Witnessing and Experiencing

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, June 10, 2018

By: Elizabeth Baker

When I was 14 years old, I went on my first “real” mission trip. My youth group visited Gloucester, VA several months after a hurricane struck, and helped rebuild a family’s house that had been destroyed in the storm. I remember that trip so vividly—from the painting and construction, to the tree frogs we caught near the water in our spare time. A year later, my youth group came to Richmond in the middle of winter, and we grilled hot dogs for and handed out coats and gloves to the homeless living in Monroe Park. I was so moved that day that I took off my own gloves and gave them to a woman who had shared with me her story. It was then that I realized how privileged I was to be able to go home and choose another pair of gloves.

When I was 16, I went on my first international mission trip, assisting a medical team in the mountains of Honduras. I spent a week handing out anti-parasite pills to people who couldn’t afford shoes or clean water. It was the first time I had experienced an entire community living in poverty, and it made a huge impact. I returned three more times over the next five years, and during those visits, saw so much growth in those communities that I was able to see firsthand just how much mission work can make an difference. The last time I went, everyone had shoes, they had electricity, and most had water filters. At 21, I spent two weeks teaching summer school at a Child Rescue Center in Sierra Leone, and I still believe that it was the most influential two weeks of my life. I spent all my time with children who had been trafficked—sold away from their families or orphanages and forced to work breaking rocks in mines or selling goods on the streets. These kids were grateful for snacks, for a toothbrush, for owning more than one pair of pants. It was this trip that made me realize that I wanted service work to be a much bigger part of my life.

I am thrilled to be heading to California later this month with Matt and eight of our awesome youth. I’m excited not only to have an opportunity to serve those in need in California, but also to see the impact it has on our high schoolers. Mission trips can change our whole perspective on the world; they open our eyes to situations that we read about but never fully understand until we’re there; they change our priorities and shape our future goals. St. Mary’s youth are going to do and witness and experience amazing things, and I can’t wait to see it all in action.