When the Brian Maykovich family brought their three adopted children home from Guatemala about three years ago, they did not realize they would be returning with eight teens this year.
The Maykovichs of Carrolltown accompanied senior high students from Cambria County Christian School this spring to Guatemala City where they visited Dorie's Promise, a private orphanage, played basketball and soccer with kids living in the ghetto and delivered food to families in need.
Although the students at the Christian school (near Mundys Corner) go on a mission trip every other year, most of the destinations are in the United States.
(Courtesy photo) Tyler Gary of Mundys Corner spends some time with orphans in Guatemala.
Bonnie Berkebile, school administrator, said in the past, the students have gone to Louisiana, where they helped with cleanup a few years after Hurricane Katrina; Key West, Fla., where they worked with homeless people; and Atlanta, where they ran a Bible school and helped with local projects.
While the older students are on assignment, the other junior and senior high students travel to Johnstown to assist St. Vincent de Paul, the soup kitchen or Mom's House, an agency that provides child care to low-income single parents continuing their education.
The students are required to have a certain number of service hours, said Berkebile, who came up with the idea of the mission trips.
She believes the trips are beneficial because they get students out of their element and allow them to observe another way of life.
"They get to see that what they have is so much greater than what others have," Berkebile said.
Not only do they appreciate their lifestyle, but it can draw them to a life of service.
Josh Paros of Mineral Point is one of the students who is thinking about a career in missions.
Shortly before the Guatemala trip, Josh went to Honduras through an opportunity arranged by a couple at his church, Fountain of Life in Conemaugh.
"I thought it was a good opportunity to get out of the country, to see other cultures and to broaden my horizons," he said.
When he returned, he felt compelled to go to Guatemala and would like to serve in one of the nations.
"It was a thrill for me, to visit and help the kids," Josh said of the Guatemala trip.
The poverty also made him realize how fortunate he is. He said at the city dump, people were picking through garbage with no protection.
"They were looking for "anything of value - metal cans, cardboard. Everything we throw away, and they get very little for it," he said.
Despite their poverty, he believes people in the South American countries are better off in other ways.
"They are so happy with little things," he said.
During the trip, the students did a lot of "little things" that Josh regarded more as fun than work.
At the state-run orphanage (established a few years ago when Guatemala stopped adoptions) and the ghetto, the group played basketball and soccer with the kids.
At Dorie's Promise, they did a lot of bonding, Maykovich said.
They would have a pizza party or watch TV with the orphans, all in Spanish.
Despite the language barrier, "they would cling to us like crazy," he said.
For 16-year-old Tyler Maykovich, it was his third trip to Guatemala City. He and his two sisters accompanied their parents when they went to visit his adopted siblings there and again when the family brought them home in 2008.
His mother, Carolyn Maykovich, explained the adoption process took about five years because the family was adopting three older siblings who are now 13, 10 and 8.
Tyler said this trip was eye-opening because his family had stayed in a nicer section of the city on previous visits.
If a family had electricity and "was lucky enough to have one light bulb and a bed, they were doing well," Tyler said.
He also described the ghetto where houses were built on a cliff, and people had to descend many steep wooden steps to access the river, which was used to wash clothes and bathe and as a source for drinking water.
The women often carried baskets of clothing to the river with children on their backs.
But despite the people's hardships, Tyler observed a humble attitude.
"It was nice to see people who really want to change their ways," he said.
He said at one of the homes they visited, a man asked them to pray for him.
"He was an alcoholic and on drugs," Tyler said. "He broke down in tears. He really wanted to change."