Most teens are excited for summer because it’s their time off to kick back and relax, but for sophomore Kira Barr, summers are about more than just juvenile fun. Since the end of elementary school Kira Barr, has spent three of her summers serving others on mission trips.
Kira took her first mission trip in 2010 to Guatemala with her mother, Amy Barr, and a mission team from her family church, Northside Fellowship. She was only 11.
“We stayed at Nuevo Reto, which is a home similar to an orphanage that houses street children and kids who cannot be properly provided for by their parents due to poverty,” said Kira.
At Nuevo Reto, Kira taught Vacation Bible School and prayed with many of the community women. While in Guetemala, Kira and her team also built closets for the impoverished, laid a concrete floor and participated in a soccer outreach program.
After her first excursion to Guatemala, Kira returned.“I went again two years later and pulled my whole family along with me- including my youngest sister who was five years old,” said Kira.
To prepare for Guatemala Kira’s younger sister Erin, a freshman, said, “ I did some reading in the Bible to see what God says about helping those in need and then thought of ways I could benefit the team as an individual.”
Erin might have thought she was prepared but she was surprised when “30 or so of the children and staff staying at Nuevo Reto shot off firecrackers in the street at 5 a.m. under her window,” said Kira.
Erin had turned 12 that morning and received her wake up call as a part of Guatemalan birthday celebration. After such a harsh awakening, the group drank hot chocolate in continuation of the tradition.
Experiencing these traditions and “cultural discoveries “is one thing the Barr girls love about Guatemala. “While there I fell in love with the people and the culture,” Kira said.
This summer Kira and Erin will return to Nuevo Reto, Guatemala with just the church group. Erin plans to finish out the trip at Nuevo Reto, but Amy Barr, the girl’s mom, will fly down halfway through the trip and she and Kira will leave to attend a Spanish language school in Antigua.
Besides Kira’s service in Guatemala she has also spent this past summer serving in Malawi with Teen Missions International.
Kira found out about the organization from her mom, Amy, who took her own trip to Hungary and Ukraine with them when she was 16.“Teen Missions International offers 44 teams that go to 31 different countries throughout the world,” Kira said.
Kira looked at several different other trips including: outreaches in Italy and Madagascar, disaster relief work in the Philippines, and teaching in Mongolia, before deciding she wanted to serve in Malawi.
“After a lot of prayer, I decided that I was called to sign up to go to Malawi to reach out to AIDS orphans and to bring clean drinking water to villages through well drilling,” Kira said.
Before heading to Malawi, Kira had to purchase work boots and many long skirts because “they are the only socially acceptable attire for ladies in Malawi,” Kira said.
For the first part of her two month long trip, she went to a three week boot camp in Merritt Island, Florida with her group members, 11 other teenage girls from across Canada and the U.S., to train for their mission.
“I went through many classes such as block lying, concrete mixing, steel tying, layout and carpentry,” said Kira.
Kira accomplished what most teenagers could not; she went all summer without technology and air conditioning and used “pond water and buckets for bathing and laundry,” as well spending four weeks “living out of tents and using squatty potties in the bush.”
Kira said, “ I had the wonderful experience of teaching phonics to AIDS Orphan Rescue Unit, spreading the good news of Jesus Crist to whole villages, repaving a floor, drilling a well, and going on a safari while I was in Malawi.”
In Malawi, Kira experienced another cultural discovery moment, which became her favorite memory from the trip. “One of our Malawian body guards told one of my teammates that she was looking “very fat today.” She just stood there stunned while someone said, “Steven, Anna is not fat!” Thinking he was misunderstood he replied, “Oh, I mean she is looking very big today.” While Anna did not appreciate the comment at that moment, we all laughed as we discovered one of the big cultural differences between Americans and Malawians…in Malawi being fat is a sign of being rich and having enough to eat is therefore worthy of compliments,” Kira said.
Since returning home, Kira has stayed in touch with Anna and the rest of her team. Kira said, “The girls on my Teen Missions team have become like sisters to me. We communicate frequently via Facebook and texting.” She also follows the lives of her friends from Malawi and her “Guatemalan buddies” through social media.
Even after Kira’s trip was over and she was back in the states, she has continued to help Malawians by advocating on their behalf. “ I am researching solutions to ending food insecurity and malnutrition in Malawi,” Kira said.
She presented her findings to the World Food Prize Council at the Ohio State University in April. She was selected to be one of six finalists invited to attend the Global Youth Institute’s World Food Prize in Iowa October 2015.
Kira has clearly set an example for anyone looking to serve and help others. “I would recommend that everyone goes on at least one mission trip."
“Mission trips are invaluable as they are life changing,” Kira said.
Although Kira’s work has made a difference in the lives of others, Kira believes the real impact was on herself. She said, “I have found that the giver gains more from the mission than the receiver. The levels of gratitude and compassion obtained from experiences on the mission field are hard to find anywhere else.
“I have come face to face with a mother in Guatemala that could not feed her twin babies and was pleading for prayer as they lost weight, and a young girl in Malawi who I could tell wan on death’s doormat as I picked her up and she hardly responded, sick, weak and lying in the dirt near a well. I never saw her again after that day, but witnessing her struggle has changed me permanently and I know that I cannot stop pursuing missions, it’s too much a part of me now.”
Kira plans to continue to go on missions trips and would love to serve in Israel, Russia or be given the opportunity to return to Malawi.
Mission trips are a great opportunity for students and young people to make a difference. Through mission trips, Kira has gained a voice and an opportunity to advocate for those whose words cannot be heard. She has left a lasting impact through her work to better the world.