At the ripe age of fourteen, no one has a clue what they are doing. Of course, you know the basics. Make good friends, ALWAYS wear a cute headband, and whatever you do- don’t be weird! In the summer of 2012, I obeyed most of these rules, but then I did something strange. Well, something that most kids at 14 would consider strange. I went on a Mission Trip to Mexico (to San Miguel de Allende, a city located in the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico, to be more precise). The phrase “mission trip” implies a lot of things, and raises a lot of questions. Most people have no clue what a mission trip is, only the stereotypical description they believe to be true. Holy-Rollers traveling the world trying to convert everyone to their beliefs. I don’t blame them. I mean, I certainly did not know anyone who went on a mission trip. Mission trips are unknown, mysterious, and undeniably not your typical getaway. I soon found out; this is not the case at all.
My Mission Trip
So just to be clear, I am your average, unholy teenager going on a mission trip because my mom is a church organist (I know, that’s super weird and holy-roller-like, but bear with me.) When my mom started working at an Episcopal church the idea was daunting. I had no clue what standards or expectations little old church ladies would hold me to. Was anything required to play the role of “Organist’s kid”? The answer is nothing out of the ordinary. I was cute and nice to my elders, wore appropriate clothing…that’s about it. I knew I wanted to make friends and, no offense to the old church ladies, but they weren’t my crowd. When my mom suggested I join the church youth group I would have never believed my life was about to change forever.
Not only did I meet my best friend that day (fulfilling the first requirement of being a fourteen-year old girl; Make good friends!) I realized I really like helping people.
Our group wanted to do something more adventurous than help local Salvation Army groups. We wanted to travel. Our Youth Group leader worked with another Episcopal church in San Miguel, Guanajuato and in no time we had plane tickets, a place to stay, community projects, and a decent understanding of Spanish. Before I knew it, it was time. I packed all my summer clothes and cute headbands (fulfilling the second rule of being a fourteen-year-old). All the necessities of the trip were accounted for, but we had no clue what we were doing.
San Miguel is a beautiful, safe city in Mexico. It’s not a tourist destination, so we truly felt part of the community the second we arrived. The photo at the top is one I took upon arrival.
The vibe of this city is fun and relaxing. We experienced warm, beautiful weather, went shopping, ate the most delicious food I have ever had, and made lasting memories together. We were so fortunate to be in this beautiful city.
On our second day of the trip, we started our real mission work. We worked at a non-profit pre-school for kids that lived about twenty minutes away from the city harbor, pictured above. The school is run by a woman named Patricia. We were only here for a week, compared to Patricia who has been single-handedly running this non-profit charity preschool for four years. She has dedicated the rest of her adult life to creating this school and helping the children who desperately need her services. The school was a head-start summer program for children who were in need, to encourage their success throughout grades K-12; and beyond. These 3, 4 and 5-year-old children lived in the compo. They lived in poverty, in tiny, frail homes, on dirt floors. For many children, the donated meal they received on weekdays at noon (in school) was the only meal they would receive that day. Talk about a reality check. Here we are, American kids who all live in furnished homes with air conditioning, who never worry if their next meal will arrive, trying to connect with these Latin American children, living in poverty that we will never understand.
This was much more than volunteering for my youth group. We needed to help them in every way possible. My biggest concern was relating to the kids. We were from entirely different walks of life. At a rudimentary level, we did not even speak the same language. And, as any foreign language student will tell you; you think you know a second language until you have a conversation with a native speaker. So here we were, Monday, the first day of school. I am an awkward 14-year-old “gringa” with braces, trying to make a difference.
I came into the school, knowing where these children came from and how they lived, but I forgot all that the second I started playing with them. They were just kids. Not Latin American, not South American, not in poverty, or well-off. I almost forgot that we spoke a different language, because the language we all knew, was simply having fun. We painted with them, read them stories, and helped them put on a play. Every day was a new adventure with them. Every day, language and lifestyle mattered less. No matter what walks of life these kids came from; I knew I was helping them learn and achieve new things every day! The greatest lesson I learned? I cannot claim that I changed their lives, but they truly changed mine with their acceptance and kindness. They didn’t see an awkward 14-year-old gringo with braces; they saw a friend.
Of course, you cannot forget these children’s predicaments. These thoughts arose multiple times throughout the trip. Every night I slept in a comfortable bed, in a house filled with friends; they were sleeping on a crowded dirt floor. Every night I was served a hot meal; while they were hungry. I had never been so angry at the sight of someone wasting food as I was during that week. With privilege comes responsibly, it is our duty to help those who need us and our resources. Mission trips are not about being a ‘holy-roller,’ they are about helping people. I donated my time and love to these kids for five days, and it changed me forever.
When people ask me what I did on the mission trip, I want to respond to the more important question, “what did I do afterwards?” It’s been five years since my trip to San Miguel. I would not trade the experience I had that week in 2012 for anything. If you ever get the opportunity to help others, do it. Do something out of the ordinary, go on a mission trip and help others thrive in their own community, religion, and culture. Anyone can help change the world, one mission trip at a time. Oh, and as always, stay weird.
Written by Ally Ibach