Last month was bittersweet as two of our longest-standing students and employees, Widlen and Cale, finished their last day as employees at 2nd Mile Missions. After having attended 2nd Mile since 2010 when they were both still young children, and then working for us the last five years, they have been more a part of 2nd Mile than any other school employee. Anyone who has ever been on a mission trip, reads any of my Facebook posts, or any of 2nd Mile’s Facebook posts knows who these kids are. They both began work at 2nd Mile as gardeners/ trash collectors because of necessity. After working as gardeners for a couple of years, they were promoted to teacher assistants where they assisted the Phys. Ed. Teacher. Cale remained in Phys. Ed. for the duration of his time, while Widlen transitioned to be my assistant in the literacy program.
I met these boys my first time here nearly five years ago and was immediately surprised at their drive. As young teenagers, they were motivated enough to work all morning while attending school all afternoon, and virtually lived on their own with little assistance or guidance from their parents. They were both striving to learn English, and Cale was even taking additional classes on Saturday to make up for missed years of school after he had moved here from Haiti.
Over the three and a half years that I have lived here, we have grown to be very good friends, almost like family. After I had met them on my first mission trip, I kept in loose contact with them through Facebook, but my real friendship with these guys began after I arrived in 2016. I’m still not sure what they expected of me when I arrived, or if they knew my true purpose for being here. I suspect that they (wrongly) assumed that I was just a Gringo who was going to come down and make their life easier by providing for them. But, in many aspects my presence turned out to make life more difficult, as I would frequently require them to be accountable for their actions and hold them to higher standards and expectations which they had never known before. With the lack of positive parental figures in their lives, they had had little guidance, and little responsibility. It was an unforgettable learning experience for both of us as I assumed the friend/big brother role.
Over these years, I have seen them transform from boys to young men and have been with them through many difficult situations. I have seen them get their hearts broken, watched them preach, watched them teach, picked them up from jail (for no fault of their own), sat in the hospital with them (more times than I can count), and sat through surgery with them. They have also watched and helped me learn Spanish and the culture, watched me fall in love and watched me get married. They have stayed in my apartment and cared for my dog as though it was their own child during my times back in the states.
Kirk Burnett, May 2019