Guatemala trip gives youths a chance to become ‘givers’
Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 12, 2017
By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury Post
For two weeks in July, 43 youths and advisers from St. John’s Lutheran Church traveled to Guatemala for a mission trip at Escuela Integrada, a school in Antigua.
Along with churches and people from throughout the United States, St. John’s is the school’s primary supporter, with members providing full scholarships for 45 of the school’s 165 students. In Guatemala, education is not free, so many children living in extreme poverty do not go to school.
“We’ve had a longstanding relationship between St. John’s and the school,” says Paula Bohland, a St. John’s member who is executive director of GRACES, the Salisbury-based nonprofit organization supporting Escuela Integrada. “Those relationships were deepened.”
The groups completed a variety of tasks during their two weeks there: installing Eco Stoves in homes, making home visits, painting, and just spending time with the students and developing relationships.
For the first time in the partnership, the St. John’s youths and the students in grades seven through nine worked together for a service project at a local nursing home. The combined group spent time with residents and entertained them, too.
“They went out into the community,” Bohland says. “Our kids, instead of becoming takers, became givers. They partnered with the kids who came, and I loved it.”
“It was beautiful watching them set aside language and cultural barriers and brainstorm together, work together, and finally to laugh, sing, and dance together,” says Kai Thurow, St. John’s youth minister. “We know the kids at Escuela Integrada, and we’ve formed relationships with teachers and staff over the years. So when we walk through the doors of the school, we were greeted by brothers and sisters. That makes a huge difference.”
He adds, “The 45 scholarships that our members provide represents an enormous, loving investment in the future of these kids, their families, and their community.”
The congregation also raised money to help defray the cost of the trip for youth members.
“Guatemala changed my life,” says Juliana Anderson, a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I know many people say that after they get back from mission trips, but this experience allowed me to experience God’s presence unlike I ever had felt before.
“Through climbing to the crater and peak of Volcaco Pacaya, growing friendships with the other members of the youth at St. John’s, morning devotions, and creating bonds with the children at Escuela Integrada, I was able to see God’s glory shine, and my faith has reached new heights,” she added. “There are not enough thank you’s in the world for all of the people who made this trip possible and allowed me to see the pure joy and hope on each person’s face we met.”
The experience was also life-changing for Anna Grace Woolly, a sophomore at Salisbury High School.
“The country really welcomed us with open arms,” Woolly said. “It was amazing to see how people that had so little were willing to give so much to complete strangers.
“The first week, I did everything with the group. We painted, went on home visits, played soccer, exploited the city, and just spent time with the kids. The second week, I had Spanish class in the morning and then joined the group in the afternoon,” Woolly said.
“The second week, I felt like I lived in Antigua. I knew every side street and the best place to get coffee,” she said. “Honestly I don’t think I had a favorite part. There were too many to count. But one thing I will never forget is on Friday the second week. My dad and I went into the school to say goodbye. When we got to the seventh-graders, one by one they started to stand up and say their thank you’s. There wasn’t one dry eye in the classroom. Overall, it was the best trip of my life, and I can’t wait to go back.”
Harrison Parrott is a junior at Salisbury High School. He went on the mission trip with his twin sister, Carsyn.
“I really grew spiritually and mentally during my time there,” Harrison said. “The kids at the school were all so happy and they loved to sit on our shoulders during recess. They had the most contagious laughs and smiles. I also loved the home visits. We delivered food bags and had conversations with the families. The home visits really changed my whole perspective on a lot of things. It hit home. The whole trip was just spectacular.”
Cali Proper, a sophomore at Cannon School, said after the mission trip, she and her parents, Tim and Trisha, decided to sponsor a student at Escuela Integrada.
“Cali loved it,” her mom says. “She was so connected to those kids and to the hope they experienced at the school. One student told her, ‘I love you,’ and Cali said, ‘I love you more.’ There was a language barrier, but with love, there is no language barrier. It was a meaningful trip for her.
“Our kids got just as much as the kids in Guatemala,” Trisha Proper said. “I would like to continue to be involved in the school and see how it grows and prospers. I love what Paula is doing, and I’m so thankful that Cali had the opportunity to go on this trip.”
For more information about Escuela Integrada, visit wearegraces.org.