When Melissa Harnage boarded a plane for Honduras June 22, she left behind her cell phone, Internet connection and any semblance of her life back in America. Armed with a camera and a helping heart, she arrived in the poverty-stricken country with the goal to run a vacation Bible school in Siguatepeque and help build onto a school in a facility for orphans called La Providencia.
What she didn’t realize was that the children’s lives she was trying to change would also change her.
“There’s so much opportunity in the world for us to make it better, and we spend it on making ourselves more comfortable,” Harnage said. “It’s ignorance by choice. They’d rather not think about things that make them uncomfortable.”
The 17-year-old speaks with the wisdom of an old soul. Safe at home in comfortable Plant City, she talks about the first time she watched the news upon returning to Florida. Television hosts played mini golf in between segments about recipes and a couple having their anniversary in the middle of Rockefeller Center.
“It’s so contrived,” Harnage said. “Do you understand there are kids in Honduras who are hungry tonight?”
She thinks back to a little boy named Yefri. His black, rotting teeth didn’t keep Harnage from calling him the cutest little thing she had ever seen. Even a language barrier couldn’t keep the two apart. He sat by her in church and loved to play with her hair and get piggyback rides.
“Sometimes I find it hard to relate to kids,” Harnage said. “That was probably the saddest good-bye I’ve ever had to say in my life. It was the last time I would ever see him again.”
Harnage didn’t just become more comfortable around kids. She also learned leadership skills, an emphasis of LeaderTreks, the organization that helped plan the mission for Bay Life Church of Brandon. She was assigned to the cleaning team and was responsible for budgeting out the supplies list. Other teams were responsible for vacation Bible school, cooking, communication, music ministry and construction.
“You have to work together and step up to the plate,” Harnage said. “I was not comfortable with leading before this. Looking back I can contribute, can step up, orchestrate and help to make things happen.”
And although she learned some valuable life skills, one of her favorite parts of the mission was mixing the concrete to build a drainage ditch by the La Providencia school. For a courtyard to be built in front of the school, the ditch must be completed. The courtyard will be a safe place for the children to gather before classes.
Tucked away high in the mountains of the Aguas del Padre community, La Providencia houses 96 orphans as well as a school and medical facility for the children. The youth missionaries stayed in the clinic’s recovery room.
Harnage bounced down the mountain in an old bus to pick up cleaning supplies and help run vacation Bible school at the base village. When she first traveled through the country, she saw the state of poverty. What looked like shack houses without doors turned out to be the main stores of cities.
“You can just see these kids — they really have so little but are so happy with what they do have,” Harnage said. “We really are just all the same people just put into different circumstances.”
Contact Amber Jurgensen at [email protected].