Catelyn Orel had the opportunity to serve this summer during a mission trip in Colombia.
Photo by Isabel Thalken/Nebraska Communications

Orel Has Life-Changing Experience in Colombia

By Francis Forte

The life of a student-athlete is busy, to say the very least. Between training, meets, travel and classes, it can be hard to find time to give back.

“I rededicated my life to Christ last year and after that I just had this urge to go serve, but it’s hard as a student-athlete,” Orel said. “We are busy all the time, and you can’t really take time off.”

Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel understood this reality, but still wanted to go out and serve.

However, these obstacles did not stop Orel from following her heart and doing something extraordinary.

“I said, ‘OK God, the next mission trip or serving opportunity I get, I’m doing it, I don’t care what it is,’” Orel said. “I signed up, I knew nobody that was going, but It was the best experience of my life.”

Orel traveled to Bogota, Colombia, for a week with her church ministry in early June. While there, she worked with those less fortunate with the aim of making a difference in their lives.

“I was on the children’s ministry team, so our job was to go to different schools and parks and foundations and interact with the kids there to give them hope,” Orel said. “We had a really good time with them and we sang songs with them, taught them dances.”

Orel gained valuable life experiences from her trip, and she expressed gratitude to the trip supervisors for teaching her new things.

“I met the best friends ever and so many older and wiser people than me,” Orel said. “I got to learn life experiences from them. They had great things to say the entire week, and I was always hungry for more.”

While Orel was a part of the children’s ministry team, she had the opportunity to impact the lives of adults as well.

“We actually ended up going to this drug rehabilitation center in Bogota,” Orel said. “They said it was going to be college-aged kids, but it turned out to be 18- to 60-year old men, just men, so it was very very intimidating at first.”

It was opportunities like that which brought Orel even closer to God and strengthened her faith.

“It pushed me to be more bold in my faith and as a person. I thought ‘OK, He’s put me here, I’m not scared,’” Orel said. “I was a little scared at first and a little intimidated. I wouldn’t let that stop me sharing who I am with those people.”

However, it was not the sudden changes of schedule or language barrier that served as Orel’s biggest obstacle during her trip. It was actually leaving after meeting so many people in such a short amount of time.

“I did not want to leave, I cried on the bus home,” Orel said. “It was hard because we built a lot of great relationships with the Colombian community. The kids would start coming to the church, and we would play with them, and we were waving to them from the bus, and they were crying, and I started crying.”

Since returning home and to the gym, Orel now understands how fortunate she truly is, and vows to never take what she has for granted.

“We were in a rougher area, but the joy the kids had there, they had no idea that what they had was nothing,” Orel said. “Especially at the University, we have so many privileges that a lot of people don’t get. I think it really opened my eyes and I thought ‘Wow, I am so wealthy, we are so wealthy here in America.’”

Even more than her material possessions, Orel now has a greater appreciation for the relationships she has with her family and teammates. She expressed how thankful she was to be able to share that love with the children she worked with, even if it was only for a week.

“I also have an amazing family in Nebraska in my team and my coaches and the athletic department as a whole, we are a huge family,” Orel said. “I took more of that away because those kids clinged to us because they did not have anyone before, so that was heartbreaking to see. It was amazing to be able to give that to them for a short period of time.”

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