Ben Johnson carries the memories of his annual summer vacation in Honduras everywhere he goes. It’s a photo that reminds him of how lucky he is and how there are others less fortunate.
Johnson is one of a group of teens from the Tampa Youth Missions at the Northwest Tampa Church of Christ, 7259 Sheldon Road. Every summer, Johnson, who attends Robinson High School, goes to the impoverished country of Honduras where he and others build houses and give supplies to people who barely have a roof to live under.
The Tampa teenagers who return often see the Honduran children whose houses the group built. It affected Johnson a great deal when one of the kids he saw on a return visit gave him a special drawing. It was of Johnson with the child. Johnson said he carries that drawing everywhere.
“I’ve been there three times now,” Johnson said. “It gives me such an advantage in knowing the lives that those people lead every day and how lucky I am. They don’t have the lifestyle I have in America, but they are happier than we are. They are content to have nothing. It really makes you think.”
Keith Boyer is the director of the missions and started them in 2001. It started out slow, but this year he expects nearly 100 youngsters to go this summer. The kids live in the mountains, carry duffel bags filled with supplies, and live a lifestyle for those 11 days that is different than the ones their friends are enjoying back home.
They bathe and wash their clothes in the same water they drink. The water is cold since there’s no hot water. They eat as best they can, but, for the most part, they live the life of the kids they are trying to help.
“We live in the mountains and give them homes with tin roofs,” said Marisa Jaroch. “It’s tough, but when we finish building a house, even if it is small with a tin roof, they think it is the greatest thing in the world.”
It might be a very Spartan lifestyle, but when Boyer tried to put the kids up in a hotel several years ago, the kids didn’t want it. They wanted to spend time experiencing the life of kids who are less fortunate. It gave them perspective and the hotel just didn’t feel right, said Monica Greaves.
“It’s shocking to see pictures of the way they live,” she said. “I still keep all of the photos we take. It is so hard to say goodbye knowing we are going back to our homes in Tampa. It’s also hard not to go back.”
The trip doesn’t come without a pretty hefty cost. Boyer and the adults who go along have to pay their own way. The kids raise their money through a variety of events and receive donations from local businesses. They’ll accept anything that they can carry on the plane in one of the duffel bags that they can take. Even soccer balls are welcome since the kids in Central America are soccer-crazed.
“They live in a society that values everything,” Robert Berry said. “We take things for granted. We use what we have and get rid of it when something better comes along. In Honduras, they play with their toys for years, no matter how beaten up it is.”
Brittany Reid has been on only one mission, but it made a dramatic impact on her.
“You learn lessons that put life into perspective,” Reid said. “Every day I can come home and I have a television and cable and a laptop and that’s great, but I want to go back and see how lucky I am. It affects everything I do now.”
It’s a wakeup call, Johnson said.
“All I have to do is look at the picture that child game me of him and me and I remember what it is all about,” he said. “I pray for those kids.”