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A spiritual mission

For most students, summer vacation means trips to the beach or staying up late and sleeping in. Summer is a time to relax and hang out with friends.

Some students and teachers from St. Joseph High School, however, chose to spend part of their summer over 11,000 feet above sea level, on a mission trip to Peru.

The mission was this: To help those in need and to spread the love of Christ.

Three seniors from St. Joe’s, Levi Hopkins, 18, Payton Blair, 17 and T.J. Young, 18, joined alums Anthony Whaley and Sara Burcham on a mission trip to Cusco, Peru.

Maria Whaley, religion teacher at the school, as well as Ruth Hopkins, St. Joe’s math teacher, accompanied them.

The seven travelers left on July 20 and flew with trip coordinator and spiritual director, Fr. Paul Hrezo, Deacon Michael Gossett, Jonas Shell and Tom Nelson, all of the theology school Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus.

Cusco is an ancient city located in south-central Peru, in the Andes Mountains. It is considered to be the capital of the Incan empire.

So what inspires teenagers to leave behind modern conveniences and travel to faraway lands?

“I was talking to my mom about it,” said Levi Hopkins. “I feel I’ve been fortunate and very blessed. I wanted to give something back.”

Levi’s mother, Ruth, was on the trip. This is the first mission trip for both of them.

“The opportunity to do this with him meant a lot to me,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to do something different, to go where there is a need.”

Payton Blair said, “I thought it would be a really cool idea. I thought it would be a lot of fun.

Maria Whaley said, “It was probably one of the best experiences of my life.”

During their 10-day trip, the group stayed at a senior citizens living center.

“We handed out rosaries, served lunch and gave out blankets,” said Blair.

They also visited several orphanages.

“We visited four orphanages,” said Levi Hopkins. “We gave soccer balls and Frisbees and played with the kids.”

“We played a lot of volley ball,” said Blair. “And they showed us their school work.”

T.J. Young said that he remembers visiting the girl’s orphanage in the Sacred Valley.

“It really stuck out in my mind,” he said. “Eight, nine and ten-year-old girls wanted to hold our hands and show us the entire orphanage.”

They also visited a local hospital and took supplies. Young said he plans on returning to that hospital one day.

“I want to go into the medical field,” he said. “I definitely want to go there maybe after college and work there.”

The trip was about making a difference in the lives of those in need, but the students said the trip left a deep impression on their lives as well.

“I have an entirely new outlook on life,” said Young. “People there would go crazy to have three meals a day and a comfortable bed to sleep in. I feel blessed by this life.”

He also said that since his return to the U.S., he has tried his best not to take things for granted.

Hopkins said that the people there were very welcoming. At their visit to the Lumen Dei School, they were welcomed with skits, a marching band and singing and dancing.

He also noted how prevalent their faith is in their everyday lives.

“For them, church is not something you go to, but how you live,” said Hopkins in a written reflection on the trip.

Maria Whaley was also impressed with their hospitality.

“How they live is just…I don’t think we have anything that compares to that. Despite the poverty they are welcoming, offering you whatever they have. They remain pleasant, hopeful and kind.”

Blair said that the trip has made him appreciate where he is from and also the importance that Peruvians place on God. The group attended Mass everyday.

“The way they incorporate God into their daily life is like nothing that I’ve seen in the United States. If I take anything back from this trip, it is the reverence the Peruvians show to God and to all people,” said Blair in an excerpt from his written reflection.

“I do believe that a relationship will form from this,” said Whaley. “The kids don’t want this to just be the end. They want to see a program formed out of it.”

“I’d like to go back even if it wasn’t for school,” said Blair.

The students had to do several fundraisers to go on the trip. Whaley said that the boys are also doing cemetery work to raise money.

They will have another fundraiser on Aug. 29 to finish raising the funds. The spaghetti luncheon will be tentatively at 1:30 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus. The cost is by donation.