At first, the reality of mission work in another country left some of the Lexington Christian Academy student volunteers less than thrilled.
Gracie Schafer was freaked out by the super-size mosquitoes. Kyle Price noted there was a live goat tied to the roof of the bus that the group took from the airport to its destination.
When the group arrived in Ranquitte, Haiti, there were hot days, cold showers, hard work and a level of poverty that was difficult to take in.
But there also were friendships forged, challenges meet and lives changed.
"I realized I wasn't there to be comfortable," said Gracie, a ninth-grader who adjusted to the bugs but still maintains she is not a fan of "wildlife." "I just felt like God was calling me to help."
Like hundreds of kids in Central Kentucky, Kyle, Gracie and six other students from LCA made a mission trip during spring break this year.
"We put up a flier, and I had lots of students that jumped at the opportunity," said teacher Kevin Conforti, who led the trip, sponsored by the Kentucky nonprofit Christian Flights International. It was the first time LCA students went on a trip sponsored by the group.
Each of the eight students raised money to cover the cost of his or her trip, Conforti said. Some baby-sat, others made and sold crafts, or got jobs to cover the $1,750 cost.
They got the school involved by speaking to other students about the mission trip and encouraging them to make practical donations — like Crayons, batteries, toothbrushes and toothpaste — to their Haitian peers.
Christian Flights, which Conforti serves as a board member, has been going to Ranquitte since 1977 and sponsors several mission trips a year. They now travel on commercial airline but previously paid for special mission flights.
One of the most shocking circumstances he found during a previous mission was the lack of supplies at the town's school, which serves 700 kids, Conforti said.
"They didn't have pens or pencils or anything to write on," said the history teacher, who wondered how a classroom could manage without basic supplies.
Conforti said he discovered a passion for mission work through Christian Flights and wanted to share that with his students. He said he knew that, while it could be a great challenge, it could have great rewards.
"Going to Haiti is a different world in many regards," he said. "I just hope we emphasize the idea that Jesus loves us all, and I know that sounds really cliché, but here in the U.S. we are really blessed with a lot of things, and the Haitians a lot of times feel forgotten," he said, adding that the mission trip allowed the students to show God's love through their actions.
To help prepare them in a small way for the poverty they would see in Haiti, he took the group to a public housing complex in Richmond, where they handed out donations and played with the kids.
But seeing the daily struggles of the people in Ranquitte, a town of about 20,000, made Kyle, a ninth-grader, appreciate what he had at home in Kentucky, he said. Some Haitian kids who were his age couldn't attend school because they needed to help make money for their families. Some had a single pair of shoes or only one shirt.
That made him want to make the most of his week in Haiti, even if the work, which included hauling and stacking concrete blocks, and building mud and block houses, was challenging and difficult.
"I knew what I was going home to," he said.
The students also enjoyed their limited down time, gathering in the evenings for a couple of hours to talk and share music with the locals. Even though there was a language barrier, they connected.
"Just making them laugh and having fun with them, being able to really interact with them" was the highlight of the trip for Brooke Tackett, a ninth-grader.
Conforti said those moments "made the whole week worth it."
"For an hour or two every evening, they were just kids," he said.