An Unanticipated Lesson
The dilapidated bus shuddered and shook down the highway. It had overheated five times and run out of gas an hour ago because the fuel gauge was broken. It was the first day of spring break and I was traveling with my youth group on a mission trip down to
When we crossed the border checkpoint, it was as if we had stumbled into a different world. What had been paved roads became sand streets littered with broken glass and sticks. The blaring commercial advertisement billboards and golden arches of fast-food chain restaurants became the humble signs in front of family-owned tiendas and shops. The contrast was stark. Conversations on the bus quickly ceased and we silently absorbed the new environment. We unloaded from the bus and stepped onto the hot sand, grateful to exercise our cramped legs and sore backsides. Our group set up a large tent roof over a cracked concrete slab—what would be our bed for ten days. Several neighborhood children had gathered to curiously watch us from the edge of the fence near our campsite. I approached them and attempted to explain—using Spanish language skills learned in class at school—why our group was here. When I told them that we would be holding a children’s carnival with games later that week, their faces lit up like Christmas trees.
Ten days have never passed so quickly. We built a house for a family who was homeless, held several neighborhood carnivals for children, and cooked a feast for a neighborhood of Mexican families. I will never forget the young boy, Diego, who ran over two miles in bare feet on the hot, glass-littered sand to attend one of our carnivals. When I asked him why he ran in bare feet, he simply shrugged and stated, “No tengo zapatos.” But Diego’s poverty didn’t prevent his exuberance; he padded off to enjoy the carnival games that we had set up earlier that day. As Diego scurried away, I felt a revelation overcome me—happiness without acquisition was something foreign to my culture.
I crossed the border back over into the States with a new outlook on life. I had realized the commercialistic and superficial nature of American culture. I had traveled to
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