While some students will spend their spring break vacationing in tropical paradises, a certain group of Franciscan University students will spend it sharing themselves with the people who live in paradise but can’t own it.
The Belize Mission, sponsored by Missions of Peace, takes 21 students and chaplain the Rev. Shawn Roberson, TOR, to three high schools in Belize in order to teach theology and catechetics in the classroom for a week during the university’s spring break. At the end of the school day, classes are followed up by after-school relational ministry with the children.
Mission leaders Bridgette Behler and Evan Nohara said that the biggest and perhaps most unexpectedly difficult element of the mission is establishing relationships with the children in the schools before being able to teach them. Nohara described the goal as “reaching them on a human level before God changing their heart,” emphasizing that nothing they could teach would make a difference without that personal relationship.
Because of the spiritual poverty of the area, Behler and Nohara explained that the classroom is a “whole other dynamic,” in which they work to establish connections with the same children all week through activities such as basketball in order to “break down walls of (the students) tough exteriors through positive encounters.”
Nohara said that it was equally important for the team to demonstrate their faith through behavior toward those they encountered in interactions outside of school. Through these interactions, “You get a very personal relationship with the students,” said Behler. “We stay in contact with some of them to this day.”
“Deep down they’ve been through something tragic,” said Behler. “They desire happiness and have a silent genuine yearning for something more. We’re there to show them that’s it’s possible for them to reach it.”
Both leaders went on the mission for the first time in spring 2017. Nohara came into the mission confident and experienced what he called a “kick in the head” when confronted with an inattentive audience of students whom he was expected to speak to about suffering. It was then that he realized the importance of those relationships.
“They didn’t come to see me,” he said. “You need to let God make a change in their hearts.”
Yet the mission is not just for those who feel confident teaching in the schools. Behler shared that she picked this mission for the first time because it was what scared her. “I didn’t think I could stand up and teach for that long,” she said. What drew her, she said, was the “rawness of the kids’ stories” and their spiritual poverty.
Both are humbled to return to Belize this year. “I’m excited to see the Holy Spirit lead this mission while we’re over there,” said Behler.
Nohara’s prayer from last year, to “make it possible for me to have to come back,” has been answered.
Nohara and Behler described this year’s team as “incredible” and “solid as heck.” Through continual building upon the foundations they established last year with the children in Belize, they will move forward this year in breaking through to teach about the saving power of Christ.