I have had opportunities to serve throughout my life in many different capacities. Child care at church, volunteering at different events, a mission trip to Nigeria, and many other ways. Each opportunity provides unique differences in how we serve. However, it is the element of each opportunity that is the same that continues to fuel my desire to serve: relationship.
When our team set on our trip to serve the community of Curti, Panama through the construction of a multi-use sports court, I couldn’t help but be excited knowing that I would be given yet another opportunity to develop new, meaningful relationships in another part of the world. As our bus pulled up to the village, any unsureness we had as to how welcome we would feel was immediately put away as the village greeted our arrival with smiles and loud cheers. We immediately felt welcomed and wanted. This was the case throughout our entire time in Curti: From the love instilled by the women into the preparation of every meal to the men scrambling on our roof to better prepare it for the fast approaching storm to the kids greeting us at our doors every morning with smiles. The opportunity to build meaningful relationships was fostered in every way.
Perhaps the place that relationship was forged deeper than anywhere else was through our work. Shoveling, wheelbarrowing, lifting, sweating, blistering, and bleeding side by side our friends in pursuit of our common goal allowed us to develop trust, respect, and a sense of unity amongst our newly formed team. We endured an inordinate amount of mud, storms forcing us to redo previously finished work, work stopping cultural differences, and a large amount of miscommunication (the only truly bilingual person around was our Courts for Kids rep, Anibal). Yet through these difficulties, we preserved together and finished the court. As one team we had gone through so much together, forging an even stronger bond.
Our work now finished, and our friendships deepening, we had the opportunity to celebrate, reflect, and share with one another. On the 4th of July we spent our afternoon just as we would in the States. We ate fried chicken; played soccer together on the newly minted court; swam in the river; we played American Football; and we laughed together. That night we sat together on the court and shared of our experiences, not as the people of Curti and the Americans, but simply as friends. As we reflected on our week together that night, we shared many great memories that will forever remind us of our unique bond.
And on our last day, we cried together. As we drove away from Curti that afternoon, the tears inside and outside the bus told the story of what had transpired that week between our two groups. We had created lasting relationships that none of us would soon forget. We had come to build a court, but we left with so much more.