Over more gravel than I ever expected to

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.

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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. 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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