Through an erupting volcano, a multitude of odd night stays, and airplane delays, the time before our arrival had been a journey in itself. Although, looking back it made my trip to Uruguay even more special. It was myself, my mother and father, and a group of about 15 others that made our way to Montevideo, Uruguay. We had been sent there for one reason: to spread the love and word of our savior, Jesus Christ. In the end, going to Uruguay was more than a mission trip; it was a life-changing experience.
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Four days later than we expected, we arrived in Uruguay. My first impression: the airport. It looked like it had come right out of a Star Trek movie as Spock’s spaceship, and crashed in the rural outskirts of Montevideo. From there on, my impression was more rustic and dated than sci-fi. The portable heaters and not being able to put toilet paper in the toilet was quite a change, and not to mention all of the people speaking Spanish.
During our stay, my group and I were stationed at a new church outside of downtown Montevideo. There we helped build a fence for their yard and start a garden so they would be able to provide for some of the many needy neighbors. The kindness we experienced was amazing. Not only did everyone greet you with a kiss on the cheek, but if you were lucky enough they would share their Maté. Maté is a Uruguayan cultural drink, or “friendship” drink. In reality, it is a mixture of extremely hot tea and herbs; only you drink it from a straw. A typical Uruguayan always carries Maté with them and passes it from friend to friend. This cultural custom really showed me the friendship and kindness that exists in the hearts of the people of Uruguay.
It was one day in particular, the last day we were going to be helping with the church, that still to this day impacts me. The group I was with went out into the streets with one of the local boys, to round up kids for a fun game of soccer. My surroundings were shocking. There were mounds of trash, just thrown on the side of the road to be deserted. Glancing to my sides I found dirt alleyways lined with shacks. These shacks were what the people called home. I was scared, for we were told we were in a dangerous part of town, although as I walked down the poverty-stricken streets realization hit. I do not have everything I desire but I am blessed. Unlike some, I have a sturdy roof over my head, parents who are always there for me, an abundance of food, and a reliable feeling of protection. But what hit me even harder was the joy that appeared on the faces of the children living in poverty. Never have I seen that joy on a child in an American suburb. As Americans, we are blessed but not grateful. If children, who barely have anything to call their own, can radiate joy and happiness, why can we not?
My trip to Uruguay was nowhere near perfect, yet it still is the most memorable, the most life changing. Two years later I think about the joyful faces that embraced me. I think about the conditions they lived in. With that, I strive to spread their joy and humble myself on a daily basis.
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