While some high school students spent their spring break at home or at a beach, a handful of youth from Blackshear Place Baptist Church in Flowery Branch traveled all the way to Bolivia on a mission.
Richi Boullon, a faith-based missionary with Helping Hands Foreign Missions in Buford and a member of Blackshear Place, said every year the church offers its youth a chance to “give back and serve the Lord.”
Madison Hughes was one of the 19 high school students who jumped at the chance to travel to South America.
“For me personally, I’ve always wanted to go on an international mission trip,” the 15-year-old said. “When this opportunity came up, I really felt like God was leading me in that.”
While she felt called, she also was anxious.
“I was really nervous before I went, because I had never traveled without my family on an airplane or anything. So it was kind of nerve wracking,” she said, adding it was her first international mission trip. “But I knew everyone on the trip, so that was comforting ... (and) I was excited to see the new culture and experience everything.”
Madison Hughes’ mother, Vivian Hughes, said it was a nerve-wracking decision for her as a parent to let her daughter go.
“We were concerned that she would have no cell service there, and we wouldn’t know if she was OK,” Vivian said.
But, the mission leaders created a Facebook page, posted pictures every day and FaceTimed with her, easing their concerns. Plus, they really wanted her to go.
“That’s what she felt like the Lord wanted her to do so, of course, we wanted to support that,” she said.
To help pay for the trip, Madison sold T-shirts and sent out letters asking for financial support. She raised $800 with the shirts and the rest through sponsors.
But Madison and her fellow students also prepared spiritually for the trip. Marlana Branning, director of girl’s and women’s ministries at Blackshear, gave them 40 days of a prayer booklet.
“We were all doing the same devotions each morning and each day focused on a different aspect of what to pray for and what to prepare for,” Madison said.
When the group arrived in Bolivia, they experienced the country’s “Day of the Pedestrian” to help with the smog.
“Everyone walks everywhere from 10 in the morning until 5 p.m., so there’s no driving,” Madison said. “We went out with our translators and did multiple Gospel presentations.”
The rest of the week the group went to schools and ministered to the children, Boullon said.
“We would teach English and the Gospels to the kids and then we would play games with them. We also got to do some sightseeing,” Madison said.
The teenager said the trip changed her.
“I had gotten really comfortable with my life in America, so going over there made me step out of my comfort zone,” she said. “God is really just teaching me to give it to him and that I don’t always have to be comfortable. I thought it was really cool that I went over there to change other people’s lives, but God ended up changing my heart.”
That kind of reaction is what Boullon expects from these mission trips.
“The youth are there No. 1 because they want to be there, and then when they get there, their faith is stretched. What you’re doing is, you’re totally depending on God when you’re there,” he said. “God called you to go. Their faith is growing and their relationship is growing with him through all this stuff. It really just sets their heart on fire. That’s what I see the difference in. They’re already changed.”