In just a few days, several of my friends–and my little sister!–will begin perhaps the biggest adventure of their lives so far. They will be traveling to Mexico for a week to visit an orphanage, to help out with some work that needs to be done, and to form lasting relationships with some kids who are very important to me. Now, it’s true that not all of my friends will form lasting friendships with all the kids they are going to meet. But I believe that if they try–if they’re looking for more than just a moment–they will find a child (or teen) who connects with them.
I get so excited when I think of the adventure my friends are preparing for. I think back to my first trip to Mexico–shoveling dirt out to prepare for the foundation of a new building, riding in a van on streets whose names I couldn’t pronounce (Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, still provides the names for many streets and towns there), and laughing as I tried to make my textbook Spanish sound right when it came out of my mouth. We played soccer–or fútbol–in spite of our limited skills, we learned a bit about Mexico’s history, and we ate wonderful food. But what I remember most is the faces. Faces of children who have become my extended network of siblings over time. Faces of adults who have given years of their lives and have sacrificed in order to make sure these kids have safe homes and guardians they can trust. Faces of teachers, cooks, and office workers–all trying to make the world a brighter place for kids who have suffered in the past. I have dozens of friends and siblings in those faces–they are people who mean more than I can properly express. So it thrills me to know that my sister and my friends in the United States are soon going to meet my siblings and friends in Mexico.
I want to give these young travelers some advice about what to expect, and I suppose I could say the typical–albeit important–things. Stay with your group. Remember that laughter and hugs can cross any language barrier. Eat all your food; someone worked very hard to make it. I could share tons of advice that I’ve received over my various trips to this orphanage. Or I could leave you all with my own thoughts:
Have fun. Don’t be afraid to try out your Spanish. Even if you get it wrong, try again. Laugh at yourself. You’re going to make mistakes or act silly. It’s okay. Get to know the house parents, the cooks, the support staff. You’ll be drawn to the kids, but the adults in their lives are amazing people who can teach you a lot. Work hard; put all your effort into the task you’ve been given. Play hard; once your work is done for the day, you have the opportunity to meet some wonderful people. Take advantage of that. Eat a lot! With all your hard work and play, you’ll be needing the extra food. Just don’t forget you’ll be eating 4 meals each day. :) When you go into the city, pay attention to the history around you. There is a lot to see and learn. Thank your sponsors. They have given up a week with their families to spend it with you. This might be their vacation time from work. Make sure you tell them how much you appreciate that. Listen. Listen to your teammates, to your sponsors, to the children. Listen to the people serving God around you. Listen to God. You have so much you could learn, and if you listen, you’ll be better equipped to learn as much as you can. Be honest with yourself. Stretch yourself. You’re going to be in another country, for goodness’ sake. Look at the world from a different perspective. Be uncomfortable–it’s okay. But ask yourself why you’re uncomfortable. Build new friendships, pray a lot, and keep a journal. You’re going to want to remember what happens in these few days. Oh, and don’t forget to take lots of pictures. Your family may see those photos a few times, but you’re going to want the memories forever.
Que Dios Les Bendiga :)