Alyssa Duncan remembers having little interest in the details her fellow White Rock Christian Academy students shared about their 2010 mission trip to Guatemala.
The team spoke of the poverty they witnessed, the people they met and the satisfaction they gained from lending a hand. But for Duncan, who was in Grade 10 at the time, the stories were merely that – stories. They weren’t real to her.
“I was getting so annoyed hearing the same thing over and over again,” the now-Grade 11 student admitted.
One year later, after spending two weeks on a similar mission trip with 30 of her fellow Grade 11s, the 16-year-old now knows exactly where her peers were coming from. She now knows how such a trip can change a person’s life.
“This trip helped me realize that is what I want to do,” Duncan said of consideration she’d been giving to becoming a nurse.
“It’s helped me understand God’s plan for my life.”
The students travelled to Guatemala at the end of March, to San Juan del Obispo, a village 10 minutes outside of Antigua, the country’s former capital. The trip marked the school’s fifth to the Central American country.
While there, they helped on projects organized by Mission Impact – an evangelical agency – and Appropriate Technology, a collaborative that, according to its website, works to “design, develop, demonstrate and distribute affordable technological solutions that empower people and promote dignity.”
At Vida y Esperanza, their sister school in Santa Lucia, the students helped pour cement for an extension. In the Mayan village of Santa Maria, they helped build two water cisterns, each of which will provide a sustainable water source for 12 families.
In between, they played soccer with the local children, stayed in the homes of local residents and visited a variety of sites – some of which left the students questioning the world’s fairness.
Duncan said she is still trying to understand how the extremes of wealth and poverty she witnessed can exist in such close proximity. As example, she said the students travelled from the city dump, where villagers scavenge for food to eat and items to sell, to “one of the nicest malls I’ve ever seen” in 10 minutes. Highlights of the mall included a theatre with leather recliners where the students had only to ring a bell for service.
“To go from those two extremities, it was insane,” Duncan said. “This was so wrong.”
Trip co-ordinator Kristi Swarbrick said Duncan is not alone in the sentiment. Every year, many students return from the mission trip with “big questions,” she said.
“Just seeing the injustice of it all. They question how this is allowed to happen in the world.
“It’s life-changing for some.”
Swarbrick, who is administrative assistant at White Rock Christian, said the trips fit well with the school’s mission and vision statement: “Inspires and cultivates citizens of Godly character who transform their world for Christ.”
In addition, the experience opens students’ eyes to a Third World country and provides them an opportunity to discover fascinating people, she said.
The school has also started sponsoring students of Vida y Esperanza, with an aim to link each class with a Guatemalan child that they essentially grow up with. The hope is the students will meet their peer during their respective Grade 11 trips.
While some head to Guatemala thinking they’re going to change the world, the biggest difference is to the students themselves, Swarbrick said.
“Sometimes, people think with missions trips that you’re going to bring change to a specific country, but instead, we’re taking a look at what God’s already doing in Guatemala,” she said. “It’s ourselves that are being changed.”
Duncan said she has made changes since she returned, appreciating more of the things she took for granted before. These days, her showers are shorter, she eats everything that’s put on her plate and she’s careful not to leave the tap running needlessly.
And, she’s grateful – “for everything I have and everything that I’m given.”