By CHRIS EVERSOLE
A Mustang student who went on a mission trip to Peru in early June received more from her travels than she gave. Madison “Maddie” Ernst made the trip with a group from Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School – shortly after she graduated from the Oklahoma City school.
“The happiness and the trust of the people we worked for and beside was unmatched by any Americans we knew,” she said.
“The people were incredibly proud of their country, culture and families, and while they were grateful for our help, we owe them a million times more than they owe us.”
The group of 40 students, parents and school staff worked in the Santisimo Sacramento Parish in the city of Piura.
The Rev. Jose “Father Joe” Uhen, a graduate of Bishop McGuinness, has been the pastor of the parish of 40,000 for the past 20 years.
While the McGuinness students were there, another group from the United States was doing eye surgeries. Ernst was struck by the hospitality of her hosts.
“Everyone we met took us in as their own, across a language barrier and despite our being strangers, and they shared their home and lightheartedness with us all the way through.”
On the other hand, the poverty in the area was striking.
“In some places we visited, a concrete floor, a water tap or a plywood wall was a luxury,” Ernst said.
“That fact was a startling and a brutal reminder of how much easier life (or survival, at least) can be here, where those things would be considered the bare minimum.
“We all felt a bit guilty, I think, wondering why we’re able to have so much, while they have so little.”
Ernst appreciated the spirit the Peruvians display despite their living conditions.
“I witnessed some amazing things, and in the end, the trip was more rewarding than it was sobering; the rich history of the land, the kindness of the people and the sense of joy pervading everything ensured that.”
Ernst, who earned a National Merit Scholarship, plans to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee in the fall. She will take with her a new way to find serenity.
“Many of my classmates have said that Piura is their happy place, and I can certainly say it’s mine too.”