Hixton teen goes on mission trip to Puerto Rico with Spring Valley group

By Lori Johnson

Amazing things can be done in a week!

That is what Ari Charles, of Hixton, a senior at Blair-Taylor High School found out first hand. She returned from a week long mission trip to Puerto Rico last winter, where she was part of a team that was in the process of rebuilding a church that was destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Ari traveled with a group from the Valley Christian Center in Spring Valley, Minn. She heard about the week long trip from her grandparents who attend church there and decided it was just the project she wanted to do - to give back to those less fortunate. Her grandfather, Steve had wanted to take her on a mission before she turned 18 and they cut it darn close, returning from their adventure just in time to celebrate her 18th birthday.

In order to make it to Puerto Rico there was quite a bit fundraising also some out of pocket expenses. But it was well worth it. It was dark when their plane arrived and all they could see was the lit up city, so calming, welcoming and very beautiful.

Ari went on this mission trip, not really knowing what to expect. What she found out was by the end of her stay, she became an expert in hauling sand, mixing cement and other manual labor jobs. Over the course of the week they had made cement for a sidewalk that went all around the church and were satisfied in a job well done!

When asked to tell about her experience, Ari said: "We worked hard but had free time and there were opportunities to check out the island. The church we worked on was literally right on the corner of El Yunque (the national rain forest) so when done with our tasks each day, we could explore. My camera is full of pictures of beautiful flowers we saw. On Saturday, we got to the beach, hiked in the rain forest, and visited the tourist part of San Juan. If you love palm trees, you would love Puerto Rico! The heat wasn't too much of a factor, because every so often because it was so near the El Yunque , it would rain. Our group was housed in a dorm at a college that was for people becoming pastors. My favorite part of the whole trip was learning about Puerto Rican culture as well as the food. The Puerto Rican people were very laid back and they were so kind, and welcoming. They fed us well. Grisel, our cook for the week, is an amazing woman and great cook! I got introduced to plaintain, which looks like a banana but with a completely different taste and texture. We had sweet pan fried plantain, and a dish called Mofongo that is made of green plantains. There was a lot of beans and rice and a lot of chicken and pork. Fruits were huge and plentiful - nothing like eating coconut right from the shell. Twice during the time we were there, the ladies from the church would bake us pastries full of Guava jelly. If there was any negatives about the trip it was coming home to Wisconsin winter temps after spending a week in 80 plus degree weather.

“Traveling to other parts of the world on mission trips is an eye opener” Ari commented, “I wish every teenager in the United States would take the opportunity to go on a mission trip. You see how good you have it at home, compared to other places in the world, and there is nothing quite like the feeling of doing something that matters to help someone less fortunate. I know what I appreciated and took away from this trip was to never take anything for granted, be happy with what you have because others might have it worse. We had a great time, accomplished what we set out to do, but it’s good to be back home!”

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