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Crosslake Lutheran youth group travels to Belize

Members of Crosslake Lutheran Church teaching Vacation Bible School to children from the village of Carmelita, Belize, during their mission trip. Submitted photo1 / 4
Members of Crosslake Lutheran Church working on building the foundation of a church in Belize, Central America. Submitted Photo2 / 4
Members of the Crosslake Lutheran Church atop Lamanai, a Mesoamerican archaeological site that was once part of the Maya civilization. Submitted Photo3 / 4
The Crosslake Lutheran Youth Group with people from both churches they worked at on their final day after closing worship. Submitted Photo4 / 4

The Crosslake Lutheran Church youth group underwent a "life changing and amazing experience" through their work with Thirst Missions during a mission trip in Belize, said Pequot Lakes junior Rachel Allen.

Thirty-one tenth through twelfth graders from Crosslake Lutheran Church traveled to Belize in June with the intention to make a difference in people's lives. What they didn't expect was the impact that those people would have on their own lives.

For eight days, the youth group was able to accomplish a lot in the village of Carmelita. Their work centered on two churches, the Church of God and the Carmelita Bible Chapel.

Some of the work they completed included cleaning and painting the inside of one of the churches, building a chain-link fence around the outside of one and building the foundational blockwork for the walls of a new church.

"The fence was necessary around the church because it was a very poor community in Belize. Very few people had anything of monetary value to steal. Twice the church was broken into and the plumbing (the sink and toilet) were stolen," said Pet Netko, youth group director.

The Church of God contained sheetrock walls which were covered in black mold.

"We are just so thankful to get a new church started to replace that one," said Netko. Although they didn't have enough materials to complete the church, there are still people working on it. As they get money in, they buy more bricks.

The Belize mission trip marks the fourth year of mission trips at Crosslake Lutheran, but it is the first trip out of the country. A year of preparation went into making the trip possible with a lot of fundraising from the congregation, friends and family. People near and far came together to make the trip possible, with donations coming from residents of 37 states.

Everyone attending the trip had to get passports and shots for malaria, influenza and hepatitis A. According to Netko, the mosquitoes are worse in Minnesota, but the likelihood of contracting malaria here is less likely.

The group conducted vacation bible school for nearly 150 children for three days of the trip.

"One of the most memorable parts of this trip was the vacation bible school. We sang VBS songs, played games and talked with the kids. At the end, the kids wouldn't go home and would just follow us," said Netko. "Many close bonds were formed, and a lot of tears cried when we left."

Upon return to the United States, students wrote testimonials describing their experiences.

"The whole time all I could think about was, how could these kids with so little have so much faith? I had a little girl come up to me at VBS and pull me aside to point out the clouds. She told me they looked like Jesus's hands to her, and that he's calling us to walk with him. I just sat there in awe because I never thought something so powerful could come out of a 5-year-old's mouth," wrote Hannah Erickson in her testimonial.

Apart from the work they did on the trip, the group were also tourists on their last day in Belize. They went snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea, which really is that blue, according to group member Shawn Gerdes. The group also went on a walking tour of Lamanai, an archaeological site that was once a large Mayan city.

"On this trip, I truly learned that no matter what you have, where you come from, how you feel, or what languages you speak, we can all come together through God," wrote Barbara Miller.

"I was so proud of this group of young people and how they conducted themselves and the respect they showed the culture, by the way they dressed and talked. The help and love they gave the village of Carmelita was amazing. This experience will go with them for the rest of their lives and shape the way they are in the future. One of my biggest goals as a youth director is showing people how to joyfully serve their whole lives," said Netko.