And step into someone else's.
Last week, I returned from my mission trip in Montego Bay, Jamaica at an orphanage for children with mental and physical disabilities. I returned to Elon, North Carolina, where I have spent the majority of my time for the past two years. Four days later, I returned home to Whitman, Massachusetts, where I have spent my entire life up until college.
But I felt like I didn't know these places anymore because I suddenly didn't know myself. I silently wrestled with this internal struggle because I didn't even know how to articulate what I was feeling.
After a few days, I got back in touch with myself a bit and began to ask myself: what made my trip to Jamaica so different from anything else I had ever done? Why was it so hard for me to readjust back into my regular life?
Simply put, this "mission trip" I had done - the children in this orphanage way up in the mountains outside of Montego Bay - they are not the missionaries. They are not the ones that need "help." They are not the ones that need "saving."
It is us, the Americans who travel to these countries thinking we can help these "poor" people, who need saving. The children who live at the orphanage may lack what we consider wealth: money or an abundance of material belongings such as clothing. But their lives are so full of happiness, spirit and love that they are damn wealthier than we could dream of being.
Upon returning from Jamaica, some of the questions I got included, "Aren't the children so sad?" "Did seeing their lives make you feel so lucky?" and "Don't you think they wish they had families?"
No, to all three questions. Out of the 34 residents, about 24 were in a wheelchair, and about five of them were verbal, with only one being able to form complete sentences. But they do not know anything else but a life up in the beautiful, lush mountains of Jamaica surrounded by the orphanage staff, other residents, and "mission workers" who give them so much love and care.
The reason I felt like I didn't recognize my old surroundings and places I called "home" was not because they were different - it was because I was. My priorities had changed, and that's ok. Since then, I have allowed that strange sense of "not belonging" I felt to motivate me to share my feelings with others and share just how important true "wealth" is, and to continue searching for it for myself.
I was apprehensive to do a mission trip because of the "voluntourism" complex - the idea that white people think they can enter other countries and help poor people, that people only go on mission trips to "take a picture with a black baby" (someone on my trip actually had someone say that to them), and the fact that people are paying $1,000+ to "help" people that really need their money much more than they need their presence.
With that being said, I highly, highly recommend the "mission trip" experience as long as you are fully aware and OK with the realization that you are the missionary. You are the one that will be significantly changed from the trip, and while you probably did some good for the place you visited, your world has changed much more than their's.
It took me a while to accept that. But when you are working with people who find peace within chaos, laugh at the smallest joys, and love unconditionally, your heart is bound to change. So let it.
A huge, special thank you to Elon University and Elon CCM for making the trip to Jamaica possible for me. I am so, so blessed.
Just living, learning + loving and writing some of it down along the way. Senior + Director of Panhellenic Recruitment at Elon University in North Carolina. Currently interning + curating social for some badass clients at SFW in Greensboro, NC. Yogi, sightseer, shopaholic, foodie, writer.
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