The summer after sophomore year my mother convinced me to go on my church’s (Peachtree Road United Methodist Church) mission trip to Nicaragua. I felt apprehensive about traveling outside of the United States to the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, knowing only two people in the youth group. The only previous time I had been out of the country was a family trip to Costa Rica in third grade.
However, after a few hours with new friends, the plane touched down. Gazing out the window, I realized this would be the experience of a lifetime. But, let’s fast forward. Yes, the first trip was eye-opening, and it taught me how much I have in comparison with the rest of the world. However, it was the second trip, the summer after my junior year, that has stuck with me and showed me what is important in my life. On just the second day of the second trip, I met the most influential person of my life: a twelve year old boy.
For a few years now my church has been working with a small community outside of the city of Leon called William Fonseca. We have built bathrooms, taught Vacation Bible School, and funded a clinic among other things. This particular year we were building houses for two families.
As I stepped off the bus at the worksite, I felt a tap on my shoulder. My eyes settled on a small Nicaraguan boy.
“Hello, my name is Christian,” he said in clear drawn-out English. “My brother and sister and I want to help you. What is your name?”
“I’m Blair,” I replied handing him a shovel.
“Bleur?” he asked.
“No, B-lair,” I said smiling.
“Oh, Blur,” he paused. “Is this correct?”
“Close enough,” I said laughing. He smiled, and we became instant friends. The days were spent mixing cement and getting to know Christian. We ate sunflower seeds, played soccer, and learned each other’s language. You see, Christian was taking English in school. I knew some Spanish, so we traded words. He would point to a clothing article and I would say the article in English, then he would say it in Spanish. Sometimes a piece of clothing sparked a story, so we chatted away.
I discovered not only Christian’s eagerness to learn, but his perseverance and dedication to everything and everyone. I learned that he ran five miles every morning before school, that he listened to, wrote down, and memorized the lyrics of English songs to learn the language more quickly, and that this was going to be his house. His mother made tortillas for a living, a job held by the poorest of the poor. His littlest sister was sick, and he cared for her, his younger brother, and sister.
Christian’s devotion to his family was unparalleled. He helped build his house to provide a roof over his mother’s head. He cared for his siblings to ensure their happiness. It didn’t matter that rice and beans was a rare and exquisite meal in his household. What mattered was his family, and that is what he showed me.
The Nicaraguans reached out to everyone in their community. Christian started conversations with anyone passing by. When I asked him who some of them were he said, “No sÃ© (I don’t know). I’ve not seen him before.” Our translators made new friends while buying milk. At an elementary school, teachers welcomed teenage boys they didn’t even know. The sense of community and trust that the Nicaraguan people have for each other is unique. These people, who have virtually nothing compared to what we have in the United States, have everything when it comes to family, love, and community. Despite their hardships, they are happy.
Through my experience with Christian, I found that what matters most to me are my efforts to build and keep relationships. He taught me that relationships are the foundation of life. They give us courage to perform better, and safety to fall back upon. My friends and family have made me what I am today and what I will be in the future. They push me to be better in the classroom, on the soccer field, and in everyday life. They comfort me when I’m down and protect me when I’m threatened. They stop me from making poor choices and persuade me to make good choices.
After returning from Nicaragua that year, I told my family, friends, and dog I loved them. Since then, I have been thankful for my family’s love. My church is initiating a program that sends Nicaraguan children to the United States for a good education. Christian is first on the list. His perseverance, gratitude, dedication, and love have helped me discover the role that relationships have played in my life and their place in the core of my beliefs. I am looking forward to seeing him again this year.
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