PLATTSBURGH — Andrew Baker didn’t speak much Spanish; the children, no English.
“So I just started acting like a monster,” the Beekmantown Central School sophomore said via cellphone from Nicaragua.
“The little preschoolers loved it.”
Baker, 16, had worried about the language barrier as he prepared to travel with North Country Mission of Hope on its annual February trip to the third-world country.
Now, as he chased squealing, laughing youngsters on the hard-baked, dusty ground of the country adopted by the Plattsburgh-based group 16 years ago, he knew better.
“It may sound cheesey,” he said, “but the ability to love someone” is one of the most precious gifts of all.
“They kept coming back for hug after hug,” he said, “and I couldn’t even talk to them.
“I feel like that changed me.”
That was the prayer Saturday night as the 53 missioners gathered for their evening circle sharing time at Ni-Casa, the mission’s compound — “I am a changed person from who I was this morning.”
It followed a hectic day that included distributing gifts to children that sponsors had sent for them, with some 150 youngsters within the compound walls.
“It was controlled chaos,” laughed Kathy Eppler, a six-time mission veteran.
The simple gifts, priceless to the children, might be hair ties or school supplies, clothing or hygiene items ...
“There were lots of happy faces, a lot of smiles,” she said.
Not all of those who sponsor a child’s education send presents for them, she added. But that isn’t what’s paramount.
“The important thing, obviously, is these kids are getting an education,” Eppler said, “because it’s their only way out.”
“FOOTPRINT IN YOUR HEART”
She knows how a feet-on-the-ground mission changes a person.
Her son Jeremy took part in high school and ended up serving with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua.