On March 3, 2016 at 10 pm, nineteen Maplewood Academy students, along with four Maplewood staff members piled into the big, yellow school bus and made their way to the Minneapolis airport. This group was excited—the long anticipated Belize mission trip was officially underway! For many, this was their first mission trip, and for some, their first time outside of America. The adventure of a lifetime was about to begin.
The group arrived at the airport by 11:30 pm and eventually met up with the rest of our Minneapolisbased travel companions. The check-in counter wasn’t scheduled to open until 3:30 am the next morning, so we made ourselves comfortable and waited. We were the first people in line to check in when the counter opened that morning.
As is to be expected, checking in to an airport with a large group of people is no short task. Our plane was scheduled to board at 4:30 am, and we arrived at the gate just in time to start the boarding process. We were not on the plane for long though before we returned to our seats at the gate. Due to a mechanical issue, our plane was going to have a delayed departure. What was originally a twenty-minute delay, became a five hour and fifty-five minute delay. Our layover for our connecting flight was only five hours, so this delay would likely result in a missed flight. Thankfully, after discussing our situation with the gate agents, it was worked out that our Houston flight would wait for our delayed arrival before their take off. Even with the delay, we arrived in Belize only minutes after our scheduled departure time.
Upon arriving, we deplaned, went through customs, met up with the final two members of our group, and waited for our ride. Our transportation was the definition of a mission trip experience: We piled all of our suitcases high into the beds of two pickup trucks and all thirty of us packed into a small orange bus, affectionately nicknamed “the pumpkin”, that was not designed to fit quite so many of us.
During the months of mission trip preparation leading up to this trip, the group had decided on specific goals for the trip itself, namely continuing construction on the new Seventh-day Adventist Elementary School in Ladyville and hosting a student led week of prayer for the academy students in a nearby town. However, upon arriving we soon realized that plans do not always go as intended. Due to various circumstances, the academy week of prayer became a one day worship session and three days of morning worships were added to the schedule at the Ladyville elementary school. Maplewood students also took turns assisting in classrooms and working one-on-one with the children firsthand, as well as leading out in the church service for our second Sabbath in Belize. In spite of any added confusion, God worked in each and every situation. Something that repeatedly kept coming to my mind over the course of this trip is the little saying, “blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” If there was one thing we learned time and time again during this trip, it was how to be flexible.
The children melted our hearts. Seeing them each day gave us an even bigger desire to work as hard as possible on that school. It was evident how much they appreciated our help, and their overwhelming happiness, welcoming smiles, and plentiful hugs brought joy to our days as we worked. Some of the children would voluntarily come to the work site after classes were finished for the day and sing songs for us, or help us however they were able. The days were long, the work was often difficult, and many of us had no prior construction experience, but seeing the energized faces in the elementary students frequently brought a much needed burst of energy to get us through the day.
Worshipping with the people in Belize was another huge blessing. Whether it was during the morning worships with the children or the Sabbath services, there was no doubt that these people love the Lord. It was refreshing for our group to have this experience and it reignited a flame in many of our hearts to grow closer to God in our own lives.
While our main focus throughout the trip was on building the school and sharing Jesus with those around us, we were able to experience a few other adventures during our time in Belize. Our first Sabbath afternoon, we were blessed with the opportunity to visit an orphanage and spend some time with the children. It was truly a humbling experience for many of us. We were also able to see the beauty of God’s creation while touring the Mayan Temples, snorkeling off the coast of San Pedro Island, going for walks around our village, and visiting the Belize Zoo.
Our last day was bittersweet. Saying goodbye to all of the wonderful people we met throughout the trip made us long for heaven all the more. While we were only in Belize for a short time, a piece of our hearts will remain their forever. Since arriving back in the states, we have heard that the roof has now been installed, and the school is one step closer to their goal of opening its doors for the 2016-2017 school year.
We praise God for the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing experience.
Danica Eylenstein, Maplewood Staff
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