Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pennies for people

When people hear about an 11-year-old saving up money for something desired, the things that come to mind are probably material: new clothes, delicious candy or a coveted video game.

But Ara Belk is not your typical 11-year-old.

For the past three years, Ara has been saving every penny she could get her hands on to help towards a week-long mission trip to Nicaragua. In the end, she collected $84 — 8,400 pennies in total.

The trip will cost about $3,800 for the three members of the Belk family.

Ara said she saved and collected the little Lincolns any way she could.

“I would get them from stores when we got change,” Ara said. “I would get them from our house or just pick them up.”

As soon as she collected more pennies, Ara would take them straight to her room where she kept them in a box under her bed.

“She’d get them anywhere she could find them,” said Belk’s mother, Amy, “and she would immediately take them up to that box.”

For the last two years, Amy and her husband Paul have been going to Nicaragua on mission trips. This year, they decided it was time to let Ara join them on the “life-altering” journey.

“She’d been asking to come,” Amy said, “and we felt like she was finally old enough to go. She heard how much we loved the people and the community and how God has worked through these missionaries. She wants to be a part of it, and do what she could to help.”

The mission the Belks will be embarking on is through Mission to the World. Missionaries Robbie and Murray Lathrop bought a pineapple farm in Nicaragua and named it PiƱas de Paz — Pineapples of Peace — and perform many services on the land.

The farm employs local men in the community to help families get income and the men are involved in construction around the community. Missionaries help out around the local orphanage and government hospital, and there is also a hostel on site to train and teach local pastors.

Ara said she and the other missionaries will be supplying diapers at the hospital, and also baby blankets and other supplies to the patients. While at the orphanage, volunteers will play with the children and spend time with them. Ara said they will feed the children at the orphanage a big meal — something that is very rare for them to have.

“It’s a real treat for them,” Ara said.

The missionaries will also create and organize a vacation Bible school for the locals.

“We’ll have crafts with the kids in the orphanage and share the gospel,” Ara said.

 For her first trip out of the country — the family left Saturday — Ara said she is very excited to go to Nicaragua.

“I want to go because the people don’t have much,” Ara said, “and I want to help them. God has blessed us with what we can go down there and be with them.”

“She has a heart for people,” Amy said of her daughter. “She has a desire to serve and help others, and her faith in the Lord is what drives that.”

Amy said the trip to Nicaragua is nothing short of eye opening.

“It’s life altering to see how people have to live there,” Amy said. “They are very poor and live on dirt floors, but the one thing that stands out is they are joyful. They smile a lot and even in the midst of having nothing, they are joyful.”

Ara said she feels joy for being able to help people who need it.

“It makes you feel the best when other people are happy for what you gave them and what you did for them,” Ara said. “It makes me feel good that I’ve helped.”