She lives 8,000 miles from home, misses her family and friends and witnesses deep suffering more often than she'd like to.
But 2014 Lakeland College graduate Megan Derse is making a difference in this world, and her heart swells with hope and passion every day.
"I am so happy to be here," says Derse via email from Kenya, Africa. "I am thankful for this opportunity, and I can't imagine doing anything else during this season of my life."
Derse, who earned a degree in middle childhood/early adolescent education at Lakeland, is in the fellowship program with Oasis for Orphans, an organization dedicated to rescuing and developing parentless children in Africa.
"I grew and changed a lot during my college years, as I was challenged and stretched," she says. "God did tremendous work in my heart, and I grew to deeply love and care for a group of people on the opposite side of the world."
Derse's relationship with Oasis for Orphans blossomed before she graduated from Lakeland. In 2011, her Sheboygan, Wis., family sponsored a Kenyan child named Mikal. In October of that year, after exchanging letters and Skype conversations with Mikal, the Derses traveled to Kenya for two weeks to get to know the boy even better. It was love at first hug. Two years later, the Derse family again traveled to Kenya for a six-month mission. Megan, by now deep into her curriculum at Lakeland, joined her family for two different stints totaling almost two months. During her time back in Wisconsin between those trips, she felt a strong calling.
"I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of after graduation," she says. "So I prayed that God would open a door to make that possible."
As part of the two-year Oasis Fellowship Program, Megan will be with the children in Kenya until November, then work on sponsorship and educational initiatives and administrative duties at Oasis for Orphans' Illinois headquarters.
"I definitely think my Lakeland experience helped ready me for this experience in many ways," Derse says. "Many of the kids at the children's home never set foot in a school until they came to the home, which, for many of them, meant that they were getting a late start in school. This has been hard, and several of the kids are in need of extra help in many areas. What I have learned at Lakeland has helped me have the knowledge, skills and tools to be able to help support them and help them learn and develop."
Megan writes that the reality of life in poverty-stricken Kenya is at times heartbreaking, given there are about 2.5 million orphaned children in that country alone. But the feeling that comes with helping Oasis for Orphans literally save lives has made the pain worthwhile.
"I love the kids so much and I love being with them," she says. "These kids have tragic stories full of loss, sadness and pain. Really, all of the odds were stacked against them. They had little to no chance of going to school, being loved and cared for or having a promising future. Today, it is amazing to see how God has worked in their lives and to see them not only surviving, but thriving.
"They are healthy, so happy, loved and now they have found hope. Each of their lives is truly a miracle. I love being even a small part of that. It is such a privilege to know and love them and to be able to witness first-hand the things God is doing in them."