Finding Your Spiritual Self During Spring Service Trip

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Over the spring last year, I served as a student leader on a mission trip to Appalachia in Southeastern Kentucky. The trip was one of four mission trips sponsored by Family Christian Center to Appalachia in Kentucky. I have wanted to go on a service trip for a number of years and was very excited to attend this one. Leaving for the trip, I was unsure of what to expect; we were told that we would work on whatever projects came up while we were there. Looking back, we could not have planned the incredible experience that unfolded. We arrived at the Mount Taber monastery Sunday afternoon and stayed at the guest house. Each day ran in a similar way: About 7:30 am Sister Kathleen, who organized the volunteers, gave us the day’s assignments. We took our lunches to the jobsite and worked until late afternoon. Exhausted, we cleaned up, cooked dinner, and reflected on the day. We worked at a number of jobsites including the monastery; St. Vincent Mission, a local community group providing a variety of services; the David School, an alternative for struggling students; and a couple’s home, deep in a hollar. We spent the most of our time outside completing yard work, pressure washing, building a house addition, digging a French drain, and moving more gravel than I ever expected to in my lifetime. The most significant part of the trip stemmed from the conversations we had with both the people we met and amongst ourselves. So much of high school is constantly rushed and stressed, giving me no time to unwind and appreciate everything around me; it was refreshing and reenergizing to spend hours in community with others. By staying in the rural area, I did not have any phone service or Internet access; which was a challenge for me, but a breath of fresh air allowed me to fully live in one moment without having to be concerned with other obligations.

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The trip had exceeded my expectations and greatly increased my understanding of the two community service learning outcomes I chose: (1) possesses awareness of service, including need for reciprocity, understanding of social issues, and ability to see those from multiple perspectives and (2) participates in community and understands own role as a citizen of community. Much of the week, we worked at Jonathan and Ruthie’s home and developed a strong, working relationship with them. We all worked together which was something I was not expecting, and their gratitude toward our presence was truly humbling. I grew to understand the struggles faced by the Appalachian people from their perspective. Through the course of many conversations, we learned about Jonathan and Ruthie’s previous failed marriages, illness of their children, struggles finding work, and the destruction of their home from the previous renters and a recent mudslide. Their dedication to family, strong sense of community, and symbiotic nature of their relationship stood out to me.

They did not see their situation as a hardship but as an opportunity to draw closer together. The trip allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for service trips. I have always believed in ‘learning by doing’ but this trip was one of the first times my learning came almost exclusively from experience. I am passionate about service and its impacts on all of the stakeholders; I receive a sense of fulfillment from serving because I am investing my time. My understanding of community was directly impacted as well. I have always considered community to be the group of people living and working within the same geographic area. The view of community I encountered in Appalachia was completely different— it viewed community as an interconnected group with shared values and beliefs, constantly affected by each other, and working toward common goals and beliefs. Relationships were emphasized as an investment to each other. Being in community requires a deeper connection than an alignment of materialistic qualities. I want to become this type of impactful, invested community member. This experience helped me reach both personal and academic goals. First, I intended the trip to be faith strengthening. Starting college, I made goals for myself so I would not lose sight of my faith and relationship with God.

The trip impacted the spiritual aspect of my life immensely which directly translated to my academics. In many ways, experiencing another culture so different than mine has broadened my perspective on what is important in life, and I have seen this positively impact my schoolwork. Although there may not be a visible difference in my attitude and work, my mentality has switched from being solely focused on schoolwork and the future to a more realistic view, building relationships with people and living in the moment. While I will always be a logistically-focused planner, this experience exemplified the benefits of taking life one day at a time and reinforced the idea that sometimes ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray’ for the best. This has been my biggest take away and, while it will take constant effort, I hope to keep this mentality for the remainder of my life. Overall, this mission trip has been impactful in ways I cannot fully explain. I was challenged to learn by living and am left with a renewed sense of passion, peace, and joy for life. I hope to continue with this mentality, investing in my relationships and honing my sense of purpose within my community.

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