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  • Sofia Smith

Mission trip to Portugal opens students' eyes and hearts

Updated: Apr 10

A view of the city PBA students traveled to in Portugal for the mission trip. Photo courtesy: Sofia Smith

A mission trip to Porto, Portugal, had students from Palm Beach Atlantic University share with high schoolers the differences between their Americanized lifestyle and Portuguese culture, while discreetly sharing the Gospel.

Christianity in  Porto, Portugal  is not outwardly spoken about in schools due to concerns about students' diverse backgrounds. My team and I used photos and different examples of their life activities to illustrate their way of life. The team departed on Mar. 1, returning the following week on Mar. 8. 

CMGlobal sent my team and I, which was led by co-leaders Stephen Snow and Diana Mankin, of eight students to Portugal, an organization who sets up various mission trips over spring break and the summer. 

Gracie Mundey, a senior, talked about what it was like to share her story without being able to express her own faith.

“From the beginning, I knew I had to be cautious in the classroom when talking about God,” Mundey said. “Our goal was to build relationships first, so I knew that if I was vulnerable about my personal life, they would be open to sharing their own lives.”

Several students opened up about their personal lives during the team's personal connections with certain students in classrooms, the park, church and several other places.These activities consisted of sports days where students were invited to speak to us individually while having fun. Opening up and building relationships taught these high schoolers in Portugal how to be open when suffering silently. 

Freshman Trace Kirkland talked about the highs and lows he encountered on this trip. Kirkland said, “despite the challenges he faced, the environment felt familiar and welcoming."

“At first there were a few lows with the students being reluctant, but showing patience and openness really impacted  not only my life, but my faith,” Kirkland said.

Among all the moving moments, when students were unwilling to share personal stories and explain why they thought Christianity and following God was something only for older people.

This was not only a setback, it was a push toward greater things where the Portugal team could learn from this and open up about their own lives to decipher what these students were struggling with. 

According to the website Statista, the divorce marriage rate from 2010 to 2022, Portugal has a high divorce rate and a large number of broken homes, where out of 100 marriages 92 turn to divorces which has had a significant impact on these kids. There is a lot of diversity in terms of grieving, atheism, and mental health concerns. 

According to the website Statista, the distribution of population is 14.09% of people who are not of religion in Portugal, with a 13% being Atheism. This was regularly seen within many students that openly wore dark clothing and spoke about how religions like christianity and catholicism were boring and for older people.

Despite these experiences, there were various reasons behind these “affiliations.” I talked to many groups of students in classrooms who asked about how I have dealt with mental health. I explained how there are 21% of kids in America struggling and 22% of Portuguese students who struggle, according to the website Statista.

Lucia Alves, a student, shared her experience of trying to keep up with school while processing the loss of her uncle.

“I don’t like remembering the way I felt when my uncle passed away,” Alves said “I focused solely on my grades and that dug me into a deeper state of grief where I didn’t want to deal with my emotions like I should have.”

Many Portuguese students like Alves do not want to deal with their emotions, they would rather focus on school or time spent away from family. The team and I talked to these students and noticed how we seemed to have a lot of similarities in the ways we deal with our emotions.

The entire atmosphere is what separates Portuguese high schools from American high schools. These kids were not only incredibly engaged, but also very focused and vigilant. 

Mundey expresses her thoughts and experiences through these engagements and observations.

“When I think about the Portugal Mission trip, I think about the love and acceptance,” Mundey said. “Everyone was so kind not only to us, but to one another. My teammates and I planted many seeds there, in hopes that these kids will bloom to know Jesus.”

The mission endured a lot of opportunity and optimism towards these students leading in another country. These missions are led by students to learn life lessons and how they can apply to others. 

Sofia Smith

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