By Mary Grace O’Shea
The Tower (Grosse Pointe, Michigan)
As the school year draws to a close, the summer that students have been ready for since September has finally come. In order to build up the information to put on that college application next fall, high school kids are always searching for volunteer opportunities that will “look good”, which they think is exactly what will get them into their dream university.
Now, I have to admit, I used to be a culprit of this common thought. I believed in the idea that mission trips were the best way to get into college, and never truly realized what one was supposed to get out of a week-long trip to a city with a high homeless rate, or a foreign country with absolutely no clean and running water.
Last summer, I went on a mission trip to Chicago with my church youth group for a week. I went in hoping it would be a great way to get plenty of service hours and spend time with all of my friends that were also attending. I was, and always have been about helping people in need, but I knew this would also be a fun time and a great way to spend a week away from home.
As the week progressed, I learned more and more about why a service trip, no matter where it is, is so much more than a simple way to stand out from the rest of the students applying to your ideal college.
During that week, my bed was the floor of a high school science lab on the Southside of Chicago. Granted, this school was air-conditioned, had recently been redone and we were allowed air-mattresses. I felt like my living that week was similar to that of a queen compared to those in Pilsen, Chicago, which is where my service-site was. So, my argument could be considered hypocritical, but it is what I realized that is what counts.
Honestly, I felt incredibly fortunate for where I stayed that week, as the people I was helping there were experiencing conditions that were far inferior to those I had in Chicago, but especially those of my life back at home.
The greatest realization I gained from this experience was not only that helping those who need it most is the most rewarding activity you can do, but it is not necessarily a true and emotionally-moving experience if you are living lavishly while you are serving the lives of the needy.
As I reflected each night I was on the trip, I went through the images of the people I met and the places I saw that day in my head. Then, I realized where I was at that specific moment. I was on a comfortable mattress with a pillow, in an air-conditioned school(with numerous blankets just in case I got TOO cold), with my new iPhone 6 being charged right next to me and then, to top it off, I was surrounded by 20 people that loved me so much more than I could ever imagine.
This situation is something I take for granted every day, and I kept taking for granted until that trip.
It opened my eyes, as cliché as that may sound. I made a promise to myself at the end of that trip, that if I traveled on a service week again, I would make sure that my living conditions were close to equivalent to those of whom I was serving.
I decided this not because I want to be experiencing poverty, but because I believe that it provides a deeper understanding and caring for the people you are serving.
I imagine what the faces of the poverty-stricken people would be if they were told they could live in my home in Grosse Pointe, or if they were even given a slightly better lifestyle for just a day. Would they appreciate it far beyond any appreciation that I have ever shown? Absolutely.
I hope that, in my future, I will be given the opportunity to participate in a mission trip in which I will be able to become even more grateful for my endless blessings.
Photo Credit: Ian Freimuth