by Sam deFigueiredo, opinions editor

 At the beginning of July, junior Joelle Benjamin traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica, with the St. Thomas Episcopal youth group for a unique service trip.

“I was excited to go to Costa Rica to learn more about God and build a community with the people there and my youth group,” Benjamin said. “This trip seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

Though she was excited about meeting new people, Benjamin worried about collaborating with two different youth groups from Houston.

“I had no idea who the other people were before the airport,” Benjamin said. “It was a little intimidating at first.”

The St. Thomas youth group posing for a picture on the last day

However, her nervousness disappeared after talking with the other youth. 

“I don’t even go to St. Thomas on Sunday’s because I have another church,” Benjamin said. “This church is unique because it is so accepting. Everybody there felt like a united community.”

The sense of fellowship on the trip encouraged Benjamin to break out of her shell.

“I tried to talk to everybody there,” Benjamin said. “I guess it worked, because I made new friends and grew closer to God.”

Benjamin and her new friends gained lots of knowledge from this pilgrimage. 

“We call it a pilgrimage because we went there to gain something from our experiences, not just to give and serve,” Benjamin said.

The group served by painting and sanding at an Episcopal church and an elementary school. The work was difficult, especially for those with a fear of heights.

“We scraped paint off of walls for hours,” Benjamin said. “To reach the high spots, we had to get on scaffolding that was two stories off of the ground.”

Benjamin painting a rail at an elementary school

Although working eight hours in the sun wasn’t easy, Benjamin still found time to have fun throughout the day.

“As we were painting and sanding, our group played games, sang songs, and practiced our Spanish,” Benjamin said. “It really brought us closer and helped us bond.”

The delicious meals helped the group develop relationships, and it also motivated Benjamin to power through the day.

“We had chicken, rice and beans almost every meal,” Benjamin said. “It was cooked different every day, but it was one of my favorite parts of the trip.”

Benjamin was most surprised at how much the church interacted with the locals. The Costa Rican workers barely spoke English, but it didn’t stop the youth group from communicating with them.

“Nobody spoke the same language, but we could all understand what each other were saying,” Benjamin said. “It really showed that God’s love broke the language barrier.”