Two years ago, I had the chance to explore a country completely different from my own. This trip of contrasts ranged from dusty jungle roads to serene nights beneath the most incredible display of stars. From sight-seeing to children’s camps, I played soccer with approximately forty children all at once, witnessed the most poverty-stricken people I have ever witnessed in my lifetime, yet experienced the most life-changing trip I have ever taken.
When my church decided to go on a mission trip to Bolivia, I had difficulty deciding whether to go or not. Even when I finally decided to go, the doubting still remained. We arrived at the Cochabamba Airport and immediately, like a sucker-punch to the stomach, observed the poverty of this place. While we flew into the airport, we looked out the windows and saw the dirty shacks and the dusty roads in contrast to the beautiful Andes Mountains. Getting out of the plane, we noticed a stench in the air difficult to explain. All I know is that the stench made me feel an overwhelming pity for the country’s inhabitants.
We arrived at the home of the missionaries we were helping and where we would be staying. It was most likely one of the nicest houses I saw there all week. While there, we met a young woman named Priscilla, our interpreter for the week. Immediately she and I became friends because of our similar personalities and our love for joking and sarcasm.
Overall, most activities we performed involved children’s clubs. I vividly remember our trip to the shacks we saw from the airplane, because it truly made me sympathize with the people that lived there; the children’s expressions created a joy inside me, as well. We were going to do a children’s club and to do that we had to go around the whole community and gather children. We set out on foot, collecting the children within walking distance. As we trudged around observing the world so foreign to us, our eyes opened to what real, cruel poverty looked like. The roads we walked were made of dirt, and trash littered them. The government had constructed small house-type buildings of concrete beside the local garbage dump, but many people remained homeless. The buildings had little more than four walls and a sheet metal roof with holes for the door and windows.
Most people were outside digging through the garbage around them and watching their children play. The children themselves seemed very energetic and excited to see us. They ran from all directions at us yelling things in Spanish that I could not understand and gathered around us, touching us. All the smaller children begged us to pick them up. Later, the missionaries explained that they did this, because they never had anyone to hold them, and it made them feel secure.
My other experiences and the lives of the Bolivian people had a powerful impact on me. I’m positive that if I had not chosen to go on this trip, I would not be the same person I am today. Seeing the needs that these people have has made me more loving to the homeless and more sympathetic to the conditions of people in poverty all over the world. The biggest change is that I have especially started giving to missions in my church; in fact, I even desire to support the people that bring food and God to these people instead of dreading the loss of my money.
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