Kyle Horstmann looks like an ordinary high-school kid with his linebacker build and winning smile. One would never know that he has already been halfway around the world on a mission to change lives, and is planning to do it again. This year he’ll be in Cape Verde, an island nation off the west coast of Africa, building houses.
How did this come about? In early 2014, Kyle was online, looking for openings in Especially for Youth, a week-long summer youth program run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But before he could home in on EFY, his eye caught on something else: HEFY (Humanitarian Experience for Youth).
HEFY is a nonprofit organization that arranges for Latter-day Saint young people ages 16-19 to go to impoverished countries and build communities—literally. They build “classrooms, homes, orphanages, health clinics, and other beneficial facilities.” Expeditions are led by guides who have either been missionaries to areas like these or have other experience with humanitarian work in underdeveloped countries. Each project utilizes three to four groups of workers throughout the summer, with each session lasting three weeks. Each group consists of about 12 to 14 youth, two leaders and some parent coaches.
Last summer Kyle spent three weeks in Peru as part of a project to rebuild a dilapidated school. “They do everything from the ground up,” Horstmann’s mother, Holly Hutchings, explained. “They cleared a space and made a whole new classroom. And they finished work on soup kitchen…as well.”
“I worked with concrete,” Kyle said, “and that takes a while. They don’t have concrete mixers there, so you have to mix it by hand with a shovel then carry it to the place where you’re going to apply it.”Why would a kid choose to spend his summer this way, and pay for the privilege?Why would a kid choose to spend his summer this way, and pay for the privilege? “I like to work…. What’s really cool about it though is the time with the members [of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. I built lasting relationships over a period of 3 weeks in Peru. I still talk to people. I use a little translator. And we just really care about each other. That’s what really stuck out to me. The relationships I built with people, and the experience.”
The work began long before he got to Peru. “All of it was service. Working for it, raising the money that went for the materials—concrete and stuff. [I also had to] exercise, and get in shape because the work is heavy. I was the heavy lifter.”
Raising the money last year was quite a trick, too. At 15 (his 16th birthday was shortly before the trip) he had to rely on fundraisers and donations to come up with approximately $3000 for the excursion, plus domestic airfare.
Holly explained, “Part of the HEFY program is they don’t want your parents paying for it. …They want you to raise most of your money yourself. I think it’s important that they know that the money they raise pays for the cement. They take their own tools. That’s why it costs what it does.
“It was an 8-month ordeal, but it was a family thing. He has two brothers with autism, and they were active in doing things. They were excited for their brother.”
Kyle smiled. “They told their friends about fundraisers. They’d work—they’re not tuned to working, but they did. It was a big deal. It was awesome.”
Callis Hutchings was impressed with the impact the experience had on his son. ”One thing that I think helped Kyle out a lot is that he came home realizing how much he has here. He’s always been a good kid—that’s why he went in the first place. But he talked about a guy that had one white shirt. That was all he could afford. And so he kept it for Sunday and went shirtless the rest of the week so that he’s have a clean, nice shirt for church. And just seeing the devotion amidst those circumstances and the poverty and what people go through who have so little and yet they were so passionate. And then he came home and said, ‘Holy cow, I’ve got a lot.’”
Holly quietly added, “He left all of his clothes there with those people. And they were his clothes that he had just gotten for his birthday…. He came home with just the clothes on his back. Then I asked him what he wanted for Christmas and he said, ‘Nothing. I have enough. I don’t need anything.’”
This summer Kyle doesn’t have to do fundraising for the trip. Now that he’s 16, he has a job. But he is gathering white shirts and ties. “You know, Christ accepts our best,” he said. “But if we can just prepare them more. Give them clothes [to wear] to officiate [in church], that’s cool.”
Holly pointed out that her son is also gathering things for hygiene kits. “Most of the people on Cape Verde live on $2 a day, so things are very hard for them to come by.”
Standards for participants are high. The youth know that they represent the Church to the people they are serving. Kyle notes that the people he served in Peru last year knew “we were there in the name of the Lord. We made that very clear. It was the Lord who prompted us to serve. I believe they felt that. They were very strong members [of the Church] themselves, a lot of them. And those who weren’t were bearing testimony at the end of a work day, too. Like, ‘Hey, I’m not a member of your church, but what you guys are doing is right, and I believe in what you’re doing.’”
After that experience, Kyle went back to the HEFY website to plan his summer this year. He was excited to be chosen for the Cape Verde project. He will leave June 8 for about 3 weeks.
“We’re going to be building homes,” he said, showing a picture of the cardboard and tin lean-tos that serve as dwellings right now. “Building homes and trying to be an example…. The Church is very new there. They just built their first stake, and it’s very exciting because it’s budding. [There are already about] 12,000 members.”
The new homes will be made of cinder blocks. Horstmann could not predict how many his work group will finish, but by the end of the summer, many people will be in safe, weatherproof homes.
Kyle will also be teaching English to college students while he’s there.
While on their trips, the youth participate in more recreational activities two or three days, including visits to interesting sites. In Peru they visited Machu Picchu and the LDS Lima Temple. “Service is preparation to go the temple,” Kyle commented. “I’ve been to temples before, but I never felt so worthy to be there [as I did after serving in Peru].”
Though there are no tourist attractions near Cape Verde, the youth will have some recreation time taking in the beauty of the area. On their return to the U.S. they will enjoy a day in Boston, where they will visit the Boston Temple and attend a lecture at Harvard.
Horstmann sees many valuable benefits of spending his summers serving others. “Being Christlike,” tops his list. “And the people being served, I would imagine, gain a testimony of service, too.” And education. “The education that that school [in Peru] will provide for the kids is going to help them escape poverty. Education is the most important thing, in my opinion. Not only does help the spiritual aspect but their physical standing in the world.“You don’t have to go to a foreign country to receive those blessings that I did…. service is the way that we show the pure love of Christ.” “Every bit of service brings blessings. Every bit of sacrifice brings blessings. You don’t have to go to a foreign country to receive those blessings that I did. Even just indexing [transcribing genealogical records], temple work, fixing somebody’s backyard or just making somebody’s day is service. And it brings the same blessings. That’s my testimony—that service is the way that we show the pure love of Christ.”