It was an early July morning as I groggily stumbled out of bed to head to the Charleston airport. My Mom and I waited for the rest of our church’s teen ministry to arrive so we could depart for Miami, and from Miami to Cancun. All twenty of us would then split up into two twelve-passenger vans, courtesy of the Cancun airport. From Cancun, our destination was Belize City. Our intended car ride of only a few hours turned for the worst as we arrived at the Mexico-Belize border. We had been warned numerous times to make sure we got there long before dark, only to come upon the border just as the sun went down. We were then told we had to be inspected.
We were all afraid that our toys and school supplies for the orphans would be confiscated. Thankfully, the toys weren’t seen…much like ourselves. I can’t be sure, but I’m almost positive we were smuggled across the border by a man who led us out back, but we had no idea it was happening.
With that odd event behind us, we proceeded on our trip. For dinner, we found a taco stand on the side of the road. Two ladies sold us tortilla chips with a bean spread and shredded cheese on top, costing only one dollar for six of them. Our total cost was only about eight dollars. The woman were thrilled when we gave them a twenty and told them to keep the change. After driving for nearly ten hours, we finally arrived at our leaky, concrete hotel where we ate bologna and mayonnaise sandwiches on Wonder Bread everyday for lunch. Our first day of work consisted of restoring a missionary hotel. We took our chisels, brooms, and paintbrushes and began evening the cement floors, sweeping out rocks and dirt, and painting the walls a salmon color. While this was the most labor-intensive part of our trip, it was not the most rewarding.
The next day we spent nearly $1000 at the local grocery store, buying food to box up and hand out to poor families. The families we gave to were overflowing with joy and gratitude. I will never forget tiptoeing through a small river full of dirty water, urine, and excretion. This river was the only path to the home of a sweet little girl who walked barefoot through this repulsive stream. After giving out food, we gave out small Happy Meal toys and candy to the children who then thanked us in song and dance. On the ride back, our group leaders informed us that we had just walked through a gang-run neighborhood. I knew that had I known this beforehand, I would have been terrified of going in.
The heart-warming experiences continued as we visited a run-down orphanage filled with hurt, yet smiling children. Instantly, I felt a wave of guilt washing over me as I looked around at the little they had and thought of all the luxuries I had sitting in my room back home. Luckily this guilt was soon overpowered by joy as I played and laughed with all the children. I will always remember the young boy who had been saving up for weeks to buy a Snickers bar and then without a second thought offered it to us. This kind of selflessness left a mark on my heart. I wanted nothing more than to take these adorable children back home with me. As cliché as it sounds, this trip left me with a new heart, wanting to live a life filled with gratitude and love.
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