“Bye,” said my mother as she walked out the door.
I replied to her and flashed a smile. Then I went through the maze of my church to try and locate my mission team. I found the team gathered in a large room in the middle of the church; they all seemed so eager with their optimism and smiling faces. I was facing the reality that in less than six hours, I would be flying to Los Angeles before crossing over the border into Mexico. As the others were boiling over with excitement, I was apprehensive, for I knew I would see and hear things in Tijuana I would never forget. My life will be impacted more perhaps in these next seven days than it would be in my whole life.
We pack our things and leave the church early, around three in the morning. The cars drive in a perfect line on their way to Kansas City International. We sit in the small packed cars feeling crowed; the mixture of emotions is so strong that I can almost feel it in the air. As the others anxiously await to arrive at the airport, I start to daydream. I think of my family and if I should even go on this long journey.
The cars zoom down the ghostly interstate as I think about the changes I will soon face when I come home. My family is still in shock. We seem to not be able to comprehend the fact that my grandfather, who has been there my whole life, will soon be leaving us for his permanent journey home. We were told just two days ago that his vital organs will soon be shutting down. I wonder if I should even be in this car, leaving my family for a week to help others. My grandpa told me to go and see the world, so I did. Even though he said to go, I still feel I should be there with him. The thoughts are drifting inside my head so much that I seem oblivious to the surreal world surrounding me. I didn’t think I would come out of the daydream until I heard my youth leader’s voice echo in my ears.
“Hurry, our flight leaves for Los Angeles in an hour!” says Chris, catching the attention of the whole group.
All twenty of us rush like a well-oiled machine to unload the heavy luggage from the cars. We rush inside the airport to get our bags checked and go through the long process of security. The airport is completely deserted, so we are able to go through check-in relatively quickly. We then head to security to face the TSA Agents. These agents are some of the scariest people you can meet. Since they are so devoted to keeping America safe in the air, they check everything and are very serious about their work. They search you like a maximum security prisoner, search every inch of your bag. Eventually, they wrap up their long check and wave us through. After security, we arrive in the large terminal. I then see a huge Boeing 747 that will take all of us to Los Angeles. This plane will start my journey to helping others that will change my life forever.
We board in Group C, which is the last group. After I step on the plane, I find a seat near another member of the mission team, Sabrina. The flight does its pre-flight routine and then the captain notifies us that we are set to take off in five minutes. I get comfy and prepare for takeoff. Next, the plane rolls on to the long runway and begins gaining speed. Within seconds, we are going faster than I ever felt anything move before. I look at the runway, but its moving so fast it’s just a blur of grey and white. When I think the plane can’t move any faster, I feel a quick whoosh, and then the plane lifts all of the sudden, and within minutes, we are flying so high the land below is just green and the clouds we are flying in are fluffy with water vapor. I try to stay awake to catch all of the sights, but sleep is feeling unavoidable, and my eyes get too heavy and I drift into a deep sleep.
I awake to the captain’s voice booming and Sabrina shaking me awake. She looks excited, but tired like she just experienced a long needed nap as well. She keeps shaking me until I force my eyes to open. I see her about to say something but the captain’s sudden voice over the intercom tunes her voice out as it echoes loudly throughout the whole plane.
“We are about thirty minutes out from the destination, so please take precautions now for landing,” says the captain whose voice is scratchy over the intercom.
“Sorry, what were you saying?” I ask Sabrina now being able to hear her.
“Look, down there!” she says as she points at the window towards the distant blurry ground.
I look down to see the tall Sierra Nevada’s that we are well above. But, also in the distance I see individual blurs that look something like structures. As the plane nears these mysterious structures, I realize that these are not just random buildings, but a huge city. The city is slowly unfolding, when I see the beautiful sunrise on the reflecting ocean, and I realize that God is good. The structures and ocean grow near, and eventually I see the airport.
I notice the plane is dropping in altitude very quickly. Eventually, we are low enough for the pilots to start the landing procedure. The landing gear goes down and I prepare myself for landing. The plane nears the runway and hits with full force. The small landing wheels spin so fast it looks like they are still. Our plane deaccelerates so fast that we are landed successfully in less than two minutes. We exit the plane and go into the large terminal.
Los Angeles International is huge; twice the size of KCI. We are reunited with our luggage and exit the terminal. We then board a bus that takes us to the rental car company. My youth leader, Chris, rents two large vans that will take all of us south of the border to La Mison, Mexico. I still was not aware that this small, run-down Mexican town and its life lessons would change my whole life forever.
Los Angeles is huge, but I have very little time to relish in its beauty, for we are driving fast to try and get to San Diego quickly. We soon leave the Los Angeles area and enter San Diego about three hours later. San Diego is also very pretty, but yet again I feel sleep coming on and I drift again into a deep sleep.
“A donde vas,” says some Hispanic woman that I do not know.
The woman’s voice echoes in my ears as I rub my eyes still weary from sleep. I repeat the words this mysterious woman said. I translate it as I know a little Spanish that I learned back home in order to prepare for this trip. Everyone looks me because I have shared some of my knowledge about the Spanish language with them.
“She asked where we are going, say ‘Puerta de Fe Orpantario.’” I say to the group.
“What does that mean?” asked Chris with surprise in his voice.
“Door of Faith Orphanage,” I replay nonchalantly.
Chris repeats the words that I told him to in his best Spanish. The Border Patrol Agent hears him and almost immediately lets us into Mexico. I am very nervous, but also anxious. The van pulls into the country leaving behind the United States.
The van enters the Mexican city of Tijuana. The sights in Tijuana are awful. I see vandalism, trash, and homeless children all around. The van moves slowly through the city due to amount of people entering the third world nation. Due to this, I take in all of the horrible sights that Tijuana has to offer. I am thankful whenever we exit the city and are on the open highway.
We drive south for about an hour or so before we enter the small town of La Mison. The town seems run-down, but nothing compared to the horrors I saw in Tijuana. As we are zooming into the town, we turn onto a small, rather bumpy dirt road. The road is about two miles long and it leads straight into the orphanage. This place was full of love and kids and really would make me rethink everything.
The weather is perfect, seventy degrees and sunny. The sun is setting on the mountains that surround the orphanage, and it is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. We are led to our guest cabins that we will be staying at. All of us immediately go to our beds and indulge into some much-needed sleep. I cannot wait for the day ahead of me and I think about it and my family one more time before I fall asleep.
I awake early to the sound of the orphanage rooster and to the smell of bagels. I throw down a bagel with cream cheese and drink a glass of orange juice. I put on a set of clothes so fast that for the only time in my life, I look like a marathon runner. I walk out of the door of the cabin and I begin to hike to the heart of the orphanage.
There are hundreds of kids running wild all around the orphanage. I notice something to me that at the time seemed so crazy. The kids seem so happy and excited. I wonder how they are so happy? They have been neglected, abused, and have been unwanted their whole life by their parents. I realize that maybe life isn’t so bad after all. I begin to observe the kids and what they do and how they play, then I see a teenager about my age approaching me.
“Tu querer juga?” the mysterious teen asked me.
“Si,” I say replying to the child again after I automatically translate his words.
We begin playing soccer. He is a gifted player, barely ever missing a beat. This teen seems so happy while playing, like it is his oasis in the barren desert that he uses to escape all of his problems. I finally figure out how to ask him his name and he replies to my question by stating that his name is Rubin. I will never forget Rubin, as he is the first orphan that I have ever meant.
“Ring, ring!” sounds a bell that I cannot see. Rubin says adios to me and I realize that the bell is the sound that signifies lunchtime. I also retreat back to our camp and we eat sandwiches and share our stories about the orphanage. After lunch, we return to play with the kids before retreating back to camp for dinner.
We have authentic Mexican food for dinner. I scarf down tacos and burritos. Then after dinner I play some card games before calling it a night and returning to my bed for the night. I reflect on the day and think about my family and if my grandpa is okay. I decide that whatever happens when I get back is for a reason and that God does everything for a reason. These are my last thoughts before I again fall asleep.
The next five days were all similar to the last. I play a lot of soccer and eat a lot of Mexican food. I always seem to meet up with Rubin and talk. I also meet Mickey, another teenager that I become close with. We all play and talk together. We have so much fun together that the time seems to fly like the airplane I arrived in. By the time that I realize that my time here in Mexico is nearing the end, it is day five.
The next day is a Sunday and we attend the church that the orphans go to. The church seems normal, besides that the sermon is in Spanish. I don’t understand enough Spanish to be able to comprehend a sermon, so luckily there is a translator that is there to help us understand what the Pastor is saying. The words of the Pastor were the words that I needed to hear on this trip that made me think of my grandpa more than ever before.
The service began with gospel songs. Then we heard the sermon. The Pastor used scripture in his sermon that was about how we treat others. Some of the last words were some that I will always remember. He said that a person of God is not perfect, but someone that always loves, helps, and cherishes others. Those words would make me think about everything in my life and if I should be living it differently.
The next day, we pack our bags and leave the orphanage. We head back to the border to return back to the states. When we return to the border, the agent overseeing our arrival is very strict. He double checks everything and makes sure we are safe to be entering our nation. He eventually lets us through and we begin the drive back to Los Angeles.
Again, I fall asleep and by the time I wake back up, we are at the airport. We again check-in our bags and go through security and get on the large plane. The plane takes off and this time I stay awake. I watch the sunset in the clouds that we hover above. I then sit for two hours listening to my favorite play list while I await the arrival of our return to KCI.
I exit the plane and grab my bag. Then I see my mom. She rushes over to me and gives me a hug. I tell her about my journey and ask about my grandpa. She says he is still alive, but getting worse. We rush home so I can see him.
I arrive back home and go to his house and see him. I stay the night at his house to ensure that I get as much time with him as I can. When I wake up, he is still asleep and he probably won’t wake up.
He sleeps the whole day, and gets worse through the day. Our family makes the decision to call hospice so they can be there. We all gather around him and tell him how much we love him and thank him for all he has done for us. He takes his last breath and I know that he has been reunited with his wife in a better place.
My grandpa died that cloudy day on August 3, 2015. His death brought shock to all of us. I was not ready to let go, as he had been the most influential man in my life. I cried a lot that week until the funeral.
The funeral was held on a clear, breezy day in August. While I was listening to beautiful stories, I realized something. My grandfather always did three things: he loved, cherished, and helped others. He was a true person of God and he was a role model to all of his grand kids. He never failed to make me smile, even after his death.
I finally realized what that Pastor in Mexico had meant. My grandfather was far from perfect, but he did the three things that God wants to see us do every day. He will never perish because of his ability to love, cherish, and help others.