In the mountains of South America, far away from the complications of modern life, I learned some important lessons. The trip I took there was, so far, the greatest time of my life.
Last summer, I traveled to Peru. Our group was going to build a classroom for an impoverished community.
It all began outside the Cuzco airport. Our group, fresh off the plane, was immersed in the bustle of retrieving our luggage and finding the bus. But despite the excitement, the minute we stepped outside, we were struck by what we saw. The city stretches on a broad, tan-colored plain in every direction, lapping at the feet of the mountains like an incoming tide. Once on the bus, we wound our way through the mud brick houses, past the endless parade of soccer-related graffiti, over the mountain passes, and into Urubamba, our host town for the next two weeks.
We learned that, compared to farming communities, Cuzco is considered a rich and lush center of wealth. Once the fields began to show up outside our windows, the final vestiges of material wealth disappeared.
Over the next two weeks we helped build a new schoolroom, assisted in teaching students, and played a little soccer (or football, as Peruvians call it). We learned a little Spanish (most of it related to building materials!), browsed Urubamba’s markets, and made friends among the local children and parents.
There are material things Urubamba’s people don’t have that we take for granted. Internet connections. Trendy clothing. Often even such basic needs as enough food and water. Nothing there goes unappreciated. The roots of family and community run deep—protecting against thieves, tilling the fields, building houses and granaries. As a local saying goes, “Today I work with you, tomorrow you work with me, and the day after that we work together.”
Most fathers in the community turned out to help roof the schoolhouse, even ones without children in the school. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the hard conditions, it seemed to me that the locals made each day better than the last, and each week another step toward betterment.
At the end of it, we came away with mud on our clothes, the love of God in our hearts, and, most important, a lesson about life: Material wealth has nothing, nothing, to do with Godliness.
Though I’d learned this fact as a small child, was taught it in Sunday School, and read about it in the Bible, I think no one can really and truly grasp this fact until they see an example of utter lack of material wealth, and the love and joy people still are able to express.
After our two weeks, with the schoolhouse finished, we waved goodbye and loaded back into the bus for the long journey home. Months later, amid all the “stuff” of modern life, I cannot help but look back on the lesson learned.
I was shown the true meaninglessness of material wealth, and the true value of the human spirit. This will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Andrew Early is a junior in high school and lives in Connecticut.
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