“Ako natakot!” I have absolutely no idea what the woman just said to me- sadly, I’m not fluent in Tagalog. But her eyes and the worry lines on her forehead say it all: she is lonely and scared, with a justifiable reason. You would be scared too if a teenager speaking a foreign language attempted to prick your finger with six-inch needle. I turn to the translator, hoping he can help me tell the woman that I’m only trying to test her blood sugar, but he has already returned to the other room, assuming that I have the situation under control. So I gaze into the woman’s dark almond-shaped eyes and desperately channel all the compassion and love I have ever felt, hoping she will realize that I don’t intend to hurt her. Although I know she doesn’t understand me, I attempt to ease her anxiety by calmly repeating encouraging words, gently stroking her cold, soft hands, and smiling perhaps a little too eagerly. To my surprise, this strategy actually works: I feel the woman begin to relax her fists and I even notice a wrinkled, toothless smile spreading across her face. I know this sounds dramatic, but that brief, singular moment truly did alter the course of my life.
In the summer of 2008, I travelled to Australia and the Philippines with my church youth group. Cathy Savilla, the youth minister at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Nitro, West Virginia, worked with travel experts at Youth in Europe (http://www.youthineurope.com) to help me and about ten other small-town high school students experience the world in a new way. We journeyed to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, where saw many spectacular things, including Pope Benedict XVI himself! The best part of the trip for me though was the medical mission with which we assisted in our priest’s hometown, Aguilar, on the island Pangasinan in the Philippines. This part of the trip wasn’t nearly as glamorous, but it had the greatest impact on me.
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