The Greatest Gift - My Family Travels

There is no greater gift on earth than hope. From the rich to the poor, all seek hope in a new day, a better tomorrow, and a bright future. It is the root of which motivation blossoms; it is the sparkling emotion which gives humanity its purpose to continue through the hardships of life. Hope cannot be purchased nor can it appear expectedly, but given during the moments when it is marvelously unforeseen. 

The summer before my junior year in high school, I was given the opportunity to shine a ray of hope onto someone else's life. I had chosen to travel to West Chicago, IL with my youth group on a mission trip. There, we would be running a day camp for children who stayed in a run-down apartment complex in the area. We would be working alongside Puente del Pueblo, an organization that focuses on reaching out to both children and adults within the complex. Although I was notified that 90% of the children there were those of Mexican immigrants struggling to survive in extreme poverty and abusive homes, I found optimism in the notion of possibly impacting these kids' lives for the better.

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"Hi, I'm Marissa! What's your name?" I hope the little girl would understand my English, although I couldn't be so sure. It was the first day of day camp and the butterflies in my stomach refused to settle. How would these children respond to me? Would they even understand what I was saying? Much to my relief, the girl smiled up at me with shining eyes. "My name is Andrea," she meekly spoke. I could tell that Andrea didn't know quite what to expect about what this day held for her, but on the other hand, I was beaming. "We're going to have a lot of fun today," i smiled. Andrea nodded and hugged my waist in response; it was in that moment that I knew that my story with this sweet, little girl was only beginning.

The week passed by far too quickly, all the while Andrea was consistently glued by my side. I could tell that she was enjoying herself more and more with each passing hour, and it made my heart fill with enchanting joy to know that I could help make someone else's day. Likewise, Andrea never ceased to make mine.

It wasn't until the sad moment when camp ended that I was truly able to see a change in Andrea. I hadn't wanted this moment to come all week, but it was finally time to say our goodbyes. I'd spent the entire week with Andrea by my side…what would happen to her once I left? Kneeling down beside her, tears staining my cheeks, I grasped the little girl's shoulders and weakly smiled, "Goodbye, Andrea." Clearly not able to comprehend that we may never see each other again, Andrea grinned. I continued, "I pray that you enjoyed your week. I know that I did." Andrea laughed and threw her arms around me. "I did! I feel different inside!" She pointed to her heart. "I'm happier now."

To this day, I truly believe that Andrea not only left camp with a greater sense of happiness, but hope as well — hope that'd been hard for her to find through the broken windows of her apartment, through the poverty her family faced, and through the language barriers she struggled to overcome. It had emerged at the most unexpected time; it had appeared at the right time. I'd made a difference in Andrea's life; I had given her the greatest gift on earth… hope.

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