Cathy shared her story of participating in the Our Lady of Lourdes Youth Mission Trip, which received funding through CFSEK from the Get Busy Livin’ Foundation, at our grant celelbration in November. We hope you enjoy reading what she shared as much as we did hearing it that evening.
When Janice first mentioned this event to me, I was a little nervous about having to speak in front of people, but once I found out that I would be getting to speak about the mission trip, I became elated. It’s not that I wouldn’t be nervous (because I’m sure, as you can tell, I still am). It’s that I knew I would be getting to share one of my favorite experiences with some of the people who made it possible for me to go, and I love being able to share about this unique and influential experience that has shaped me into who I am today.
Tonight, I want to share with you a college application essay I recently wrote because once I saw the prompt, I instantly knew that I had to write about my life-changing experience on the trip that is so special to me. It’s called:
The Mission to Finding Peace
The fruit of Silence is Prayer, the fruit of Prayer is Faith, the fruit of Faith is Love, the fruit of Love is Service, the fruit of Service is Peace.
One might assume that I was a little more than nervous as I opened the essay portion of this application, and they would be completely correct. However, after reading the prompts and reflecting on them, I became incredibly excited because I realized that not only could I write about a journey I have been on, I can simultaneously give you insight into what I love and who I am, and share a large portion of my unique story all by sharing one experience. I realized that I didn’t necessarily have to focus only on the specific qualities I possess, but instead, I could write about the something that has helped to instill these things in me and how it has influenced me to grow into the person I am today. This instrumental experience in my life was the Mission Trip.
Over spring break every year, my youth group goes on a mission trip to West Virginia, and I have been blessed to attend the past three years and plan to go for my final year this spring. It took some strong convincing from my older sisters to get me to “give up” my spring break freshman year to go to Dunlow, West Virginia, a place that isn’t big enough to be marked on a map, and work for people who I didn’t even know instead of staying home and enjoying my time off school, watching March Madness with my guy friends, going to the deli with my girls, and probably sharing at least a few pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream over the span of the week. Thankfully, my sisters were very persistent in their efforts to get me to go, and, perhaps a little reluctantly, I showed up to the school the Sunday morning of Spring Break and loaded my luggage into the van, completely unaware of how significantly this next week would impact the rest of my life.
We arrived in Dunlow after a long day of travel, and despite all the poverty I saw as we drove through the mountains, the houses in shambles, old cars in ditches along the roadside, and the trash which littered nearly every creek, I fell in love with the beauty of the winding roads that paved their way aimlessly through the mountainside and the trees whose branches seemed to reach to the sky. I immediately felt a longing for something more. This was unlike anything else I had felt before, and I began to have a sort of craving for this unfamiliar feeling. I set out on the mission with a new outlook and a sense of urgency to find this thing for which I was searching.
During my week in West Virginia, I was fortunate enough to encounter many wonderful new people and was able to strengthen my relationships with the people who had made the journey with me as well. I was taught hard work and discipline, but I also took away many intangibles. For example, my crew worked all week on building a ramp for a lady whose son could no longer navigate down stairs. She was incredibly welcoming and kind to us, but the quality she possessed that struck me the most was her overwhelming sense of peace. Observing her, you would never have imagined that her son was disabled or that, after living 45 years in the same house, she had only recently obtained running water, and that she had raised her son alone in the mountains of West Virginia, nearly 30 miles away from the nearest town. No, she was not wallowing in self-pity, she was not spiteful towards anyone (especially God), she had simply accepted the life that was given to her and found her peace within it. I so envied her, thinking that her peace had come from being surrounded by the serene landscape of the mountains, from having time to be alone with God, from some thing that was entirely unattainable for me, until I realized that her peace came from the silence that she brought into her life. Her world was not loud, aside from the week that we were there running circular saws and screwing boards together in her backyard all day. But, she made it a priority to work silence into her life. Willing to try anything to attain what this woman had, I set out with a newfound sense of determination on my mission to discover peace.
During this week, for the first time in my life, I made a conscious effort to surround myself with moments of silence in order to test out my theory and see if it would work. At first it was quite difficult, as I often had to remove myself from the group or sacrifice some of my scarce moments of free time, but I persisted, and it turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done. These moments were, and always will be, some of the most peaceful and enlightening moments I have ever experienced. This silence allowed me to truly pray, to have a conversation with God where I was not only voicing my worries, complaints, and needs, but one in which I was listening intently for His guidance. This prayer led to a strengthening in my faith which then led me to a new level of trust in Him and a unique love for others which I had not previously known. This love brought me so much joy which was easily spread through my service. And it is through all of these things that I found my peace. Perhaps it is not the exact same peace that the woman in West Virginia experienced, but it was the perfect peace for me, and I was able to bring that gift home with me and put it to use in my own life. We are constantly on a mission of our own to seek out the intangibles: peace, love, joy, and many more, and although I may not possess all these attributes at every moment in my life, at least now I know which things I need to strive for in order to attain the goal of ultimate peace and eternal happiness with God.
My purpose in reading you this essay this evening was not to show you that the mission trip is just another thing to participate in so that one can have something to write a college application essay about. I did it in the hopes that some part of it would be able to touch your heart, and that maybe you would leave here tonight with a longing to find that peace which I encountered, knowing that you are a large part of the reason that I was able to be in that situation in the first place. That peace which I found on the trip my sophomore year has stayed with me and helped me to grow in my faith and in my ability to love those around me. I could not imagine what my life would be like now if I had never had the privilege of attending the mission trip, and I know that I am not the only person whose life has been so drastically affected by it.
Your generosity has been put forth to such amazing use. Not only are we able to go to West Virginia and physically help the people we meet there, we are able to take a step back from our hectic lives for a week, see the beauty both in the grandeur of the mountains and the simplicity of the lifestyle people live, and truly appreciate the gifts we have been given.
We seem to take a larger number of students each year we go, and we almost always have a waiting list as well. Students recognize the uniqueness of this trip, and after they go once, they almost always want to go again. I want to thank you on behalf of every student who attends our Mission Trip, but I want to extend a very personal thank you to you as well. Without your recognition of the importance of experiences such as these and your selfless generosity, many kids, including myself, would not be blessed with the understanding of how incredibly fortunate we are to have what we do have and the determination to strive for those intangibles in which we are lacking.
Yes, on this trip we are able to help others in need, but I truly believe that most of the students who attend could attest to the fact that we take away so much more than the feeling of accomplishment or simply knowing that we have helped someone else. The experiences we are able to participate in and the people who have touched our lives as a result of this trip have been nothing short of a miracle for many of the kids who have attended the Mission Trip, including me.
Thank you for having me here today, I am eternally grateful to you for everything you have done for me and my school.