While studying horticulture at Michigan State University in 2006, Laura Havenga knew she wanted to do agricultural missionary work, but wasn’t sure how to get started.
The opportunity came when missionaries from Malawi came and spoke at her church. Hearing about their work, Havenga realized it was exactly what she wanted to do and spoke with them. The missionaries told her to do two things, attend EARTH University in Costa Rica and attend the Urbana missions conference.
At the conference, she met ECHO’s intern director who told her how she could get involved and what she should do to get started.
“They told me I should get experience overseas, and I said, ‘I’m doing that, I’m going tomorrow!’” Havenga said.
Havenga went to EARTH University to study abroad to gain more insight and knowledge of tropical agriculture. After returning from Costa Rica, she applied for the internship and soon became the lowlands intern in the fall of 2009.
During her internship, Havenga worked with rice and bananas, helped at the Seed Bank, and took care of the rabbits. The 12-month, full-time commitment of the ECHO Internship Program helps interns gain hands-on experience in tropical agriculture, living in community, and learning about community development work from a Christian perspective.
Havenga completed her internship in 2010 and went to volunteer with the Sustainable Agriculture Systems Program in Peace Corps Panama. After volunteering for three and a half years, she took the position as a trainer for incoming sustainable agriculture volunteers and has been working there ever since, and in 2023 was promoted to Program Manager for Sustainable Agriculture Systems. As a trainer, Havenga would help about 25 volunteers each year prepare to go out into other areas of the country to help small-scale farmers. She regularly uses the resources ECHO produces and teaches her volunteers to do the same as it greatly serves their work in the field.
Her internship at ECHO did more than just prepare her for the technical and practical work she is doing now in the field. Describing the encouraging environment and sense of community that the internship prioritizes, Havenga said, “Being in a place that really understood me was really transformative. It confirmed my commitment to live out my faith and help transform lives by serving rural farmers and families overseas.”