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Be an SOP influencer: Come with us

By: Donna Fisher

Why would you plunk down a sizeable check and take 10 days from your ordinary life to work in a tropical village with dirt streets and intermittent electricity?

Someone probably influenced you, saying, “Come with us!”

Zona Hairgrove, a junior at Black Hills State University, is an influencer. In July 2017, she accompanied her pastor, Scott McKirdy of Spearfish UMC, on a mission trip for Solar Oven Partners.

Fast forward—journalist Deb Holland tells about being “influenced” by Zona in the May issue of the Solar Oven Partners newsletter. You can read Deb’s “in country” posts on the SOP Facebook page. Watch for Zona’s personal story in next week’s Monday@Dakotas.


Deb Holland, journalist and photographer, captured action with the March 2018 team. She said - I learned about Solar Oven Partners during an Ingathering at the Sturgis United Methodist Church from Zona Hairgrove, a college student from Black Hills State University. I was so moved by her passion for this mission that I inquired that day how I could get involved. I’m so glad I did.

Let’s rewind to a “come with us” invitation by Scott and Colleen McKirdy. Pastor Scott said, “Instead of sending someone to [Black Hills State University] campus to do ministry for students, our folks tried welcoming them at church and doing ministry with them, We started simply by inviting kids to our home for Sunday night suppers.”

Spearfish UMC welcomes college students with a three-fold plan: getting kids involved right away in real ministry in and beyond local church, continually asking them what they like to do, and offering opportunities that fit.

Zona, for example, was passionate about using her Spanish language studies, so going to the Dominican Republic sounded like a good fit. Spearfish members led by Gloria and Ron Borgman could help underwrite trip costs. For many years this team has been selling hundreds, if not thousands, of cinnamon rolls to raise money for Volunteers in Mission.

Last July Zona came home on fire, soon inviting other students at BHSU to come with her.

4 Girls Sop Shirts Marj Pix

Black Hills University students Zona Hairgrove, Reno, NV; Emily Warns, Madison, SD; Rachel Buxcel, Murdo, SD; and Kathryn Mah, Mitchell, SD.

“I told Marj [SOP Director Marj Evans-de-Carpio] that I could bring a group of students, but that timing would have to be their spring break,” Scott explained. Marj knows that experiencing hands-on mission in challenging circumstances changes the hearts of missioners, too, and she made sure this trip would happen.


Kathryn Mah's little friends decide that she should wear braids like they have.

Some Volunteers in Mission have never traveled out of the country. Rachel Buxcel, Murdo, had never been in a place where everyone was of skin color different from her own.  She had never experienced the isolation of not knowing the dominant language. “You know by looking at their faces that the sides of their world just got rocked!” Scott says of both young participants and more senior volunteers.


Emily Warns, Madison UMC, works with an intent seminar participant to fit a metal oven frame.

First contact is often hesitation that soon tips into curiosity and then to adventure. “These are kids with huge hearts; they want hands-on and they want to do something that makes a difference. If you offer that, they’re in!” Scott said.

Despite barriers of culture and language, bridges are made quickly especially with children and grandmothers.


Working side by side to serve food cooked in the sun was a bonding experience for Zona Hairgrove and a Dominican grandmother.

Solar Oven Partner’s Mother’s Day campaign will raise scholarship funds for high school and college-age young people and also for adults who may not have financial means to fund a mission trip themselves. Honor the woman who encouraged you to put Love into Action. No one should miss a faith-building encounter that changes the life of the volunteer forever.

If you’ve been touched by a Solar Oven influencer, contact your pastor or Marj Evans-de-Carpio to volunteer; reach out to a young adult, a friend with a busy life, or a retiree. Say “Come with me!”


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