For 31 SouthLake Christian Academy seniors, the Friday night before they graduated from high school involved using a bucket as a toilet and pouring the contents into a nearby river.
When the only pipeline that brought water into the Peruvian town of Kusi ruptured, desperate times called for desperate measures.
But the disgust and lack of comfort the teens experienced paled in comparison to the inspiration and sense of gratitude they gained after a 10-day mission trip to Peru, May 17-27.
For the past decade, SouthLake Christian Academy has partnered with Scripture Union to help the street boys of Peru – those between the ages of 3 and 18 who were put out of their homes because their families were unable to care for them. While seniors back home complained of car troubles and enjoyed the start to an early summer, 42 students, parents and faculty traveled more than 3,270 miles to Lima, Peru on May 17-27.
“I remember being in second grade and seeing all the seniors being so excited to go there,” said Noah VanWingerden, a SouthLake senior who went on the trip. “I wanted to see for myself what we were praying for all these years and what we were donating our money to.”
After a 10-hour drive on a two-decker bus through the Andes Mountains, the students made their first stop at the small town of Kusi, a suburb of Yungay, where the first boys’ home was nested. The first few hours of the bus ride got the students accustomed to the differences between the luxuries of Lake Norman and the poverty-stricken surroundings that engulfed Huascaran National Park.
“On the drive to Kusi, we saw these 30-person villages, and we thought, ‘This bus probably costs more than their whole livelihood, and they are way happier than us,’” said VanWingerden. “I knew I had to have an open mind when I went down there, but this put everything in perspective.”
When the students arrived at Kusi, they unveiled a new transportation van that the school raised funds to buy in December after the original van was totaled in an accident. Then they began to work – digging up hazardous boulders and laying pipelines – so the street boys could have a better place to live and learn. The volunteers also held a Bible school and formed relationships with the natives. The whole intention of the trip was to change the boys’ lives.
But the students’ lives were affected more.
“I didn’t ever realize how much of a blessing this trip would be,” Jillian Snider, 18, wrote in a blog post. Watching the boys and playing with them has inspired me. The boys in Kusi may have nothing, but they have this amazing joy about them. To see such young boys that have been through so much pain, yet still praise God for everything is so amazing.”
Phillip Horton, interim head of school at the academy and an influential presence in many of these annual trips, said, “The purpose of our mission is twofold. We wanted to serve others and show the love of Christ to them, and we wanted to open the eyes of the seniors to how the rest of the world lives and how we can serve and help others out of our abundance.”
After six days in Kusi, the caravan ventured to Ica to complete similar tasks at another home for boys. There, the students and boys were divided into teams and played games such as soccer and football. They also had times for singing and worship.
“Seeing the joy on the boys’ faces and the genuine thankfulness that they had touch my heart,” said Tracy Brown, one of the chaperones on the trip. “They really appreciated that we all went to Peru to help them, and it was great to see our kids open up their eyes and realize that everyone doesn’t have what we have in the States.”
After the work in Ica was finished, it was time to return to life in North Carolina and to graduate from high school.
“It was tough to leave the boys because of the relationships that we built with them,” VanWingerden said. “Even though we come from a different walk of life than them, we’re definitely not better than they. You see what little they have and how happier they are and it changed us. Everyone is equal and it doesn’t matter what situation you were raised in.”
Emmanuel Morgan is a freelance writer.
To read a day-by-day recap of the trip, and the thoughts of participating students, go to http://slcamissions.blogspot.com/2015/05/day-1-sunday.html.