August 16-22, 2008
Reflecting over the past week, I think to myself, “Where to begin?” It was unBELIZEable! It was the best 8 days of my life – every moment of it. When the airplane touched down in Belize it was the first time I had ever stepped foot on foreign soil. Traveling on the bus the first day, I could immediately see how different the culture is from the United States. The land is empty, dry and dessert-like with only one road connecting the small villages together. The homes, made of tree branches and weathered wood, were falling apart due to past tropical storms, insufficient building supplies and poor assembly methods.
One of our first stops was an orphanage in Belize City – a city unlike any large U.S. city. There was trash everywhere, wild dogs walking the streets and the sewer system was literally a ditch right next to the orphanage. When the bus pulled up, the little children ran to the fence poking their heads through waiting for us. The orphanage was like a prison for them and they desperately wanted out to get attention from anyone who would give it. The children were very dirty and the facilities were obviously unkempt. When talking to the children, I didn’t know how to answer some of their questions. They asked questions like, “What is a shell?” (having never been to the ocean), “Do you live in a school?” (having no comprehension of what it’s like to live in a home or a room all to themselves). Then, to top it all, when our missionary group made necklaces for the children as gifts, one of the little boys offered it to me – not because he didn’t want it, but because he genuinely wanted me to have it. This was one of his only possessions and he wanted me to have it. All I could think was “WOW! What a humbling experience!” When it was time to leave the orphanage, the children grabbed onto us, begging us not to go, and asked if they could come with us. With broken hearts, we waved goodbye to the children as they clung onto the fence and watched us as the bus was pulling away.
Sunday, we lead the church services at Sand Hill Baptist Church in Sandhill, Belize, population 2,000. Sister Lisa played the guitar for the service as everyone else sang. In the middle of the service, it was their tradition to do an “open mic” session where anyone could get up in front of the church to say whatever they wanted. Many kids went up to sing a song by themselves without even asking an adult for permission. A few of the kids recited bible versus. It was so sweet seeing the children’s confidence when they stood in front of the congregation. We heard many group members’ “testimonies” about their struggles in life: Abortion; miscarriages; divorces; life threatening injuries; drug/alcohol addictions; etc. It really made me realize how there is always someone else that has it harder than you and that you are never alone through challenging obstacles in life.
Monday-Thursday we had Vacation Bible School – the highlight of my trip. The first day, 75 kids ran off of the bus screaming with excitement to meet with us. We began each morning by listening to the daily messages spoken through the funny athletes, “Norton and Ned,” from Nerdsylvania. They carried out messages that made the kids laugh and learn at the same time. After the message, we all grabbed a partner and did the Norton and Ned dance (the Fresh Prince, “Jump On It” dance). The kids loved it! Then, they attended each activity for the following 2 hours: Crafts; bible story; silly songs; snacks and games. I volunteered in the games section and each day we had a different activity: Tug of war; three legged races; water balloon toss; and bouncy ball relay race. Besides all of these games, I always had a kid on my back and we ran laps around the church. As soon as I set one down on the ground, another one wanted to get on my shoulders. I had to have given over 75 piggy bags rides all week. If your wondering about sweat, my clothes were completely drenched before we even started VBS. So, every time I gave a hug, I was giving the kids a bath as well!
The last day of VBS was one of the best and saddest days of my life. Over 150 kids showed up, double last years total, and I gave everything I had when we were singing and dancing with the songs. The best part of VBS for me was singing the song, “Jesus, You Are My Best Friend.” So, try to image it – we are in a small church room, with no air conditioning, the heat and humidity coming in from outside, sweat dripping off of our faces and clothes, completely exhausted, in desperate need of water, and hearing 150+ little kids screaming “Jesus You Are My Best Friend” at the top of there lungs as we are all jumping up and down and dancing. Afterwards, I never felt so tired in my life. At the same time, I have never felt so GOOD and HAPPY. My heart literally felt like it weighed 50 pounds, one of the best feelings of my life.
The saddest part was saying goodbye to the kids. They all wanted one last piggyback ride before they left. When they got on the bus, we stood next to them holding their hands through the bus window. It was at that moment when I gave them my sunglasses, watch and wristband. I distinctly remember seeing a little girl with her face against the window not able to reach her hand out. She placed her hand on the glass and I placed mine right on top of hers. I did not want them to leave but the bus took off and tears fell from all of our faces.
I developed personal relationship with a lot of the kids:
- Dwayne, a young boy, sat on my lap during the church services and on the bus rides.
- Whitney was the cutest and shyest girl that I have ever met. She was scared for me to give her a piggyback ride but when I gave her one, she was laughing and as happy as ever could be.
- Kevia, my little angel! Kevia was a young girl that had a smile that melted my heart every time I saw her. We played the hand slap game and her laugh brought pure joy to my heart. She was also very smart for her age and very creative, too – coloring and drawing a lot. One day she began crying because her eyes hurt. Later I found out that she was near sighted. The next day I gave her my prescription glasses and she was sooooooo happy to have them. Being able to help someone in that way really meant a lot to me, and it reminded me of the lyrics to the song “Amazing Grace” – ‘Was blind but now I see.’ Sadly, I did not get to say goodbye to her or even get a picture with her but I am going to be her pen pal and will be sending her some art supplies. I hope to see her smile again next year when I return.
We also did some construction projects at the church as well. We repainted the entire inside and outside of the church as well as the secondary class building. I ended up painting 2 murals inside and painted the name on the front of the church so people can see it when on the road. Each is about 9 feat long by 7 feet tall.
We also went on a couple excursions during the week. We traveled a few hours inland to the forest and hiked some trails and went down into a large cave with a river flowing through it. Then, we went swimming in the Blue Hole, a very small but very deep lake in the middle of the forest. It was there that I cliff jumped from 30 feet into the cold blue water – a truly amazing and exciting leap of faith. Friday, the last day, we took a water taxi to Caye Caulker, an Island off of Belize in the Caribbean Sea. We snorkeled the 2nd largest coral reef in the world. The water was crystal clear and you could see everything, just like in the movies. We saw sea urchins, all of the different coral formations, many tropical colored fish and a nurse shark. The current made me bump into a piece of coral and even though I just lightly touched it, it left a rash on my body. Then, we snorkeled at Shark Ray Alley where there were around 20 sting rays swimming in all directions around our feet, each one about 3-5 feet long. I was able to grab onto one and hold onto it out of the water!
This trip changed me spiritually, culturally and emotionally. I definitely would like to continue in this path and would like to do another mission trip in the near future. I am still the same Steve, but I have a new outlook on the life and I am really looking forward to seeing what I can do and accomplish now that I know my path and what I can do for others. I would like to thank each and every one of you for your thoughts and prayers and for the financial support you gave me during this trip. It truly changed my life. Words cannot describe how good I feel inside. I hope that I can return the favor to you in the future when you go on a mission trip, or volunteer in some way shape or form. You will find God in ways you never would have expected. You are in my prayers always and again I would like to thank you for bringing me closer to God.