Not Another World Traveler - My Family Travels

          “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 ( 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.

          I‘m not trying to self-righteously proclaim that through my involvement with a medical mission in the Philippines I single-handedly changed the world; in fact, I’m proving just the opposite. I will never know that woman’s name, and I probably wouldn’t recognize her if I tripped over her. I’m quite certain she does not remember me- by now she has finished all the vitamins she received at the mission and is right back where she started. I know for a fact that my testing her blood sugar did not change her life at all. What make this event a noteworthy one are the lessons I learned about myself. First, I discovered that my stomach is not as weak as I originally conceived and that I can actually handle blood without vomiting. More importantly though, I realized the value of treating others with genuine kindness. The anonymous woman taught me that the words we say don’t matter, but rather the way we say them. Anyone can convey a message verbally, on paper, or perhaps even in a foreign language; but it takes true compassion to converse without words. Since that prophetic encounter, I try to pay attention to the attitude with which I relate to others on a day-to-day basis. I have realized that life is more than just paper and words. Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice prove essential to effective communication, and you certainly don’t have to travel abroad to understand that fundamental information. Now if only I could teach that lesson to everyone else, maybe then I could change the world.

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