As I walked out of the airport all I could feel was the overwhelming humidity in the air of New Orleans, Louisiana. I sighed in relief as we finally arrived at the cool, huge Hilton hotel. My church fellowship had arrived here for the Christian conference, Challenge 2012. Even after arriving in New Orleans, I still held low expectations for this trip. Little did I know that there was much more in store for me.
Our fellowship was amazed when we saw the huge and diverse population in the convention center. We had never seen so many Christians gather in one area. It was extremely exciting to see that all of us had come to this convention center with the same goal at heart. Throughout the week, I was acquainted with several other teens. They were from all over the states: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and more. Their stories and perspectives of city life versus suburban life opened my eyes to the effect of a different environment. It was great to see that even though we held a variety of histories, we were brought here under one mission to serve and learn more about God.
On the third day, nine of us volunteered in an ongoing event called Water Ministry. We walked around the neighborhood giving out free water bottles to strangers while sharing the gospel. Although it was raining and not many people were walking around, I felt fearless. I easily walked up to pedestrians and handed them water bottles with a smile. I told them, “Hi! We’re from the Christian conference, Challenge 2012, and we’re just walking around the community today, giving out water and sharing God’s love.” Many times I would receive a heartfelt thank you or bright smile in response. I realized then that I did not need money or even compliments to feel fulfilled or content; the knowledge that my actions were right in the eyes of God and that I cheered up someone’s day was enough for me.
A few of us participated in another ministry, Prayer Station, the following day. Since our group was considerably small, we were paired with another group from Iowa. Although we were not even acquainted with each other, we prayed before heading out to work as one team to reach out to the community. We set up the station by the ferry terminal and prepared to converse and offer to pray with people walking by. At first it was intimidating and awkward, especially when strangers rushed by, ignoring or rejecting our offers to pray for and with them. My partner, Angie, and I recognized that we needed to approach the situation differently. We decided to stop individuals for small talk before dropping the question; that way we would get to know the person a little deeper instead of blindly praying for anyone. We both grew more and more comfortable with sharing and praying with the citizens of New Orleans, so comfortable that we didn’t want to stop for a break when our counselor called us over. From this experience, I heard the unique and personal stories of individuals in their words and gestures. Our listening ears and encouraging prayers to these strangers may not have changed their lives, but it definitely showed them that someone they don’t even know cares deeply for them.
Although others may criticize me for being too dramatic, I would definitely agree that this trip was life-changing. It transformed my perspective of the world and my spiritual life. I may not miss the humidity, but I will miss the distinct atmosphere of Louisiana.
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