Volunteer in mission

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 30, 2007

By Nick Badgio

For the Salisbury Post

Working on a mission team in Guatemala with a bunch of adults might not be every teenager’s idea of the perfect Sweet 16, but Jordan Oakes didn’t mind.

Now a senior at Salisbury High School, Jordan was hooked after that mission trip two years ago and has now been to Guatemala three times — a total of 9,600 miles traveled.

“Once I went one year, I couldn’t stop going,” she said.

Her most recent trip, her third, was in November. Jordan flew to Guatemala for eight days with about 20 other members of First United Methodist Church, including her father Sid Oakes, who organized the mission. Her mom, Cindy, has gone on previous trips.

Every year since 2002, volunteers from First Methodist have traveled to Guatemala to serve with Volunteers in Mission, a Methodist organization that provides opportunities for service in places of need around the world. Along with construction projects and Bible school classes for children, the Salisbury team has provided medical care, working in a clinic outside of Quetzeltenango and in mobile clinics around the country.

Jordan has been the only youth member of the church to participate in the Guatemala mission and this year took on a challenging role for a teenager.

During her first two trips, Jordan worked handing out medicine and vitamins. This year, she was in charge of running the pharmacy, although the head of the medical team, Dr. Brink Brinkley, helped out, she said.

Several weeks before the trip, Jordan enlisted the help of some of her high school classmates to help with trip preparations. Several dozen members of the Salisbury High National Honor Society, along with advisor Adair Doran, helped Jordan count out vitamins and medicine into small plastic resealable bags so that the most commonly written prescriptions would be ready for distribution.

The team’s days in Guatemala began at 5:30 — 6:30 a.m. “if my dad was nice,” Jordan said. People would take their showers, eat breakfast and then hop on the bus which drove them to the day’s assigned town.

Bus rides in Guatemala could be nerve-wracking.

“Imagine a single-lane road in the mountains,” Jordan said. “One side you look straight down and see the gorge; the other side you see mountain rock. In front of you, you see a huge truck, like a truck carrying lumber or rocks.”

Jordan and her mission trip cohorts had faith that their bus driver would keep them safe.

“Our bus driver was super great,” Jordan said. “Adolfo has been our driver the past three trips.”

Last year, Hurricane Stan caused flooding and mudslides in Guatemala shortly before the mission team arrived, making the trip the toughest and most challenging of the five Guatemala missions undertaken by First Methodist. Damaged roads were repaired with makeshift bridges, giving Adolfo additional driving challenges.

“The hurricane just destroyed the place,” Jordan said. “It was crazy.”

Adolfo needed to back up and get a “running start” to get over the bridge, she said.

After an hour’s drive, the group would reach their destination around 8:30 a.m.

In previous years, the team was limited in the number of people it could serve. This year, they were able to accommodate more.

“We made sure everyone who came got what they needed,” Jordan said. “We had better facilities. We were in churches and facilities already there.”

In previous years, Jordan explained, the team worked out of the bus and tents.

Dr. Brink Brinkley, the leader of the medical team, was impressed with Jordan’s performance.

“She did very well,” he said. “We worked hard to make sure everything was organized and people got what they came for. She showed a leadership role in getting things done.”

During the day, doctors would examine patients and Jordan would distribute the medication prescribed. Clothes and vitamins were also distributed.

At times, work was a little overwhelming.

“Sometimes things got so stressful,” Jordan said.

She discovered that playing with the children who had come to the team’s Bible school sessions was a good way to relax.

“My dad would see (the stress on) my face and tell me to go over with the kids,” she said.

“They are so cute. I had no clue what they were saying, but I love the kids!”

Each day was interesting and different, Jordan said. One day when they were working near the beach, herds of cattle wandered down the dirt road in front of them without anyone leading them.

Another incident upset Jordan. One day, a Guatemalan gentleman called her seńor.

“Couldn’t he see that I was a girl?” she asked.

Yes, he could. He could also see that she was wearing her Salisbury High Senior ’07 shirt.

The only thing that was constant, Jordan says, was the temperature. It was above 90 degrees every day.

“We drank a lot of Gatorade,” she said.

Jordan wants to be a pharmacist, so her mission experience is right up her alley. She was recently accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

During her first trip to Guatemala, Jordan says she made a friend. One day she was walking in a museum with Adolfo’s daughter.

“She would talk and talk, even though she knew I couldn’t understand her,” Jordan said. “And she couldn’t understand me! On the way back, she taught me some easy words in Spanish and I taught her simple words in English, like ‘shark.’ ”

Jordan said she has become more thankful for what she has because of her Guatemala experiences.

“You don’t really need all the things we have to be happy,” she said.

“You just want to help these people out. I have gained a lot of respect and love for the people there. They are so loving. They just want to give you a hug.

“They have nothing and they’re so happy. Here there are some people who have everything but are unhappy with their lives.”

Nick Badgio is a senior at Salisbury High School who recently completed an internship with the Post. Lifestyle Editor Katie Scarvey contributed to this story.