On Thursday, 13 Coulee Christian School seniors departed on a trip that, for previous senior classes, has become an unforgettable highlight of their final year at the school.
For the third straight year, Coulee Christian seniors will travel to Bogota, Colombia, a city high in the Andes with a population of 8 to 10 million.
Once they arrive in Bogota, the students will be working with a group called Children’s Vision International. Its founder is Jeanene Thicke, a Bangor woman who lives most of the year in Colombia.
Although Bogota is one of the 30 largest cities in the world and is sometimes called “the Athens of South America” because of its many universities and libraries, it also has a dark underside — a huge population of so-called “invisible children.”
The CVI website estimates that about 13,000 homeless children are on the streets of Bogota each night. CVI takes abandoned and abused children and infants and provides them with shelter, food and clothing at one of three group homes, as well as educating them at a CVI school.
According to Coulee Christian Principal Cindy Moses — who went on the trip last year — the students never know exactly what they’ll be doing until they get to Colombia.
Last year’s group prepared kids for the beginning of the school year and completed a big flooring project at one of the CVI sites. They worked hard during an “8 to 5” day and then spent much of their spare time playing with the children.
In order to travel to Bogota, the students had to come up with roughly $1,400 each to pay for the trip. They raised the money in various ways.
“We had a Christmas craft sale in December with homemade crafts, trinkets and a bake sale,” said Holmen senior Jaylene Abeyta. “And we do pizza lunches every Wednesday where all the money goes toward the trip.”
In addition, funds were raised through promotions at Burrachos and Festival Food’s Brat Barn. Still, most of the money came as a result of support letters sent out by the students.
Abeyta and classmates Faith Roraff and Brielle Larson are particularly excited about the trip because they will be able to test out their Spanish skills.
“I’m looking forward to meeting new people, being in a different country and just being more bold,” Roraff said.
Another bonus of the trip is that the students will get to experience a reunion with two Colombian students who were exchange students at Coulee Christian last year.
Abeyta, Roraff and Larson all confessed to being a little anxious about the trip — at least at first.
“I feel a little nervous, but I’m also excited to meet the children and share God’s love with them,” Larson said.
Abeyta said she felt nervous at first but that has passed. “Now I’m excited about helping them and about going on the Mountain Mission. It’s not for me, but for them.”
According to Moses, the Mountain Mission is another big part of the trip. “So many of the people in Colombia have been displaced because of poverty and violence,” Moses explained. “They end up in tent cities (on the mountainsides) where they live under tents or tarps. The needs are pretty great and our kids raise money to take groceries up to those settlements.”
The seniors who are going on this year’s mission said they’d heard plenty of positive things about it from last year’s seniors. “They all said they had a good time,” Roraff said. “Some of them said it was a life-changing experience and wished they could go back.”
Abeyta pointed out that some of those students actually did go back. “You could really see them change after they came back (to Wisconsin),” she said.
This year’s mission trip runs from Jan. 16-27.