By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — Like any girl turning 16 years old, Teja Brown could have asked for anything, such as a car, a big birthday party, or money, and she more than likely would have received it.
However, the Pope John XXIII Regional High School junior asked for only one thing to do for her milestone day back in February: to go on a missionary trip to Haiti with her grandmother Carol Hawthorne and the non-profit Christian ministry group —called Dayspring Ministries — that helps care for foster children and families in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
“I wanted to help people by going on this trip instead of doing a Sweet 16,” Brown said. “My grandma always talked about these trips and it was always something she and my parents would say, ‘When you get older, maybe you can come on this trip.’ But, this was something I really wanted to do.”
Fortunately for Brown, Hawthorne and Dayspring Ministries were able to take her to My Father’s House Orphanage in Bon Repos, Haiti in November for a week. Needless to say, that week changed Brown’s perspective on life.
“It was so amazing,” Brown said. “It made me realize how lucky I am and how lucky we all are at Pope John to enjoy the lives we have here. There are so many things we have that they do not have, but they are so happy and grateful for what they do have.”
During Brown’s time, she helped Dayspring Ministries continue its mission of providing support for Haitian children and adults, including 40 widows, so they can become “Christian men and women who will be leaders in their family, church, community and country for the betterment of Haiti,” according to Hawthorne. Brown and team members from Dayspring Ministries spent most of their time aiding 57 children who live at My Father’s House Orphanage and people who attend the Light & Peace Christian Church and the Light & Peace Christian Primary and Second Schools.
Hawthorne was amazed at Brown’s maturity to not only want to go on this trip, but the enthusiasm her granddaughter displayed and her empathy for people facing hardships, rather than just worrying about herself.
“She did really well,” Hawthorne said. “She didn’t spend her time inside the orphanage just hanging out with the other team members from our ministry. She was always outside playing or doing activities with the children and teenagers. She always strives to the do the best she can for others.”
This was evident when Brown and the Dayspring crew went to a village church about two hours way from the orphanage. She not only helped the team bring 200 pounds of rice and beans and oil for the church families, but she also played soccer — a sport she has played at Pope John over the last three years as a defender — with the kids at the school.
“I value giving back to people more than anything in the world,” Brown said. “I just wanted to give these kids anything that would make their lives better and more enjoyable.”
Brown’s selfless acts continued when she and the team visited the Light & Peace Christian Primary and Second Schools, as they gave the children Ziploc bags stuffed with little toys and candy. While she was there, Brown met a little girl named Jilbertha, a child she wanted to bring back home to New Jersey because of the great friendship they developed in their short time together.
“She was just so cute and fun to be with,” Brown said. “I never thought I was going to cry or get emotional about being there because I’m 16 and I’m too old for that. But when we left, I balled my eyes out because I was missing her so much.”
Since returning to New Jersey, Brown has gotten back into her routine as a student at Pope John, but she feels she is more humble and appreciative, and she believes she may not have changed without having gone through this experience.
“When I got back from the trip, I was sitting in class and was just in shock at what I have,” Brown said. “I have teachers who are great. I’m sitting at a personal desk instead of a bench where everyone is sitting next to each other. I go home to a big house and I have a roof over my head rather than just one small room. It’s crazy to see what they go through. They barely have homes, there are no road signs and the air quality is terrible, but they make it work and they do it with a smile on their face.
“I will always be grateful for what I have.”