I was seventeen years old when I attended my first mission trip. I wasn't going out of the country, but where I landed felt like a different world. It's a town north of Philadelphia, but close enough that you can see the skyline very clearly. It is called Kensington, and spending time there changed my view on the world forever.
I travel to Kensington with a Catholic service group, so a lot of our work is faith-based, such as carrying life-size wooden crosses around the streets and asking for prayer intentions. We give out bagged lunches, clean up facilities, hold festivals for the children and get to know the amazing souls throughout the town. It doesn't seem like much, but after a full day you are pretty exhausted, yet always looking forward to the next day.
Every time I spend time in Kensington, I am immensely humbled. I have sat down and talked to people who have been through more than I can fathom, and I still think about their stories of strength when I face my own battles. I cannot change their situations, but along with my fellow missionaries we try and make their community better. What we try and do is be a light, or an outlet, this is especially true for the children.
I have had many encounters that have stayed with me from my time spent in Kensington, but one of my favorites was when we were supposed to be cleaning out a garden, which frankly, I was not too excited for. All of the sudden, these three beautiful little girls come to the fence because they wanted to help. They picked flowers and handed them to us, and ran around the garden for hours. They ended up being my light that day, and I know they are still shining their light every day to others.
The people I encountered have been the reason why I return. There is something so truthful and real about their attitudes and perspectives, and despite a lot of the adversity they have faced, they keep moving forward. Each time I return home from a few days in Kensington I am always pinching myself, wondering if it was a dream. Service work reaches into the deepest parts of your heart, it reached into mine and completely changed it. I know that some of my happiest days have been spent in the sunshine outside in Kensington, hearing the laughter of children, or the encouraging stories from a stranger.
There are not many words to describe the feelings I have when I am speaking about the service I have done, but inside I am beaming as I write this. I think I would be a very different person if it weren't for my experiences in Kensington. I will always be humbled when I think of my time in Kensington, and I will always feel blessed that something I love to do so much can help other people too.
"Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in various forms." — 1 Peter 4:10