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Displeased, I step through the gate in the tall, barbwire-topped fence, and am instantaneously surrounded by a muddle of young Hondurans. I feel a strong force pulling me down from all the kids tugging on my clothes, a force of overwhelming joy and excitement. It was undeniably infectious. Deep within myself, I feel my entire attitude about the trip change.
I could not even comprehend what the events of the next nine days would bring to me. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was in my room packing for my first mission trip, which we were departing for the next day. I was the baby on the trip at twelve, whereas most were adults or juniors and seniors in high school. As you can imagine, I felt like an extremely minor component in a much larger plan.
I approached my mom and said, “I don’t think I’ll be of much use on this trip. I’m only a seventh grader and everyone else going has already been on a trip like this.”
She wore a scowl of disgust and confidently said, “You’re of just as much use as anyone else on this trip. You are just as capable.” I sort of blew off what she said because I was already certain of my worthlessness due to the age difference and my naivety.
As we boarded the plane, a sick feeling came over me. A feeling incorporating worry, lack of confidence, and even regret. I had never been on a mission trip before and to be going to a foreign, third world country like Honduras was an extremely big step for me personally. I was a Christian, however I had no experience with teaching others about Christ and sharing my faith. As the plane lifted into the air, I looked out the window at the clouds in deep thought. “What would it be like? Will we be safe? What will we eat?” My mind was overflowing with questions, but the answers were absent. Before I knew it, we slipped out the bottom of the cloud and were gliding only a few hundred feet above rolling mountains and gaping valleys. This only made me more tentative about the events that would come. “Thud!” We were on the ground.
After an hour-long bus ride up a curvy road, I found myself at a small church on a mountainside in northern Tegucigalpa, having just received the biggest welcome ever. That night the plan was to just play with the kids and get used to interacting with them, so I joined in on a soccer match, or futból, as it is called there. Immediately, the ball is passed to me. It felt like in the exact instance it hit my foot, it was gone, and a fourth grade Honduran boy was speeding down the field with it. This infuriated me and my competitive nature took over. I did everything it required to get the ball and score, although I was having no luck. Finally after another steal, my temper got the best of me and I stormed off the field. I sat down at a bench, complacent. “How could you keep letting that happen? You looked so stupid!” I thought to myself. Then a powerful feeling came over me and it felt as if God was whispering directly into my ear.
“This isn’t about you,” he said “stop worrying about yourself, it’s about them.” I look over at the boys and girls playing, happy as could be, although they barely had anything. “Why aren’t we this way?” I thought to myself as I ran back to join them with a smile on my face, regardless of what happens.
Sunday night I went to bed early because of the hectic week we had ahead. Our group would be splitting in two; one group would stay down at the main church where we spent that afternoon, and the other would be going farther up the hill to a smaller school. Both sites would have the difficult task of running Vacation Bible School. Traditionally, this would not be difficult but it was for us because of one problem: we were short on translators. So Monday morning I enter a classroom of twenty first graders who don’t speak a lick of English, and a sophomore girl who doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish. So it is safe to say we were completely lost. It turned out that the entire week consisted of acting out Bible stories that they enjoyed, so I found there was something useful I could do.
Thursday was a typical day at the main site, but not for those up the hill; they had to say goodbye. Mid-afternoon, fifteen weeping faces entered the minuscule sanctuary. Among them was my brother, Matt. I was shocked to see this. Matt was my role model, someone I looked up to greatly. He always seemed like the spiritual, manly guy that would not cry in an entire lifetime. But here he was before my own eyes, inconsolable. I was at a loss for words, and I began crying as well. I sat down next to him and we sobbed together. When he noticed I was there, he looked up and barely got out, “Why are you crying?” I myself was not even sure why so I just made a sort of “I don’t know” gesture and resumed. It was unreal to me how much saying goodbye had impacted Matt. Back in Houston, I had always looked at people of different ethnicity in a different way, but not after this. His sorrow showed me how much he really loved those kids despite the fact they have a different color skin, or belong in a completely different economic class. He loved them unconditionally.
As the week came to an end, so did our trip. Saturday was our last day. Matt had taught me something of unattainable value in loving unconditionally. I put that into action on Friday and I could visibly see the difference of how I had changed them and grown closer to these kids. Although, the closer we grew on Friday, just made Saturday even harder. As our final day drew to a close, I could see why Matt was crying. There is no pain like telling people you love goodbye. When we tried to tell them, they didn’t believe us. But when they saw us packing everything up, you could see it on their faces, they knew. We said our final goodbyes and gave our final hugs and began exiting through the same gate we came through at the very beginning. To make it even more difficult, a boy named Juan ran up and wrapped himself around my leg to keep me from going. That was when I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I bursted out in tears and tried to tell him I had to leave, but he would not let go. Finally one of the adults from the church came and got him off. I was silent until we got to the airport.
When we got on the plane, I felt different feelings compared to the anxiety that filled me the last time I was on one. A combination of feelings came over me as I saw those hills rolling by once again. I was a different person. Spiritually renewed, confident of my capability to change people, and aware of how blessed we are. I was amazed at the joy that they have for how little they have. We have so much that they don’t, and yet they love the Lord as much as, or more than we do. I came to this country with a purpose of teaching them something, and came away from it taught by them. They taught me that joy is not found in your possessions or your achievements, but in a relationship with Christ. My brother Matt taught me that the only way to change a life of someone you do not know is to love unconditionally. The last thing I learned is that regardless age, anyone and everyone is capable of changing a life. A verse that led me through that week was 1st Timothy 4:12 and it says, “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”