A massive tarantula crawling through our luggage. A “bad” (poisonous) snake slithering under our seats during an outdoor church service. 100 degree temperatures with no air conditioning. And, wait for it…no flushing toilet paper down the toilet! Garbage can it is! But these things pale in comparison to the amazing experience that my team and I had in Belize.
Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Caledonia, Belize, with the young adult group (LAUNCH) from my church (The Log Church). This was the group’s seventh trip to Caledonia, and my third. Our group has found tremendous value in returning to Caledonia year after year in order to establish lasting relationships, to identify and meet the needs of the community and to provide anything that we can in that one week so that the local church we partner with is equipped to carry out its mission the other fifty-one weeks of the year.
As I mentioned before, we experienced some things that would be considered unusual back here in the States, but the great people and the experiences we shared far outweighed any culture shock we may have experienced at the furry feet of the since deceased trespassing tarantula.
Each year, my favorite part of the trip is delivering bags of essentials, such as beans, rice, flour, sugar, toilet paper, toothpaste and soap to families in the community. Oftentimes, we are invited into people’s homes as we make our rounds, and we get to spend time with the families and learn about their culture, family structure (there are often three generations, and extended family members, living under one roof), and daily life. I personally speak Spanish, albeit limited, and we also had translators (other volunteers and young adults from the village) to facilitate. Most of the older adults speak only Spanish, whereas a majority of the youth are bilingual and speak English. When speaking with one father, I learned that he, along with many others from the village, wake up around 4:00am (with no assistance from Starbucks!), walk 3+ miles to catch a bus to Belize City (roughly 45 minutes away), where they work at local shops and restaurants or at one of the many sugar cane farms. Most return home around 7:30pm. They do this 5-6 days per week. A typical adult in Caledonia earns a monthly salary of about 140 Belize dollars, or $70 USD, so many families supplement their income by growing food on their own farms.
We also had the privilege of hosting Vacation Bible School for some of the children for three of the days we were there. Anywhere from 50 to 80 children (from infants through about 7th grade) would come to the church to participate. A typical day would start off with some singing and dancing (or in my case, awkward body contortions with no sense of rhythm…but filled with energy nonetheless!), the teaching of a specific Bible story, followed with arts and crafts, games, and then would conclude with a couple more songs and a closing prayer.
Some of the volunteer work we did throughout the week included mixing and pouring concrete for the floors of some of the villagers’ homes, donating medical supplies to the local clinic and picking up garbage (their options are to burn the garbage or to litter). While mixing the concrete, I quickly came to realize how fortunate we are in America to have heavy machinery and safety equipment to assist with home improvements, road repair and other construction work. Our group took water breaks often and rotated to give each other breaks, but the locals were full-throttle all day and seemed to be filled with joy all the while (worth noting that many were not even wearing shoes!). It was an eye-opening experience to witness their hard work coupled with their positive attitudes and a complete absence of complaining.
For the past three years, I have gone to Belize with the expectation of serving the villagers and being a blessing to them. But year after year, I have returned home considering myself blessed by all the great people I got to spend time with. To see how they make the most of limited resources and material possessions and witnessing how joyful and filled with love they are. It always inspires me to reflect on the things that truly matter in life and challenges me to make sure that I am spending my time, effort, and energy in a way that aligns with my true priorities. I am thankful for all the people of Caledonia, and I cannot wait to go back next year!