Editor's note: Missions are trips designed for volunteers to help people in need. People do these trips for a variety of reasons. Some want to enhance resumes, some want to use them on college applications, and some just want to help others. In this next installment of MPR's Young Reporters Series, Chad Faust tell us how these trips have turned into journeys of self-discovery for him.
I went on my first mission trip the summer before my freshman year of high school. I didn't quite understand what it was, but it sounded like fun. For each of the past four years, I've traveled to Nicaragua to volunteer for Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. NPH, as it's called, is a nonprofit that runs orphanages across Latin America.
My trip leader Joel Hanson of St. Paul has been running these trips with his family for roughly a decade. He invited me to participate my first year partly because I was friends with his son, but also because he thought my presence would be good for the children at the orphanage.
These trips are a lot of work. Before that first trip, the hardest work I faced was sitting at a desk all day.
Through these trips I've discovered what hard work really is. I've dug trenches with pickaxes and shovels, cleared brush with machetes, and built fences by chopping lumber and digging holes. On the most recent trip back in August, I helped make floors for a new building at the orphanage with the sun beaming onto me and my body constantly wishing it had more water.
Yes, the work was hard, but it was extremely satisfying.
The mission wouldn't be complete without spending time with the kids. NPH is home to about 250 children, ranging in ages from 3 to 20. NPH Nicaragua Volunteer Coordinator Ozman Gonzalez says he can always count on our group to spend time with them.
"When you are here visiting the home, you are always giving them all your attention, your love, and affection," Gonzalez said.
After work, we would play basketball, baseball and soccer. These games were competitive yet friendly. We cheered, laughed and razzed one another. Although we Americans can never seem to win a game of soccer, the Nicaraguans always love seeing us try.
NPH Nicaragua Volunteer Anthony Guerra says the time we spend with the children is priceless.
"You guys come down here and you get to see the kids and play with the kids and provide them with experience, and there's really no monetary value you can put on that," he said. "Sometimes people always ask about 'What can I do to help? What can I do to help?' Well sometimes the best thing to do is just to give a child a memory."
On my first trip, I was worried that I would not be able to communicate well enough due to my limited Spanish. These trips have helped me realize that you don't always need words to express yourself. I've been friends with some of the kids since I started going on these trips.
I met 17-year-old Esther on my second mission trip. She's lived at the orphanage for more than three years. She shows her resilience by the way she laughs and jokes. Over the years, I've helped her build self-confidence. I encourage her to be herself, and in Spanish, she tells me I helped change her life.
It's rewarding building these relationships, and that's probably why our group of 30 is filled with repeat volunteers. My friend Kent Hanson has been going on these trips longer than I have. He says that they give him something to look forward to each year.
"Building up to this last year, it's been really cool," he said. "As I've aged, so have a lot of the kids there, and our relationship has been able to build."
My happiest times are in Nicaragua, and I attribute that to a combination of the people there and the people with whom I've traveled. Both have helped me learn that every day is a new day. My experiences there have made me feel like I've done something worthwhile, helping others and seeing a happy, beautiful way of life.