A Change of Heart | My Family Travels
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It was on a mission trip to Chicago in 2008 where I was given a passion for helping people in need, both physically and spiritually. I traveled to Chicago with a group of people from my church in Rochester, where we were connected with YouthWorks (www.youthworks.com), a Christian organization with members throughout cities in the United States and Canada designed to set up ministry experiences for trips that are designed to challenge teenagers.

The trip as a whole was awesome, from meeting new people, seeing the sights of Chicago, and serving the people of the city. In the course of the week, we brought bag lunches to people living on the street and cooked and served breakfast at homeless shelters and in soup kitchens in the city. Through this range of activities, I built relationships with people of various ethnic groups, ages, backgrounds, customs, and styles of living. However, despite the fact that these experiences exposed me to various service projects I may never have considered participating in otherwise, they were not the most momentous aspect of my trip to Chicago. 
During each day, my group spent time at a summer camp called ‘Yippee’ which serves underprivileged and at-risk youth.  This is where I met Jayda, a little girl, no older than eight. I spent time with Jayda and learned that she was facing an especially challenging situation at home. What she shared with me broke my heart. Jayda spent long hours alone in her family’s apartment, not knowing when she would eat her next meal. When her family was home relentless and aggressive arguments took place among its members.
My birthday fell on the Wednesday during the week I was serving at this summer camp and Jayda brightened my day when she surprised me with a hand-made birthday card.  She had drawn a picture of Jesus on it so I asked if she knew who He was. She replied that she did and we talked for a while about His love for her. Before I left that particular day, we prayed together.  Jayda prayed that God would help her 17 year old sister, who was making some negative choices, to change. Jayda’s loving prayer was incredibly sincere.  I could tell immediately that this was not the first time Jayda had cried out to God for her sister.
This little girl continually went the ‘extra mile’ to serve others even when she assumed no one was watching. In addition to making me a birthday card, I watched as Jayda selflessly took advantage of numerous seemingly insignificant moments to bring joy to others.  Jayda genuinely cared for people, without expecting any praise in return, just as she demonstrated in her prayer. Jayda, in the midst of her many trials, encouraged others because she knew that God was next to her every step of the way.
Whenever I feel that the race of life is becoming too difficult, I recall my experiences on the Chicago mission trip. My mind flashes back to the few days I spent with this girl named Jayda and I am encouraged to forget about my personal struggle and direct my focus onto others. This travel experience and little girl had a far more significant impact on me than any extravagant vacation to Europe or cruise of the Caribbean. It introduced me a little girl who forever altered my outlook on life and reminded me that God helps me not only to run strong, but in addition to be a blessing to others through quiet, unpretentious acts of kindness and love.

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