Over the spring last year, I servedas 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 Appalachiain Kentucky. I have wanted to go on a service trip for a number of years and wasvery excited to attend this one. Leaving for the trip, I was unsure of what toexpect; we were told that we would work on whatever projects came up while wewere there.

Looking back, we could not have planned the incredible experiencethat unfolded. We arrived at the Mount Taber monastery Sunday afternoon andstayed at the guest house. Each day ran in a similar way: About 7:30 am SisterKathleen, who organized the volunteers, gave us the day’s assignments.

We tookour lunches to the jobsite and worked until late afternoon. Exhausted, wecleaned up, cooked dinner, and reflected on the day. We worked at a number ofjobsites including the monastery; St. Vincent Mission, a local community groupproviding a variety of services; the David School, an alternative forstruggling students; and a couple’s home, deep in a hollar. We spent the mostof our time outside completing yard work, pressure washing, building a houseaddition, digging a French drain, and moving more gravel than I ever expectedto in my lifetime. The most significant part of thetrip stemmed from the conversations we had with both the people we met andamongst ourselves. So much of high school is constantly rushed and stressed,giving me no time to unwind and appreciate everything around me; it wasrefreshing and reenergizing to spend hours in community with others.

By stayingin the rural area, I did not have any phone service or Internet access; whichwas a challenge for me, but a breath of fresh air allowed me to fully live inone moment without having to be concerned with other obligations. The trip hadexceeded my expectations and greatly increased my understanding of the twocommunity service learning outcomes I chose: (1) possesses awareness ofservice, including need for reciprocity, understanding of social issues, andability to see those from multiple perspectives and (2) participates incommunity 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 relationshipwith them. We all worked together which was something I was not expecting, andtheir gratitude toward our presence was truly humbling.

I grew to understand thestruggles faced by the Appalachian people from their perspective. Through the courseof many conversations, we learned about Jonathan and Ruthie’s previous failedmarriages, illness of their children, struggles finding work, and thedestruction of their home from the previous renters and a recent mudslide.Their dedication to family, strong sense of community, and symbiotic nature oftheir relationship stood out to me. They did not see their situation as ahardship but as an opportunity to draw closer together. The trip allowed me to gain agreater appreciation for service trips. I have always believed in ‘learning bydoing’ but this trip was one of the first times my learning came almostexclusively from experience. I am passionate about service and its impacts onall of the stakeholders; I receive a sense of fulfillment from serving becauseI am investing my time.

My understanding of community was directly impacted aswell. I have always considered community to be the group of people living andworking within the same geographic area. The view of community I encountered inAppalachia was completely different— it viewed community as an interconnectedgroup with shared values and beliefs, constantly affected by each other, andworking toward common goals and beliefs. Relationships were emphasized as aninvestment to each other. Being in community requires a deeper connection thanan alignment of materialistic qualities. I want to become this type ofimpactful, invested community member. This experience helped me reach bothpersonal and academic goals.

First, I intended the trip to be faithstrengthening. Starting college, I made goals for myself so I would not losesight of my faith and relationship with God. The trip impacted the spiritualaspect of my life immensely which directly translated to my academics. In manyways, experiencing another culture so different than mine has broadened myperspective on what is important in life, and I have seen this positivelyimpact my schoolwork. Although there may not be a visible difference in myattitude and work, my mentality has switched from being solely focused onschoolwork and the future to a more realistic view, building relationships withpeople and living in the moment. While I will always be a logistically-focusedplanner, this experience exemplified the benefits of taking life one day at atime and reinforced the idea that sometimes ‘the best laid plans of mice andmen 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 theremainder of my life.

Overall, this mission trip has been impactful in ways Icannot fully explain. I was challenged to learn by living and am left with arenewed sense of passion, peace, and joy for life. I hope to continue with thismentality, investing in my relationships and honing my sense of purpose withinmy community. 

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