Affton Family Returns From Belize Adventure With New Focus

The Kuhnert family returned from a year in Belize on Aug. 1. They described the country as beautiful but difficult.

Andy and Julie Kuhnert and their five children, of Affton, returned on Aug. 1 from a missionary trip to Punta Gorda, Belize.

"It's something that I had always wanted to do, "Julie Kuhnert said. "I felt called to serve abroad in some capacity, not knowing what that was going to be."

Andy, with a degree in school administration, ran teacher workshops, helped connect schools with donors, and was a liaison with teachers and principals. Julie facilitated art classes in villages that don't have access to art supplies. Their children went to school.

When they weren't working they traveled.

"Belize is amazingly beautiful, and it's safe," Julie said.

They camped and hiked the tropical rain forest they were surrounded by, exploring waterfalls and the rocky coastline.

"Everyday, we'd go out to villages, thinking, 'I can't believe we live here.'" Andy said. "Living was difficult, but the scenery was beautiful."

Julie said there's virtually no industry, so anything that comes into the country is taxed with high duties, which make it expensive to live there, and resources are scarce.

"Our car broke down three times, and the shortest amount of time it was broken was three weeks," she said.

"We really had to learn to roll with the punches," Andy said. "Sometimes a store doesn't have what you're looking for and you can't get upset about it."

Andy said the first month they really felt like they were suffering.

"Just trying to figure out what stores to go to, how to do finances, just an endless list of logistics on top of the physicality of feeling like you're suffering," he said, "but we were in the same boat as everybody else there."

"It was our western Americanized entitlement sort of thing," he said. "We were like, 'This is so different, this is so hard,' but we got used to it and we figured it out."

Andy said the government in Belize gives citizens a lot of freedom, but at the same time, things get done more efficiently here than there.

"Belize wins again," was their way of saying, often, that in spite of their efforts, they had to roll with the punches.

Coming back home was a real shock, Andy said.

"Things just move so much faster," he said. Someone told us don't be surprised if you go into Walmart and feel like crying."

Julie said they got back into their old routines pretty quickly, though, which wasn't necessarily a good thing.

"Being removed from it we saw a lot of changes and ways we lived differently that we want to hold onto, but have learned that it takes a lot more intentional living than maybe we were anticipating," she said. "You have to decide to do things differently."

Andy said they purged all kinds of things when they got back.

"We realize we don't need more than we need," he said. "Having just barely enough of what you need is so much more rewarding and freeing, that it's worth the risk of having to do an extra load of laundry."

They've also taken things off their schedules now.

"We didn't have such a full schedule there," Julie said. "We spent a lot more time as a family, we felt a lot more relaxed." She said one thing they've done is not enroll their children in sports.

As a family, they're also walking or riding their bikes to work or school.

"A majority of people think, I love that your kids are riding their bikes, but I wouldn't have my kids to it," Andy said. "It's not making a judgment call either way, but for us, it gives them more responsibility, they're getting out and getting exercise."

Andy said when they were in Belize they had a focus, and now that they're home they're trying to find that focus again.

"There are several things pulling us in this direction, that direction, and it's hard to (get) it all in and say, we have a focus now," he said. "It's finding that focus, now we're here, what we want to hold true to."

"There's a lot of accepting things the way they are that they'll work out for the best, and not feeling like you have to control everything," Andy said.

"It's a lot more liberating, because they're going to work out one way or another, and if they don't, it's not my fault, and when they do work out, you're grateful for the blessings that you have," he said.

Read more about the Kuhnerts' trip: