo.
SIKESTON -- Most college students head to Florida or Mexico for spring break, but Sikeston native Aaron Senter opted for a different route last month during his spring break. He went to Kosovo.

Along with meeting widows and children during his trip, Senter also ended up right in the midst of the country's first uprising since 1998.

"It was a mission trip for our school and I decided to go to Kosovo," Senter said. "We weren't really sure what we'd be doing. They told us out there we'd be working with widows of the war and we didn't know what we'd be doing."

A sophomore at the Christian college, Huntington College, in Huntington, Ind., Senter, along with his eight-member team, thought it would be a great experience to serve residents in the city of Gjakova, located in a mountainous region of Kosovo, from March 13-20.

Teams who've served in Kosovo in the past have installed wells and woodstoves, poured concrete slabs and delivered firewood, couches, beds and food to widows and their families.

Senter's team worked with a small church-planting group of Albanian and American Christians who have served in Gjakova since the end of the recent war.

"What we did was just visit with them and have coffee and tea with them. We worked with a church there and hung out with the kids a lot. We went and worked at a gypsy camp for kids. We played soccer and interactive parachutes with them."

Huntington College's group traveled with Forward Edge, an organization based out of Portland, Ore., that handles short-term mission trips worldwide.

But the group was in for a big surprise. Shortly after they arrived, a small riot broke out in a city about 20 minutes from Gjakova, Senter recalled. The Albanians and Serbians were fighting again, he noted.

"Later on (that day) we could start seeing smoke in the sky, and we were confused," Senter admitted. "The Albanians were rioting and trying to get the Serbians out of the city."

Gjakova, the second biggest city in Kosovo, has a population of only 60,000 people, Senter said. The group heard 27 people died and 600 were injured that week.

"It sounded like war outside," Senter said. "There were four or five fires burning, and people were yelling and all of it was very surreal. We went to bed pretty scared. Although the rioting finished when the students awoke the next morning, for a second the students thought they'd be stuck in Kosovo because the airport was closed, Senter said. By the time the students left a couple days later, the airport had reopened and things were starting to get back to normal in the city, he said.

"It was just kind of an eye-opening experience. That stuff happens every day over there and even in Iraq. It was just amazing to see what happens and to experience that fear," Senter said.

Last month's visit to Kosovo wasn't the first time the 20-year-old had been on a missionary trip. He's been to India, Guatemala, Honduras and southern Texas.

"My husband and I were happy for him," said Senter's mother, Kathy Senter of Sikeston. "And we do think about safety while he's gone, but we trust God because Aaron felt like he was meant to go and called to go on this trip."

Plus Huntington College keeps the parents updated, and no news is good news, Mrs. Senter said.

Senter loves mission work and it's become part of his life, said his mother.

"He is studying to be an elementary education teacher, and this provided him experience working with gypsy children and a lot of contact with kids," said Mrs. Senter about her son.

Aaron Senter agreed the trip only reinforced his desire to teach abroad.

"It makes me want to pursue teaching even more because there are a lot of Christian schools all over the world that need teachers in English and other subjects in their country."

Senter said the widows he and others visited with told the group the kindest acts of love they could show was playing with their children, Senter recalled.

"It was one of most enlightening experiences of my life and it helped put those people and me on the same level. We could experience what they see and it helped me to know what it's like to have this fear and scared feeling that you don't get when you're just sitting at home in the United States -- We don't get that feeling here."

Senter pointed out the mission trip wasn't a physical project that the students had to complete, which made the visit even more enjoyable, he said. "We could just relax and connect with the people."