The Little Smiles that Taught Me | My Family Travels

March 24, 2012, was a day of apprehension and excitement.  My stomach churned like the ocean that we were about to fly over.  I had learned as much as I could about Bogota, Colombia, but nothing could truly prepare me for the incredible week ahead.  My family and I were headed on a mission trip to Colombia.  We would be living with a missionary family.  After a lengthy plane ride, we found ourselves leaving a bustling airport and entering one of the wildest traffic jams I had ever seen…we were definitely no longer in America.

â–º  QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP

Two days later, my family and I walked into Tierra Fertil, a small Christian ministry in one of the rougher parts of Bogota, Colombia.  As I walked into a large warehouse, I felt twenty little pairs of eyes watching my family and me.  Once we were all inside the room, a volunteer started singing a welcome song in English and the little toddlers joined in unison.  I will never forget the sound of that miniature chorus singing, “How are you?  How are you?” in their thick Spanish accents.  We had brought along a craft of paper bag puppets for the youngsters to create.  We gave each child a paper bag, markers, and colorful stickers.  Then, kneeling at the little tables, we helped them color, peel stickers, and uncap their markers.  The tiny faces smiled with joy and excitement as we showed them how to stick their hands inside the bags and make the puppets talk.  They giggled, chatted, and danced with their new little friends. 

Soon afterwards, they all erupted with energy.  During the next two hours I found myself running around chasing the little toddlers.  As I watched the tiny feet pump the ground, I wondered from where all their seemingly tireless energy came.  I will never forget the faces of the lives I was able to touch.  At any given time, I was holding the hand of one child while carrying another one and chasing three or four more.  It was the most tiring yet most rewarding morning of my life.  Although these children experienced deep poverty in ways so foreign to me, as soon as I bent down and smiled at them, held out my hand, or offered my back, we had formed a special friendship. 

Later that day, my heart broke as we had to leave our new little friends.  “Adios!” I said, trying to sound cheerful.  “No, no!” replied my new little buddies who clung to my arms.  Looking back, I realize how much that morning taught me as I learned patience, joy, and most of all love. Giving a little bit of yourself can give you so much more in return.

Later that week as I stood at the top of Monserrate, I looked out over the city and into the Andes mountain range in the distance.  I saw some clouds form on the horizon and they quickly traveled toward us.  Within three minutes I was covered in a cool fog so dense that it was difficult for me to see more than three feet in front of where I was standing.  For a minute, I stood and stared into the dense fog.  Then, it dissipated as quickly as it had formed.  That fog represented my week in Bogota.  It was so brief, but refreshing.  When I left America the week before, I assumed I was going down to teach children.  Yet the more I think about my trip, the more I realize how much they taught me.

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