In March, 19 Maplewood Academy students and four staff members piled into the big, yellow school bus and made our way to the Minneapolis airport. The group was excited—the long anticipated Belize mission trip was officially underway! For many, this was our first mission trip, and for some, our first time outside the United States. The adventure of a lifetime was about to begin.

The group arrived at the airport by 11:30 pm and were the first in line to check-in when the counter opened the next morning at 3:30. Checking in at the airport with a large group is no quick task. Our plane was scheduled to board at 4:30 am and we arrived at the gate just in time. However, because of a mechanical issue, our plane was delayed almost six hours. We were thankful for the gate agents who worked to make sure our connecting flight in Houston would wait for us. Amazingly, even with the delay we arrived in Belize only minutes after our scheduled time.

After going through Customs, we met up with the final two members of our group and waited for our ride. Our transportation was the definition of a mission trip experience. We piled high all of our suitcases into the beds of two pickup trucks, then squeezed all 30 of us into a small, orange bus affectionately nicknamed “the pumpkin.”

We helped with construction on the new Seventh­-day Adventist Elementary School in Ladyville, which was already in progress, and held a one-day worship session and three days of morning worships at the school. We took turns assisting in classrooms and working one-on-one with the children, as well as leading out in the church service our second Sabbath. In spite of any added confusion, God worked in each and every situation. Something that kept coming to my mind over the course of this trip was the saying, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” If there was one thing we learned time and again during this trip, it was how to be flexible.

The children melted our hearts. Seeing them each day gave us an even bigger desire to work as hard as possible on their school. It was evident how much they appreciated our help. Their overwhelming happiness, welcoming smiles and plentiful hugs brought joy to our days as we worked. Some of the children would voluntarily come to the work site after classes were finished and sing songs for us, or help us however they were able. The days were long, the work was often difficult, and many of us had no prior construction experience, but seeing the energized faces in the elementary students frequently brought a much needed burst of energy to get us through the day.

Worshipping with the people in Belize was another huge blessing. Whether it was during the morning worships with the children or the Sabbath services, there was no doubt that these people love the Lord. It was refreshing for our group to have this experience and it reignited a flame in many of our hearts to grow closer to God in our own lives.

While our main focus for this trip was building the school and sharing Jesus with those around us, we were able to experience a few other adventures as well. Our first Sabbath afternoon we were blessed with the opportunity to visit an orphanage and spend some time with the children. It was a truly humbling experience for many of us. We were also able to see the beauty of God’s creation while touring the Mayan temples, snorkeling off the coast of San Pedro Island, going for walks around our village, and visiting the Belize Zoo.

Our last day was bittersweet. Saying goodbye to all of the wonderful people made us long for heaven all the more. While we were only there a short time, a piece of our hearts will remain there forever.

Since arriving back in the States, we have heard that the roof has now been installed, and the school is one step closer to their goal of opening their doors for the 2016-­2017 school year. We praise God for the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing experience!

Danica Eylenstein is assistant dean of women at Maplewood Academy.