Senior Leslie Ravencroft travels to Belize to find her place in God's world.
With a tightly packed suitcase and an unflattering passport picture, I stood eagerly in anticipation to board the airplane to Belmopan, Belize. This was my first mission trip and I couldn’t wait to escape the subzero weather in Chicago. Once we arrived in Belize, we boarded a rundown school bus and admired the tropical terrain on the ride to our base camp. As the sun set, we unpacked, relaxed, and prepared ourselves for a busy week.
On the first day of our Bible camp, I met a girl whose name I never knew, but I didn’t need her name to see in her what I saw. She was young, maybe three or four-years-old, and had her hair pulled into a small ponytail. She smiled at me with a truly joyful smile. She wore a faded red t-shirt that read, “Princes.” A misprinted, donated Disney Princess t-shirt that she adored and wore the next day to our Bible camp.
On the third day, shy and reserved, a new girl stood quietly behind a group of excited children who had just arrived. I noticed her quiet character in an intense pink shirt and walked over to her. I empathized for her evidently shy nature because I understood it.
I asked her name. “Susanni,” she said softly, as she combed her fingers through her long brown hair, half held up in a dainty ponytail. My heart instantly opened up a place for her sweet and innocent smile.
Another girl I met was Joselim. She was also nine, but clearly less reserved than Susanni. Very talkative and excited to play with me, Joselim, Susanni, and I grew a bond over the next few hours. After numerous piggyback races, tag, and Duck-Duck-Goose, hearing their giggles made me smile.
To catch my breath, I tumbled onto the grass with Susanni on my back. I asked Joselim and Susanni what they wanted to be when they grew up. Susanni didn’t know and did her classic reserved reaction — an adorable soft smile and gently raised shoulders. Joselim confidently announced that she wanted to be a teacher. With words of encouragement, I told them both how smart they were and that they would grow up strong and respected.
During our little “get-to-know-you” conversation, I asked if they knew who Jesus was. Their eyes lit up and they nodded their heads. Susanni began to explain that sometimes she attended church with her grandma. She went off on a soft-spoken (although quite long) tangent on what her church is like and how her grandma loves Jesus.
Before this trip, I had never left the United States. I was able to imagine countries in poverty and envision how God was working, but now I could finally see God working. I saw God’s people outside of Illinois and outside of the United States. I could see this love on a new and personal level. Seeing their lives up close allowed me to put my life in a completely new perspective.
My eyes were opened in a way so complex that the world seemed so much larger than I presumed it to be. I felt like I shrunk to an inconceivable size and that the world expanded light-years in size. However, I still felt that I was important and it was no mistake that I was with these girls.
My eyes were opened in a way so complex that the world seemed so much larger than I presumed it to be.
By the base camp gate, we exchanged goodbyes and stood under the sky covered in clouds colored by the sunset. I looked around to those who made an impact on my heart. The smiling girl in the misprinted t-shirt, the quiet girl wearing a shirt louder than verbally possible for her, and the third girl, confident and wanting to be heard. I didn’t go into this trip expecting to learn anything. I simply just wanted to bring joy to the kids, and of course, leave the cold Chicago winter. Even still, these girls showed me how to find absolute joy and contentment in life around me.
Knowing I would never see these girls again made saying goodbye more difficult. But through hugs and smiles, I prayed over the girls as they went on their way home.
I think the girls were expecting me to be there the next day, which I knew I wouldn’t be. As I sat on the plane flying over the breathtaking blue water of the Gulf of Mexico, I looked through the video footage I had taken of the kids. Their true joy was evidently beautiful. Simple videos of simple acts, running around, breaking open coconuts, and playing with stray dogs, their smiles were like no other. These girls had something that we lack here in the United States. These girls didn’t take anything for granted. Though I now had permanent footage of these girls’ smiles, I had their true joy etched in my mind forever.