Wills Brown isn’t much of a soccer player. But every year, he helps organize a tournament pitting players from different towns against each other for a fun day.
“You see a lot of kids my age there,” said Brown, a seventh-grader. “It’s a lot of fun.”
The tournament is held Malinalco, Mexico, where Brown, a student at Pinecrest Academy, and his family are visiting for their third year in a row as part of a mission trip.
“It changes how you look at things,” Brown said. “When you come back, you look at how different it is and how lucky you are.”
While many often spend spring break on a beach, Brown is one of several students from the private Catholic school in south Forsyth who are spending their holiday on a mission trip.
And it’s not a break for spring but Holy Week, marking the religious period leading up to Easter.
Eleventh-grader Paloma Carroll has been on mission trips before, but this week was the first time she has left the country.
“I’m excited to be pushed outside of my comfort zone because it makes it more of a sacrifice,” she said March 28, a day before departing to the Philippines on a trip guided by the Rev. Dominic Pham, the school’s chaplain.
Pham led the trip to the Philippines for the first time last year and was inspired to return again this year.
“I saw a lot of poverty, but at the same time that people have a joy about them that I would love to help preserve as well,” he said. “The biggest reason why I go and take the students is to give them an experience of poverty and joy.
“We learn by watching the people that we meet.”
Pham said the trip is divided into two parts. The first is going house to house spreading the gospel during Holy Week.
The second involves visiting children at Mano Amiga, a school for underprivileged students run by Pinecrest’s sister school, Everest Academy.
“We’ll be visiting those families,” he said. “We’ll also go to San Jose Hospice, where children as young as months and days are abandoned and they’re taken in by nuns who work there.
“There are also senior citizens there that are abandoned … they live out their last days there.”
The students are also visiting an orphanage run by Mother Theresa’s nuns.
Ninth-grader Adam Guard is also on the Philippines trip. Last year, he went to Mexico to help build a church. He expects this year’s excursion to be “a little bit more intense.”
“The poverty level is a bit higher I’ve been told,” he said.
Guard and other students have collected sandals to give to the people they meet, many of whom likely will not have shoes.
Helping those in need may not be a beach vacation, but Guard said he wouldn’t want to spend his break any other way.
“I’d rather go here just to get this experience and to realize what exactly is going on in the Philippines,” he said. “It will give me a better look on how privileged I am.
“The poverty level in the Philippines will help me see that when I’m going through tough times, there’s always someone out there going through tougher times.”
Carroll echoed Guard’s sentiments, saying the mission trip will be “a real eye opener.”
“I’m getting nervous because I really don’t know what I’m going to be facing, but I’m also excited because this is going to be so far, the most influential event in my life.”