In the summer of 2015, Boys Home resident Sequoia went on a mission trip to Belize with St. John’s and St. Paul’s Episcopal Churches of Lynchburg, VA. The group tracked their travels on Facebook- CLICK HERE to see photos and videos of their trip. Sequoia tells about the mission trip below. Enjoy!
Sometime in the middle of spring (2015) on a random day, Mr. Wheatley walks up to me and asks me,” Sequoia what do you think of Belize?” I told him, “What about it?” He answered,” Want to go there?” I replied, “Yes sir, I would love to go but where is it? And what would I be doing there?” He told me, “It’s right under Mexico, and you would be doing mission work down there.” “Wow!!!” I couldn’t believe I was going out of country to a place I’d never been. I was excited about it. The only thing that was the slightest issue was getting my passport so I could go. It took a while but eventually we got all in order and sure enough I was in Charlotte North Carolina with all my bags of stuff next to the crowd of strangers I would be departing with. It was really funny when I went to all the trip planning meetings I didn’t know anyone, they kind of ignored me and I did the same to them. They didn’t talk to me, I didn’t talk to them it was awkward if anything everyone else knew each other and all went to the same High School in Lynchburg.
In the airport we actually almost missed our flight down to Belize- all you see is this big bunch of kids running through the airport trying to desperately catch the plane that was about to leave them. What a view it must have been. I would’ve paid to see it myself. Once we got on the plane, we were all breathing super hard because we were running for like 10 minutes straight trying to catch our flight. But finally we all got settled in and our bags in the compartments. It was a LONG flight down there but it was worth it because of all the scenery I got to see on the way down there and back. The first step I took out of the plane a wall of heat hit me dead in the face and sucked the air straight out of my lungs- it was a crazy experience. The humidity down there was absolutely insane. Everywhere you went it was hot, even in the air conditioning it was hot. But it was beautiful down there. It had a very tropical feeling to it.
Ms. Nina’s (of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lynchburg, VA) contact arrived in this huge brown bus that would take us all around the mainland before we hopped on the water taxi and headed to the island we were staying on. We ate our first meal in Belize at an Asian restaurant of all places- sure it was good but I wanted some real Belizean cuisine or food. After we were finished with our Belizean “Asian” food we were on our way in the big brown bus, the driver was friendly to all of us and pointed out a lot of important things on the tour. But soon it ended and we had to head to the water taxi before we almost miss that like we did the flight down there.
In my personal opinion NEVER EVER take a water taxi down there, get your own ride anything just not a water taxi. The ride to San Pedro Island was 45 minutes there, and it felt a lot longer because the whole big boat was packed with people, like really you couldn’t move an arm without hitting someone. The worst part were the seats they were terribly uncomfortable plastic material and no cushion what’s so ever but it was tolerable. When we finally docked my whole body was cramping up, I could barely get up, and one of the girls in the group had to help me up. So after that we all got our bags just to find out that our hotel was a whole mile away and we had to walk it. The water was the best part of the walk, it was crystal clear and warm. We couldn’t wait to get in the water and soak ourselves.
The hotel was really cool, except it had no air conditioning and was hotter than the outside. All the guys got this bigger separate building called the “dream house,” it wasn’t dreamy at all but it was comfortable in ways. The guys and I walk in and find four twin beds and one queen bed that had its own separate corner of the place. All you see is all the other guys running for the queen sized, but I didn’t care I just wanted to swim in those waters. So Nina comes in and she says I get the queen because I was oldest and seniority rules and I was okay with that. I got the big bed and they all bickered who would get what twin sized bed it was quite entertaining to watch. Soon we were all free to enter the amazing waters of Belize. I didn’t expect it to be that warm or comforting to the body, but it was and we all had an amazing time playing around and going farther out into the ocean. But like all days it eventually got dark and we were all forced out by the adults to come over to the pavilion to do night time prayers. We did them every night. It was calm and relaxed, we all just chilled while we did it. We went over our day and started planning for the next day because that was the first day of Bible School we were teaching. It was going to be awesome, but we were all nervous for the upcoming day. So we said our prayers and were adjourned to sleep. I didn’t sleep because I was too pumped for our first day there in that unbelievable land of Belize. I probably got about 2 hours of sleep that night and looked like a zombie, one of the girls told me I looked like I haven’t slept in years and that’s how I felt too.
We ate breakfast and headed towards the school. It was a fun walk to the school but when we got to the village where the school was I felt my heart drop. A few moments earlier we were skipping along all happy and all of a sudden we looked crushed. The village was the saddest thing I’d ever seen. Most of the houses were up off the ground made of support beams so they wouldn’t flood and the trash- that was the worst part of it all. The trash was the foundation to their part of the island and the stuff was everywhere you walked. There was only one road and it was the main road that ran through the place, the rest were wooden boards that went a little above the murky ground that was full of pollution and water that would have made you sick if you took a drink. But the strangest thing was the people. They looked happy and content where they were even though they had almost none of the luxuries we take for granted every day here. The way they looked made me happy for them. They didn’t have what we have but they had just enough to survive and they were truly grateful for it too. I’ve never seen a person with almost nothing and be so thankful like that.
Once we got in the school and settled in, we set to work on our plan, which was mostly figured out already from the night before. The funniest part about it was only 4 kids showed up and we were all so surprised, we thought there would be so many little ones coming in through the door trying to get in but no others came. So we got this grand idea to go out into the village and seek out the children ourselves, so we did and surprisingly we got about 20 more kids to come for the first day. We all hurried back to start our first day of school. Turns out it was very fun and the kids were all so nice to us. First thing we did was stand in a circle and introduce ourselves and say one thing we love to do, some of the answers were funny some were more sad but they had a good time talking and listening to the others. Then we did our skit and acted out one of the parables from the bible. It was hilarious. Then we had recess and that had the kids crazy, they love playing soccer and other sports of the sort. We split our teams as Belizeans vs. Americans. We all had a blast playing and we beat them, but barely. There are some really good players down there. After we were told to come back in, we were all sweaty, beat up looking and happy to play. We split them all up into stations and had them do various fun activities and fed them a snack of peanut butter and jelly to pass time until it was time to leave. The school started at 9 and ended at 11 in the morning. Once we left, it was lunch time and we were all completely famished and ready to eat anything we could get our hands on.
We went to the local bakery and I forgot how they got the rest, but it all appeared on the table before us and we all dug in as fast as we could so we would get the most food. After we were done, it was free time for a while so we decided to go swimming, and once again it was amazing as ever. Then the painting… It was hot and hard work but we had fun while we did it. I brought my speaker to listen to music out loud so everyone could have fun while painting in the sun. After about 2 solid hours of work we were finished and got to go and eat some dinner. Gosh, we were looking like savages at dinner, all sweaty and hot still, but we didn’t even care- we could’ve eaten a whole cow by ourselves. We talked about the children and what we were all planning all the fun things for the next day of bible school. Again we did our night time prayer, we all participated and had some laughs. Soon it was the best time of the day SLEEP time. We were all so exhausted from the first day. It was crazy- we are all athletes so we should be used to physical strain, but with the heat and work we did, I’m surprised we didn’t just fall down or something. I stayed up a bit and watched some Netflix for a while. For some reason the Netflix down in Belize was a lot better than the Netflix in the U.S.- it was weird. I got more sleep that night probably because I was so much more tired.
Wake up the next morning was terrible because I could barely move out of the bed. Maybe I was sore or something but when someone yelled for me to come and eat, I don’t know if it was the mention of food but my body launched its self from my bed and out the door. Breakfast was really good, we had all sorts of fruit and pastries. It tasted wonderful. Soon it was time to head over to the school again. We all packed our supplies and headed out toward Holy Cross Anglican School. Once we arrived there were a lot more kids at the gate than on the first day- a lot more. At the beginning of our school day we began in our circle and told each other who we were and an interest of ours. Then soon it was recess again and they ended up beating us that day on the field of dirt we played on. Of course again we all got sticky with sweat and thirsty as I don’t know what. We went in for a water break and rest for a little bit before we start our parable activity. The leaders of the day did their skit and all the children got to do it themselves after we did. It was hilarious. Then soon it was snack time again and we fed them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with watermelon. We were all sad to see all the kids go again. We wanted to stay with them some more or even play more soccer along with other games. It was lunch time once again and, of course, we were all trampling over each other to get the most food. All the adults said to evenly split it but we never did. I would just eat everybody else’s things that they didn’t, so in other words, I almost always got the most. I forgot what we did for that mid-day break, we probably swam again or just relaxed, and off to painting again we went. Soon another hard, hot day came to a close and we all gathered under the pavilion for night time prayer. We went over our day and started planning for the next. Then the best time of the day, SLEEP.
The next morning I woke up late (I did that a lot actually). I got up, threw some clothes on and hurried outside to see an assortment of fruits and other breakfasty things. Then once again we were off to Holy Cross Anglican School. This morning there were dozens of kids at the front gate waiting for us to come in, by the end of the day I’m pretty sure we had almost fifty kids. It was a mad house getting them together so we could do our circle activity again. We did our parable skit again and asked the kids to do it, this time we had a few too many volunteers so they got to re-enact it twice as groups because there were so many of them. Then the best part rolled around, recess. We all flooded back onto that dirt field ready to play some soccer with each other, and we were very competitive- all of us were. We beat them that day, barely. So soon of course we were all called in to have a water break with the kids, and let me tell you it was really hot, so even half an hour was enough to make us feel like we played for hours on end. We drank out of one those really big water jugs that held lots of water but we were thirsty so the water didn’t last very long at all. We finally got them all settled down so that we could split them up into their stations to learn. Snack time came and again and we had to say good bye along with a lot of remarks on who was going to win the next day’s soccer game. We had lunch and free time and came back out to paint some more, and afterward the guys and I went to the park and played some basketball. We went out to many different restaurants for dinner, and they were all great. We even went out for frozen yogurt one night because the ice cream place was closed for the night.
The next day we were all hyped because we were all going snorkeling in the ocean reefs and we were all super pumped about it. So we got through our day so we could go and have a good time in the good old Atlantic Ocean. We all got our flippers and goggles and herded onto the boat ready for some excitement, the ride was relatively short but was awesome because we all got wet and were having a blast. First we went into a fish preservation part, meaning no one can kill fish there. We jumped out and the water felt amazing as it always did and immediately we see fish- lots of them. There was even a big sea turtle swimming around. We had to stay up because if we touched the coral we could kill it and they would not take kindly to that. It was AMAZING. The things we saw were absolutely beautiful and the fish were all colors and sizes so you never really saw two of the same. The best part was you were never missing anything because so much was happening all around you. We even got to swim through a little cave that had both ends open, the water down there felt like it was splitting your head but it was sure worth it. But of course that part of the trip was over and we headed for Shark and Ray Alley, where we would be swimming with the predators of the ocean. I think we were all a bit nervous for this one because not everybody wants to go swimming with sharks, but all of us dove out of the boat into the infested waters. Within two minutes I saw my first shark. It was lurking around by its self just looking at the bunch of kids that just got into the water probably thinking ”Ewww those tourists are here again.” It was crazy, rays were all swimming about and they were huge. Sharks in singles or groups were milling about. I saw one shark and I don’t know if I’m crazy but I tried to chase it. It didn’t work out too well because the thing was way faster than I was in water. On the way back, the boat guy had pineapple and little bags of water for us to drink because there was a lot of salt in the ocean so we were all probably a little dehydrated and hungry. All of us got back and were in a daze pretty much because the things we saw that day were unexplainable.
We spent our last day with the kids. We had our big soccer tournament which we ended up winning, but barely. Our goalie was not the best of goalies we could ask for, but victory was still ours. Those kids were amazing but we still had them. We brought all our games and donations we were leaving for them that day. It was sad. Most of us either came close to or even did cry. Those kids were the reason we went down there and now we were leaving them. It was really sad. Hugs and good byes were all around. We all had had an awesome time with them. The night before we left to the airport, all of us packed up and I got to see the last of the good movies Netflix down there had. I didn’t sleep much that night from anxiety about returning home to the states. We packed up early to leave for the boat back to the mainland of Belize. The ride back wasn’t as packed as going to the island but there was still a huge number of people on the boat. After the long ride we shuffled out and waited for our luggage to be carried to us. It took a while for us to organize our things but it all happened and we were soon off towards the airport. In the airport when I arrived, there was this man working there checking passports and when I came up to him, he told me I was Sam Witwicki from “Transformers.” He told me I blow up stuff, and need to get him into my next movie for free. It was quite a show. I got to see him on my way out of the country also and he talked to me some more about blowing things up and other things in Transformers that were cool. He was a cool dude but I had to hurry up to catch the flight so I said bye and hurried off to catch the others. Getting onto the plane there was easy. Their security was easy to pass. Soon we were taking off and in the friendly big blue skies. The view was amazingly impressive.
Before I knew it we touched down in Charlotte N.C. The security there was terrible. Everybody was hustling about trying to get to their flights. We took so long we almost missed our flight to Raleigh N.C. We had people running through the airport everywhere pretty much trying to find the plane and we barely made it on. By the time we all sat down, we were exhausted from the effort of finding the plane. The flight to Raleigh was short, only like 45 minutes. We landed and got out as soon as possible. We got into our cars and went our separate ways. I stayed with one of the chaperons for the night because it was too early for Boys Home to pick me up. Our good byes were good and we all knew each other more, I felt. That was my first ever missions trip and it was one of the greatest experiences I’d ever had in my lifetime. I will never forget the people I went with, but the best part will always be the kids I helped. Every day was worth putting a smile on their little (and some big) faces.