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Giving love: Forsyth County students travel to Philippines on mission trip
Laminated, presented school with 10,000 books

10,000 books, 9,000 miles, 600 bibles, 576 Filipino students, 136 painted shelves, 59 Forsyth volunteers, 34 bookshelves, 17 classrooms and 12 days.

Though the numbers paint a small picture of the work a group of Forsyth County students and leaders recently performed on Bantayan Island – a Philippine island about four and a half hours from Cebu City, Philippines – they don’t begin to tell the story of this year’s mission trip to San Agustin Elementary.

“It’s not often that a student can set aside a laptop or phone or just the luxury we have and travel to such a poor [place],” said Chad Ward, one of the trip’s leaders, “and it’s not often that you actually see children laying on cardboard, homeless – that just not what you see in the U.S., and it’s hard.

“When you strip away all of our stuff, you realize one, we are so blessed and two, I am just another human and God loves these people just as much as he loves me, so my responsibility is to give back what’s been given to me, in the most basic sense, [and] that’s love.”

The journey to Bantayan Island, one of several mission trips north Forsyth’s Browns Bridge Church offers annually to local teens, is now in its fourth year, though the church has been traveling to the Philippines for about eight years.

Held July 6-18, 47 students and 12 leaders spent their days laminating books and Bibles, painting shelves and building 34 metal bookshelves – two for each of San Agustin’s 17 classrooms – during the 12-day trip.

The work for this year’s trip, “Books for Bantayan,” began months before the group’s physical journey, however, with participating students spending their spring break packing up boxes of books that traveled by boat to the island.

In total, the books’ voyage took 86 days, arriving on the island July 1, just days before the group’s arrival.

Once on the island, the group got to work unpacking and covering the books, which are largely used Forsyth County Schools materials that were going for recycling, Ward said.

Kelly Price, director of academic standards for FCS, helped supply the 10,000 books.

“At San Agustin, we had one group unpack the books while another covered every book with [laminate,]” Ward said. “Then we had another group stamping the books; we had a stamp made so no one would get confused as to whose books these were [on the island,] and that literally took four days.

“It was quite the operation – there were 17 [additional] staff as well, so 75 people working on these books, and then we had another group that was painting what turned into 136 shelves – four per bookshelf – and then we put together 34 actual metal bookshelves.”

Prior to the group’s arrival, San Agustin students, who are taught English as a second language, used stacks of paper to learn the language because they are too poor to afford books.

Bantayan elementary schools are also still recovering from a Category 5 typhoon, Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the island in 2013, which is why Browns Bridge Church shifted their mission trip locale.

Ward said while the work was hard, it was extremely rewarding – both from a leader’s perspective and for the students.

“It was a sight to see,” he said. “The island [residents] don’t need laptops or all the technology we have; they need a lot of love that a lot of us take for granted and they need the basic supplies that we take for granted so being able to sit back for the 12 days and see that, it just makes you go, ‘wow, I am blessed.’

“It makes you recognize who you are and that you need to give, and it’s so rare that you can put aside your responsibilities – school, work, parenting – and say, ‘you know what, I’m going to really be able to focus my heart’s attention on others.’ It’s an impactful trip, both for us [as leaders] and the students.”