It was two years ago, but I can recall every moment of that summer perfectly. I saw Bunratty Castle in Ireland, repelled down an ancient tower in Wales, rode the London Eye in England, and visited the Eiffel Tower in France. I was on a tour of Western Europe, traveling with a Student Ambassador group during the summer before my sophomore year of school. It was the adventure of a lifetime and I believed nothing could be better. I felt that I had changed into an entirely new person. It seemed as though I had hit the peak of my summer.
I was not back for an entire day, however, before my pastor invited me to travel to Matamoros, Mexico for a mission trip. Before I knew it, I was in a crowded van on the ten hour drive to reach Brownsville, Texas. In the fifteen-passenger van there was little room to stretch and it seemed there was hardly enough room to breathe—quite the contrast to the plane rides to and from Europe. When the long trek was over, we did not stay in a beautiful hotel, or a charming inn, but rather the gymnasium of a church in Brownsville.
The first morning I woke earlier than everyone else, my nerves interrupting my sleep. I began to think of all the things that could go wrong: What if I get lost? I’m not very fluent in Spanish. Will that prompt the locals laugh at me for my incompetence? Perhaps I shouldn’t have even come in the first place. There is no way that this trip could ever compare to Europe! Why did I even come? Needless to say, I was a bit uncomfortable with the entire situation.
Despite my misgivings, I climbed into the van and crossed the border with my peers. When we passed across the bridge separating the countries, the youth director rolled down the windows of the van, turned off the air conditioning, and muted the radio. Immediately all my senses were assaulted by things foreign to them—the road was uneven and rough, the buildings were brightly colored, people were shouting on the streets trying to sell news papers and chewing gum to drivers, and the smell of open sewage filled my nostrils and settled somewhere along my tongue.
As we drove to our work site—Casa Bugambilia —adults along the street waved and called greetings while their children ran laughing after us. When I stepped out of the van, children tackled me with hugs, and tickling leaving me helpless but to join in their laughter. Suddenly all my nerves were gone and I was having more fun then I’d imagined.
Everyday that week one adult and I built roof supports for a house the rest of the team was building. The first day we achieved almost nothing; the work was absolutely overwhelming and we didn’t believe there was any way that we could finish. Every day after that, however, neighborhood kids timidly came into the workshop to asked in broken English if they could help us build. In limited Spanish, I told them, “SÃ.”
I was completely floored by the willingness of these children to help. During my trip in Europe, I encountered people who had everything and wanted more, but in Mexico I met people who had next to nothing and yet were enthusiastic to help their neighbors. That week I learned more than I ever have and more than I ever can. My trip to Mexico has truly changed me, inspiring my life to be one of serving my fellow man.
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