As I carefully dragged my sleeping bag out from a pile of typical dusty, smelly closet debris at one o’clock in the morning, I tried to recall the last time I spent the night in a sleeping bag. As I generally avoid any sleeping arrangements that lack a comfortable bed, I figured that I most definitely had not endured a night in a sleeping bag since I was around ten and still relished slumber parties. For about the tenth time in two hours, I questioned my decision to surrender a week of my summer before my senior year to sleep on the floor of some random high school with an unfamiliar group of people, some of whose names remained a mystery.
I barely knew anything about the destination or my expected contributions once I arrived. Fully aware that I had to wake up in five hours to finish packing and depart for my trip, I started ticking items off the packing list in my head. Water bottle, work gloves, safety goggles, clothing that could get dirty, sunscreen, bug spray, sleeping bag, pillow, and close-toed shoes; all items that suggested I would be working at a construction site during the day and sleeping in a tent at night, both terribly unattractive situations.
While I knew the agenda for the week included neither construction nor tents, I was still dreading the week ahead for a number of different, and, in retrospection, silly and superficial reasons. When I finally collapsed on my bed, angry at myself for both signing up for this mission trip and waiting until the last minute to pack, I concentrated on enjoying my last goodnight’s sleep for awhile.
Hyde County, North Carolina, though on the coast, is rarely a destination. In fact, as I was told on my first day there, the young people of the area typically move away after they graduate high school or obtain a job elsewhere.
I completely understood their mentality as I was unenthusiastic to spend a week, let alone my life, in the middle of nowhere with the nearest hospital about two hours away. Having just left Indiana, the land of corn, and traveled through the Appalachian Mountains, I was shocked to find myself surrounded by a landscape that could easily appear on postcards depicting the Midwest. I felt at home among the endless, flat cornfields, the two-lane country roads, and the sparse population, but the idyllic setting appeared an unlikely place for widespread poverty.
While I was reluctant to leave my comfort zone and kiss my excellent hygiene goodbye for a week, I signed up for this mission trip to help others, and my options seemed limited by the obvious lack of people. Before my disappointment had a chance to engulf me, I was overwhelmed instead by the task of settling into my new bedroom, which appeared to be a small, cramped trailer-classroom that I shared with the other girls of the group.
Just as the seventeen hours of bonding time on our journey to Hyde County relieved my anxiety about spending a week with strangers, my first night at our destination, amidst the numerous introductions to other church groups and the on-site Youthworks leaders, the songs, the prayer, the laughter, and the discussions about the people of the county, alleviated my regrets and fears about coming on the mission trip.
I quickly learned that the community is still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricanes Isabel and Floyd. This knowledge immediately sparked that desire to serve others which originally motivated me to come on the trip in the first place. While playing with children at Kids Club and painting houses for people who could not do it alone seemed easy and even insignificant tasks to me at first, I soon recognized that my simple actions were greatly appreciated.
The children loved having us teenagers around to entertain them and act as role models. The recipients of newly-painted windows, doors, and walls smiled at our work and stated their gratitude. Exhausted but content, I easily fell asleep in my sleeping bag every night, an encouraging feat that enabled me to adopt a less-selfish attitude for the week.
As I became increasingly relaxed with all members of our group, my comfort zone expanded to encompass all of my new surroundings. I forgot about my original, ridiculous anxieties about the trip as I actually began to worry about adapting my new habits and attitudes into the materialistic, selfish society to which I must return.
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