Mississippi, youth group, Katrina, faith, survival, hard labor… to this day, the combination of these words reminds me of the most memorable trip of my life. The fall of my freshman year, my Mom asked me if I was willing to go on a youth trip with forty kids to Mississippi to help Hurricane Katrina victims. At first, I was hesitant because I knew that I would have to make many sacrifices such as where I slept, what I ate and basically doing something out of my comfort zone. In the end, I decided to go.
Getting ready for the trip was not easy. I had to attend many meetings, be involved in fundraisers to raise money for the trip and participate in social events to get to know the kids I would be going with. The night before we were leaving we had to attend our last meeting. During the meeting, I was still very hesitant towards the trip, but Sister Mary Anthony, the trip organizer, said something I will never forget. She said, “God called you on this trip, and you can either accept his invitation or decline it”. Right then and there I knew I wanted to accept it, and the next day we were off!
We left early the next morning. I remember seeing the bus and thinking, there is no turning back now. We headed for the airport. Forty kids, ten chaperones, luggage, food and water – it certainly wasn’t easy to manage all of it but we persevered. We were on the plane and I had time to think of how I was going to make my expectations very low so that it would be easier to get through the hardships I was about to face. We arrived in Mississippi at night. We went straight to our living quarters. The cabins were much better than I expected and I started to become more open minded. The next day, we had a tour around the area and this is where the purpose of this trip started to sink in. I never thought, after two years, there would still be a substantial amount of damage but there was, and plenty of it. I saw houses torn apart, buildings in pieces, and dead trees all along the side of the road. Every night we would have a time for reflection. This was probably my favorite part of the trip because I got to see how other people viewed the same things I saw. To think, I was worried about the hardships I was going to face!! Shame on me! The second day it was off to work! Groups were assigned with about seven kids and we would be shipped off to a work cite. We would spend roughly the whole day there — building decks, putting up wallboard, painting and more. How much can teenagers do? The truth is, we helped over eight victims with their homes.
Despite all the terrible things that happened to these people, you would still see them smiling everyday, helping us work and offering us anything they could. They were so grateful that we were there helping them. They made meals for us, sewed us blankets, and would never stop saying thank you. I had so much respect for them. They were all involved with their faith. We met many people and heard their devastating stories, but every one of them looked on the bright side of things. The southern hospitality was amazing. Although we worked for most of the trip, we also had down time to interact with the kids that lived there. One night we played kickball with a teenage youth group, which was the battle between the North and the South. Unfortunately, the South won, but we kept up a good fight.
Packing our bags, I was sad to leave. I came on this trip thinking to myself, “It’s only one week, you can do this Steph”. When it came time to leave, I didn’t want to. I learned so much from this trip whether it was how thankful I should be for what I have, or that the South is better at kickball than the North. I pray for the Katrina victims’ everyday and hope that they are doing okay. To know I made a difference in their life was all I needed to make this trip as good as it was.
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