All my life I have never been away from home for more than a week at a time. The longest I have ever been “away” from home is college, and my college is no more than 20 minutes away from my house. Due to the close distance between my house and college, I usually went home on the weekends or went home for family dinners throughout the week. So, I would not classify myself as someone who has ever been away from home. I probably would be classified as a homebody, and I am proud to call myself that. Yet, despite my knack for always being at home, I recently had the privilege to participate in a mission trip to St. Thomas, on the U.S. Virgin Islands. This was a big leap for me, but after hearing about the trip, I felt called to be there. The experience I had was both challenging and rewarding.
St. Thomas was devastated by two hurricanes back to back a little over a year ago, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Driving around the nearby towns and seeing the devastation just broke my heart. I have never seen anything like that before and it was the most eye-opening experience. Despite the devastation and the heartbreak, the natives on the island were the most upbeat, heart-warming, and welcoming group of people I have ever met. From the time I arrived to the time I left, I felt like I was at home. Laughter radiated throughout the worksite. The music and singing that took place was like no other: the construction workers would be singing in Spanish and then jump to English. Each worker singing their own song. The overall atmosphere brought joy to whomever was working or just passing through.
Throughout the week, I had the opportunity to work alongside a group of people I have never met, including construction workers, to help rebuild two local Moravian Elementary schools. I worked on painting classrooms, bookshelves, and cleaning up debris, in and around the school.
While cleaning up the classrooms I found amazing posters that contained prayers and other children’s work that would be hanging up in the classroom. Finding children’s work brought so much joy to my heart.
This trip was organized through the Board of World Mission. At the time of hearing about the mission trip, I have never heard of this organization, or participated in any of their activities, so I was originally very nervous about going on this trip. On top of not knowing the Board of World Mission Organization, I had also never been on a mission trip before. During my mission trip I experienced a lot of “firsts” and I am forever thankful for every opportunity I was involved in. Ever since I returned to my hometown, I have been struggling with finding the words to express how grateful I am for having attended the trip.
Each day brought a new experience for me. However, two of these experiences will remain with me the most. The first experience was attending a church service at New Herrnhut Moravian Church. I didn’t know what to expect when attending this service, so I was a little apprehensive about attending. My first impression of the church was that it is beautiful. The simplicity of the church design made it even more breathtaking. As I took my seat, absorbing all that is going on around me, I noticed that all of my worries had disappeared. To me, I was sitting with family. Even though I did not know anyone who was attending the service, I had this overwhelming feeling of being safe, home, and welcomed. I met many of the people who attended the service that day. I was listening to some of their stories of how they were affected by the hurricane, how their homes had been devastated, but they continued to tell me to trust in God, and everything will be okay. I was hugged, thanked, and welcomed back again. During this time, I felt in my heart and knew that the work I had been doing that week was being appreciated. My heart had never been so full.
The second experience that will forever be with me was meeting the teachers of both Moravian schools. Meeting these teachers really holds a special place in my heart, because one day I plan to work with children in a school setting. As I was painting the different classrooms, the teacher of the classroom I was working in stopped by to see the progress of her classroom. She was so thankful for the work I was doing. She hugged me and almost started to cry with how grateful she was. In that moment, I felt so connected to her. I received many thanks, hugs, and a few tears from multiple teachers that will forever be a part of me. Not only was I able to paint the classrooms, but I was also able to paint multiple bookshelves for the students and teachers to use.
This experience has been like no other and I am forever grateful to the people I met, the work I experienced, and the stories I heard. After I graduate I plan on returning to St. Thomas to see how the school has improved. I also hope to return on an educational level: to maybe one day teach at Moravian Memorial Elementary. This trip allowed me find a passion within myself that I did not know I had. For me, this is the first of many mission trips. To the people of St. Thomas: thank you, I am forever grateful for the opportunity you bestowed on me.