It was a Target special: a bright red Frisbee that lay under piles of Hello Kitty notebooks and plastic sequined sunglasses at the bottom of the dollar bin. I bought it because it was flat, something easy to stuff into an already-overflowing suitcase. I never expected that Frisbee would change my life. I know now, however, that waiting for me at the bottom of that dollar bin was much more than a Frisbee. It was an opportunity.
When I went to Bacalar, Mexico with my youth group, my experiences were the antithesis of what I had imagined. For the first four days out of the week, I felt lost and confused. My Spanish-speaking skills had mysteriously vanished, and the fact that we were not actively painting, hauling bricks, and building churches and schools made me feel as though I was not truly on a mission trip. I felt awkward and uncomfortable every time the people of Bacalar insisted on serving me. Clutching my mega bottle of Purell and my jumbo jug of bug spray, I felt that I was the definition of an ugly American. I wanted to change that perception; I desperately wanted to make a grand, sweeping change to improve the lives of the people that I met throughout my travels.
On the fifth day of our journey in Mexico, our friends from Bacalar wanted to show my church group and me something of which they felt particularly proud: a system of running water in a nearby village, Blanca Flor. My group leader, in explaining the trip, mentioned that there may be some children in Blanca Flor, so I dug out the dejected dollar Frisbee from the bottom of my suitcase and put it in the bag that I planned to take to the village.
When we arrived in Blanca Flor, tears immediately began to fill my eyes as I looked out the window of our air-conditioned bus with its cushioned seats. Even though the town had running water, I had driven straight into the television infomercial where shrunken, starving people stare straight into the camera as their horrifically tragic life stories are read aloud. I had entered a world in which homes consisted of mud, straw, and twigs, and food was as scarce as worldly possessions. No picture, video, lesson, or words can express the poverty that the people of Blanca Flor live in, and all at once I realized that no one Frisbee, toy, or action could change that.
Upon leaving the bus, we were warmly welcomed by the villagers of Blanca Flor. I saw him immediately: a little boy staring at me from behind the entrance of his hut. As I left the group and approached him, intending to invite him to play, he ducked and hid like I was going to hit him. He was an emaciated and who could not be more than six years old, and he was terrified of me.
That’s when I got the Frisbee. I stood outside his hut, tossing it into the air and attempting to catch it. Given that sports and athletic activities are not my particular strength in life, the Frisbee catching was limited. It rolled around the village, getting treacherously close to straw roofs and nearby vegetable gardens. As I madly chased it, I began to hear laughter. Slowly, carefully, the little boy emerged, still wide-eyed and unsure, but nonetheless convinced that this strange blonde girl was a major threat to him. He began to play with me, and I am so glad he did.
On that fateful day, I learned more games that one can play with a Frisbee than I ever thought were possible. I brought immense joy into a child’s life. I gave him the one possession that he owns: a Frisbee. In the end, however, that was not what really mattered. In playing with that boy, he learned that someone cares about him and genuinely wanted the best for him. That Frisbee did not transform an entire village, but I can only hope that it changed a life, if only for a day. That boy, whose name I do not know and whose quickly mumbled words I could not understand, taught me the greatest lesson that I have learned in life: service does not have to be about big, sweeping circumstances. Traveling has given me perspective. It has made me a better person, and that is something that I never expected could begin with an object hidden under notebooks and sequined sunglasses.