AU student experiences "rags to riches" summer

Wed, 2010-12-01 08:00 -- univcomm
December 1, 2010

Senior Matthew Preston will graduate in May with majors in both Bible and Religion and computer science. He used the skills he developed at Anderson University in two very different experiences this summer. First was a life-changing trip to Uganda, then a career-building internship in Indianapolis.

Experiencing another world

ugandaOver the past few years, Preston heard so many stories and positive experiences about Tri-S trips that he was determined to have one of his own before he graduated. “I thought about it, prayed about it, and narrowed it down to at least two or three places, but Uganda always stuck out in my mind,” he said. Preston knew that if he were called to do this, God would provide a way for him. He raised the majority of the cost through the support of his family and friends.

[Photo on left: A group of Matthew Preston's fellow travelers stops at the headwaters of the Nile for a photo.]

The team to Uganda carpooled to Chicago and flew to Amsterdam, which was roughly eight hours, and took yet another 8-hour flight into Entebbe, Uganda. The airport is just a few hours south of the capitol, Kampala, where Church of God missionaries Steve and Colleen Stevenson live and host Tri-S teams.

In Uganda, the team worked with Tumaini Aids Prevention Program (TAPP). TAPP started as a grassroots response to the AIDS Pandemic but has grown to 40 districts of Uganda and has crossed borders into Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Burundi. Tumaini is a Swahili word meaning “hope.” TAPP provides the opportunity for AIDS victims to make hand-crafted beads out of recycled paper and sell them in the United States. The project allows women to make the beads at home so they can care for their children. After the beads are glued, TAPP provides a place for all the members to work together varnishing and stringing the beads to make necklaces, bracelets, and earnings.

“We were able to experience a TAPP training conference with other Ugandans and pastors from Uganda, Congo, and Burundi,” said Preston. “They all came to learn about HIV/AIDS prevention and holistic medicine techniques and care. We did some work projects, but our focus was to come alongside the pastors as they were going through the TAPP training at Kasubi Church of God.”

Preston was able to apply some of his own knowledge and gifts to show the love of God to the Ugandan people.

“One of my projects was to help organize and improve an Internet cafe which had recently been started at one of the TAPP branches. It was neat to share technical skills that I have obtained over the years with a Ugandan who was my brother in Christ,” said Preston.

The team also participated in TAPP's monthly home visits to HIV/AIDS victims, which provide food, clothing, treatment, prayer, and love. The visits are usually to women abandoned by their husbands due to the social stigma of the disease. The women are left to take care of their children — and often children of other family members who have died of AIDS — without a job, husband, or good health.

“On one of our visits, we went to a home and there was a little boy who smiled the whole time ... He just kept smiling when we were there. He didn’t speak English, but you could tell he was overjoyed that we came to visit,” said Preston. “It really just taught me something about joy in meeting these people. They live in and are surrounded by crazy circumstances, yet he could not stop smiling. We just made his day by stopping and blowing bubbles with him.”

Preston fell in love with the smiling little boy who came to be known as "10–year-old John", the eldest of five brothers and sisters. John’s father left his family when he learned his wife had HIV/AIDS. Their mother is left to take care of the children by working in a rock quarry, smashing rocks all day, even while she is very sick.

“The amount of joy John had shook me. I wanted to be able to give this kid a chance. I asked if I could sponsor him and soon found out I could. The neighbors helped me translate to John and his mother that I wanted to be his sponsor,” said Preston. “Somehow he managed to smile even bigger when he found out he was being sponsored.”

Finding a place in the world

Preston returned home from Uganda thankful for his experiences. He started just a week later as an intern at Interactive Intelligence, located on the northwest side of Indianapolis. Professor Charles Koontz and the computer science department have a connection with Interactive, and Preston was one of the few chosen to intern with the organization over the summer.

Interactive is a telephone software company that writes software for call centers to use phones more efficiently. From June to mid-August, Preston worked in the testing department at Interactive, specifically, on the automation team.

“The testing department is a crucial aspect of Interactive because in many ways the people in the department are some of the last people who see the product before it is shipped worldwide. Thoroughness and accuracy were vital parts of the internship,” said Preston.

Preston is thankful for his opportunity to intern with Interactive. “Along with the work experience, we also were provided with lunches a couple of days a week while we learned about the company and were also invited to the CEO's house for a few pool parties,” said Preston. “Interactive is known as one of the best internship experiences in Indiana, and I would definitely agree with that accolade.”

Preston was well prepared for the internship and has already received an offer to return to the company as a full-time employee upon graduation.

“I have a skill with computers, but it is not something I could be passionate about long term. So I have been talking to different people and considering grad school with my Bible and religion major, meanwhile using computer skills,” said Preston.

Preston learned a lot about himself through these summer experiences, which he believes could influence the direction he takes in life. “The two big experiences of my summer were made possible by AU,” Preston said. “These experiences not only helped me figure out my immediate future after college but also continue to shape and affect the ‘bigger picture’ in my life.”

— Lydia Smith is a senior from Indianapolis, Ind., majoring in communication arts and and minoring in peace and conflict transformation. Smith is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of Anderson University Office of University Communications.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the sixth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.