When I sat down to begin writing this reflection, I found myself with writer’s block. I knew in my heart that I had experienced something unique and consuming; however, I was unsure of what words to use. Naturally, I took to Google. I typed in “mission trip reflection questions.” None of the prompts I found asked me about who I helped, why I signed up to help those people, or about what happens in the area once I leave. We’re all thinking “What’s in it for me?” Sure. You can get all of your service hours done in one swoop. And sure, I can stand up here and tell you my life changed or that I single handedly salvaged a community on the brink. However, on a realistic level, I really just plastered and painted for hours. And you’d be surprised how a monotonous job gives the mind a chance to wander. Who’s going to be sitting in these classrooms? Who will look at these walls? I will probably never meet them, but I know a bit about them. They attend this school because they qualify for the 100% school free lunch program. Not one student on their campus, not even seniors, can afford to buy a Chick-fil-A sandwich on any given afternoon. That’s why they are allowed to attend this school. Why do they deserve to live like this? If you open yourself to it, a mission trip will provide an opportunity to look at life from a new perspective: from the perspective of a student who relies on a lunch program. It’s powerful.
I’m just going to tell you, it’s not easy to give up a week of your summer. When you have the option of spending time at your friend’s lake house or going to a Brave’s game or simply just watching Netflix, it is so easy to turn a blind eye to the impoverished kids in Charleston who can’t even afford a school lunch. The real challenge is being open to a new experience. It’s stepping out of your comfort zone and committing your time and energy to someone you have never met and maybe never will meet.
Another common challenge we face is consumption in one’s own faith journey. How am I walking with God each day? Do I pray outside of retreats? Do I ever thank God rather than just asking him for things? I get it. A Marist student’s life is hectic and often self-consuming.
When I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina with Catholic Heart Work Camp, I found time to meditate and reflect on the impact I was making, usually while getting paint in my hair. It occurred to me that Jesus did not sit around trying to perfect his relationship with his Father. He did not stay adhered to one location or church or synagogue, preaching his perspective on the role of Christians in our world. Instead, on his journey, Jesus wasn’t afraid to look around, to search out people in need, and notice the poverty right around the corner. Poverty is present in downtown Atlanta, in Charleston, in Kentucky, and around the country. Jesus stood against doing what was easy: he showed compassion for lepers, healed the sick, and reached out to the Gentiles. Jesus took to the road to spread the Good Word, do good deeds, to lead others towards a better relationship with God. Catholic Heart Work Camp allowed me to realize something outside of myself. My hands were joined with others around the world fighting for those who have no one to fight for them, praying for those who have no one to pray for them, and spreading the Good News in a way that is tangible, emotional, and outside of simple words.