I’ve never been the type of person to step out of my comfort zone, which is maybe half an inch wide, if not less. I never thought that having a small comfort zone was a bad thing until I realized that it prevented me from helping other people. My name is Michael Flores and I am currently a student at Walla Walla University studying Film/Television. I’ve lived in Los Angeles my entire life and I had never stepped outside the United States, let alone my room, until this past summer. My story begins on the day I was given the opportunity to go to Panama on a humanitarian trip. Which means I was being given an opportunity to completely immerse myself in a totally different culture. Due to the fact that I don’t like change or being put into a position where I have to give up “necessities” like Wi-Fi, cell signal, my own bed, you would think my response to going on this trip to Panama would be an easy “No.” However, as I let the idea encompass my mind for a bit, I began to think to myself, “When are you ever going to have an opportunity to travel anytime soon? You’re going to college and are going to be way too busy to travel again.” After making a mental pros and cons list of reasons why I should or shouldn’t go, I finally made the decision to go. I thought it might help me take a step to out of my comfort zone and actually leave my house.
On June 22, 2016 I began my 12-day excursion to the small town of Boquete in Panama with my friends by my side. The six-hour flight felt like an eternity as I sat confined to my small, crowded seat. I desperately prayed for the woman with the crying baby three rows behind me to silence the small human. Once the woman finally managed to calm her offspring, I was excited to finally sleep only find that we were about to land. Great. Upon landing and exiting the plane I was hit with a sudden wave of humidity. I had never been more uncomfortable and moist in my life. It felt as if I was sweating from both heat and cold at the same time. The sun was out and shining but as I began walking toward the door to the airport I felt rain drops. It was raining, humid, sunny and hot all at once. I told my director “I want the first flight back to Los Angeles stat.” She was not amused and told me to grab my bags and head to the vans. As we passed through a set of doors we were greeted by people I had never seen before. They had the biggest smiles on their faces and cheered as I walked past them. I looked behind me thinking that they were cheering for the wrong group, but it was I who was wrong. The cheering was for us. I was meeting so many new people within a matter of five minutes and I was shocked to see how friendly they were. Turns out we weren’t the only group that would be helping the locals of Panama. People from Texas, Idaho, and other states were there to help as well. We would all soon learn what it would be like to give up our everyday lives and take on the lives of medical examiners, physical laborers, optometrists, and more. It was going to be a long 12 days, but we were ready.
The first day of work was the hardest, only because we weren’t used to the whole place yet. I was assigned to the clinic. The Clinic would work to examine and assist as many patients as they could. I was blown away by the number of people who showed up. It was close to around 200 patients lined up and we weren’t even open yet. Women, men, children, elderly, and teens all filled the makeshift waiting area. A doctor approached me and asked me questions about my age, how willing I was to help, and whether or not I spoke Spanish. I had no idea where she was going with this until she finally told me that there were too many patients and they needed someone to help with basic examinations. I didn’t even have time to respond with a “No” before she began to give me a crash course on how to take vitals, blood pressure, and ask for symptoms. I thought my job at the clinic would be to carry boxes and escort patients, not to become a nurse. The doctor gave me a station and the patients started pouring in. For the next 8 hours I did nothing but talk to patients and hear them out as they told me about their physical ailments. Seeing the twelve-year-old girls who were pregnant, to the very sick children trying to get their hands on medicine only tore me apart. People really live like this? It was such an eye opener to see how terribly people suffer and can do nothing about it. I began making conversations with very nice locals who told me that everything we were doing as a group was a blessing. That made me want to continue helping people in any way that I could. I was starting to lose my attachment to that comfort zone I once had and it was expanding with every patient I got to see.
During the trip I met the film team that was going to capture everything our group did during our stay. I wasn’t aware that our mission trip would be an episode on the show Missions Today. Since I had been wanting to study film and acting since the age of 10, I really wanted to work closely with the film crew, Digital Paradigm. I got to know Bryan Fellows, Brie Birt, and Mark Comberiate, and they turned out to be some of the best people I have met with the coolest jobs in the world. Getting to travel the world while doing what you love is my goal in life. Eventually, the film crew asked me to do an interview about my experience in Panama thus far. They sat me down, attached a microphone to my shirt and positioned the cameras. I felt like I was on a talk show and with every question that was shot at me I gave an immediate answer. Everything went well and once I was done I felt really good about the way that things went.
My friends Barbie, Amanda, and the rest of us got a chance to do an interview with the crew as well. Bryan, the producer, gave me the chance to shadow the crew as they went from location to location, getting all the footage of the clinics, construction, and just the daily missionary life we lived in Panama. On our one day off, we went on an excursion to go zip lining on the longest course in Central America. As we zip lined through dozens of trees and beautiful waterfalls, the film crew made sure to get amazing shots of us. As I walked with Mark down the trail, he asked me to be the “host” for a quick scene to talk about the scenery and what we were doing. Before I could even think of what to say, he called “action” and I immediately started to ad lib the best I could. I came up with my own mental script in a matter of 35 seconds. It was such a fun thing to be able to talk about the zip lining while my friend Mandy was zooming through the trees above me. I’ve always been a fan of reality TV and I truly felt like this was a reality TV show. Every time the camera came on my friends and I would try to create unnecessary drama hoping it would make for good content. This was the joke of the whole trip. If the camera was ever on all of us, we would begin to argue and act as if something really dramatic was happening like when my friend Bailey ate my sandwich.
The amount of times I laughed and created memories with my friends and new friends made me never want to go home. In fact, this positive atmosphere I we had created was becoming my new home. I didn’t have to worry about all the problems I had back in Los Angeles, I could just forget them and help other people with their problems instead. I gained so much knowledge just by throwing myself into new situations and adapting to them. By the end of the trip I had an in depth view of the film industry and made friends with people who I wanted to become. I don’t regret one thing that I did on that trip and if I could go back and relive it, I would. I wouldn’t have been able to be a part of this trip if it weren’t for the help of my youth director Celeste Harrison, who is my best friend Amanda’s mother, and a second mother to me.
Going to Panama also allowed my friends and I to grow closer together in everything that we did. I am so lucky to have such a positive circle of friends and family. The fear of leaving the comforts of home and starting something new has become less scary to me. After spending time with Digital Paradigm, I fully decided to pursue a career in film. Panama taught me that anyone is capable of changing and growing, all you have to do is take that first step.