The conditions were miserable. Claustrophobia struck me as I felt the wet arms of my sixteen friends while we rode along the Jamaican countryside in a fifteen-passenger van. I had every reason to complain: there was no air-conditioning; I was tired and hungry; and, of all things, it began to rain. I kept swallowing the pessimistic side of me down my throat, but I felt like at any second I would vomit. These first couple of minutes were the basis of my decision that my stay in Jamaica would be totally miserable. Little did I know that an experience on this island would change my life forever.
My youth pastor had each of the six days planned for us, but negativity gripped us in the beginning. The first day we arrived to the base, my friends and I were told to remove the intertwining trees that choked the fence along the perimeter. In one-hundred and three degree weather, this was the last thing I wanted to do. Although I remained optimistic, I found that most of my other companions had not. I felt remorse for my twenty-two-year-old youth pastor who happened to be my sister. A rebellion was arising among the group, and where should my loyalty belong? Should it be with my family or where my true heart belonged, among the protestors?
A couple of days had passed, and the tension was building. More work was done on the base along with trips to non-responding nursing homes. These trips seemed to have no impact. I couldn't understand the reason for my being in Jamaica. I wanted to change people's lives. At this point in the trip, I was sure that I had wasted nearly one-thousand dollars and a week of my time. The next day was systematically the same as the rest. I woke up, took a shower, exited my "dorm," and loaded onto the bus to find what that day's task would be. We braced ourselves when my youth pastor said that we would be going to a mentally disabled children's orphanage. The drive there was beautiful. We drove at an incline up a mountain, traveling higher and higher. I was mesmerized as we drove through lush vegetation, waterfalls, and exotic wildlife. The island's beauty eased some of the tension.
We arrived to our destination to discover a dusty field surrounded by six different structures that none of my friends or I could ever call a home. This is where my transformation would begin. Through the dust clouds, I could see around fifty children playing and singing. When I approached the children, I learned that many of these kids were physically disabled as well as psychologically. Some of the children couldn't even manage to feed themselves. They lay down with flies around their mouths. Other children forcefully held my hands with desperation, pleading me to play with them. These outgoing children were clearly complete opposites of me, which created a huge, uncomfortable personality clash. But these children could sense no such vibe. They loved unconditionally, a quality that I could not grasp until this point. This concept emotionally overwhelmed me. I could tell from the eyes of my friends that they were experiencing the same feelings that I was. Suddenly, a chill of guilt enveloped me. How could I have been so ungrateful? I realized that the point of this trip was not to change other people's lives, but to change my own.
On the bus ride home, enlightenment seized me as I realized that we had been complaining in vain. We questioned our leader's character, but my youth pastor (who I am now proud to call my sister) knew all along what was in store for us. At that moment, I made a decision that would disrupt my entire being. That moment was truly life-changing.
Through all of the hot weather, hard work, and constant complaining, a purely positive experience emerged. I learned multiple life-lessons that I treasure until this day. I learned to respect authority and operate in optimism. But the most important lesson I learned came from the most unexpected place, the actions of mentally disabled children. They have taught me to love others no mater what. Ever since I made that decision, love has overwhelmed my life, producing only positive effects. Truly, my philosophy about my trip was all wrong. I went to change other people's lives; but in reality, it was my own that would change forever.
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