How A Mission Trip Can Change Your Life

How A Mission Trip Can Change Your Life

A perspective on life from the top of the mountains.

People are often blind to change as it is happening. Once the experience has ended, they understand a change has taken place. It wasn’t until we drove out of the town of Clintwood, Virginia, and down the winding roads of the Appalachian Mountains that I realized I was a changed person. At first, I had rather selfish reservations about attending the mission trip. Did I really want to spend my time off of school doing something school related? Furthermore, did I want to spend it doing hard labor for total strangers? I took a chance, set my reservations aside, and prepared for what turned out to be a transformative and seminal adventure.

Before my Appalachia experience, I rarely tried new things. I felt trapped inside this routine I had become so accustomed to. I hung out with the same group of friends, did the same old thing every weekend, and had the same narrow-minded outlook with which I was raised. I argued against and refused to listen to the opinions of others. I did not recognize my need for change and how comfortable people can become with themselves until the mission trip.

The girls who made the Appalachian journey alongside me remain some of the closest friends I have today. Initially, I didn’t think we would connect on any real levels. I recognized faces and names from classes at school, but they just weren’t my people. However, there's something about cramming 30 teenage girls into a house and allowing them to coexist that forms a forever bond. Between staying up too late, fighting over the next shower, and sharing plenty of laughs and tears, I could never forget the impact those people have had on the person I am today.

In Clintwood, I was given many opportunities to disrupt my normal patterns. The work involved ripping up floors, drilling, painting, cutting wood, laying out tile, and various other projects to finish fixing the projects my group was assigned. Aside from doing service, I learned so much about teamwork, taking stock of the positive things in my life, and focusing on what I have rather than what’s missing. Most importantly, I learned to step outside myself.

Interacting with and working for the homeowners was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. As a white girl who had attended Catholic school her whole life, I knew that I was privileged. I’d completed my fair share of volunteer work but had never taken the time to get to know the faces and stories behind who I was helping. After hearing the struggles and everything that the community members had endured, I became inspired to weave service work into my normal routine upon returning home.

My mission trip experience taught me to listen and to value differences in others. It also provided me with the courage to embrace new challenges, and the wisdom to get rid of any preconceived notions before embarking on a new journey. It’s been over two years since this life-changing expedition, yet I find myself thinking back to it frequently. The values and lessons instilled in me during my time on the trip have affected many aspects of my life. Gratitude, patience, and diligence are qualities that I never truly put to use until Appalachia. I now use these lessons and qualities I gained every single day to climb the mountains I face and approach life gracefully and with hope for what the future will bring.

So the next time an opportunity to try something out of your comfort zone presents itself, take it. Whether it be a mission trip like mine, a new club at school, a blossoming friendship, or anything different than what you’re used to, trying these unfamiliar things can only help you grow into an amazing and educated person. At the very worst, you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation for a limited time. At best, you acquire lifelong friends, memories, and wisdom. Climb your mountain, and you will never forget the view from the top.

Cover Image Credit: Author

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The Dangers Of Ideology And The Importance Of Free Speech & Debate

Universities are currently policing thought, indoctrinating students into a radical egalitarian ideology, and crushing dissenting opinion.

It’s truly amazing to consider how quickly the culture on college campuses has changed over the last several years. Once staunch defenders of speech and academic freedom, modern universities are quickly turning into ideological echo chambers, indoctrinating students into a radical left-wing egalitarian worldview, while crushing dissenting opinion.

The disturbingly Orwellian trend to quell free expression on campuses can best be illustrated by an event that unfolded last year at James Madison University’s freshman orientation, when “student leaders” distributed a list of 35 things that incoming students should avoid saying, including phrases such as “you have a pretty face,” “love the sinner, hate the sin,” “we’re all part of the human race,” “I treat all people the same,” “people just need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps,” among other expressions.

You might find yourself laughing this off as nonsense, an isolated set of events perpetuated by a select group of fringe radicals. Unfortunately, I can assure you that this is not an isolated incident. In addition to the slew of protests that erupted at universities last year in response to conservative speakers being invited to campus, these kinds of events are indicative of a larger, and more pernicious attempt by the radical left to control the linguistic territory.

At universities across America, the campus left now demands that people accept certain preconditions for discussion. Not the kind of reasonable preconditions such as “treat people with respect,” or “don’t resort to personal attacks.” Rather, It is demanded that you accept a neo-Marxian worldview, rooted in the notion that the world is nothing more than a power struggle between two groups of people: those who oppress and those who are oppressed. They demand that people accept notions like white-male privilege as axiomatic – not to be debated – and force people to acknowledge how they've been privileged by the current socio-economic structure.

Refusing to accept these presuppositions not only bars someone from participating in the discussion. To challenge an idea, such as white privilege, is to reject the fact that racism and bigotry exist in our society. To challenge the notion that being white necessarily means you must be more privileged than a person of color is akin to blasphemy. To push against the idea that certain classes of people in America are ‘victims of systemic oppression’ is to deny the humanity and individual experiences of people of color, women, and other minority groups.

The campus left emphatically espouse the notion that “the personal is political.” Thus they believe, unequivocally, that the primary responsibility of the University should be to ensure students from “diverse cultural backgrounds” feel safe – and by safe they mean “not having their identities challenged;” and by identities they are referring to their belief systems – the lens by which they perceive the word.

From the perspective of a radical leftist, to participate in debate is not seen as merely engaging in criticism of some abstract idea. To challenge an idea is to challenge someone’s identity, and to challenge someone’s identity is to debate their humanity.

And that is one of the axiomatic rules of the campus Left – you cannot debate someone’s humanity.

Indeed, with more than a fifth of college undergrads now believing its okay to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive or hurtful statement,” the future of the First Amendment itself is currently uncertain.

What exactly is so dangerous about this movement?

For starters, the freedom of speech has wrongly been construed as just another value that we in the West hold in high regard. But it is more than a Right that we share as citizens of this nation. It is, ultimately, the mechanism by which keep our psyches and societies functioning.

See, most people just aren’t that good at thinking. I don't mean this as a sleight against anyone, but we’re all insufficient and we have limited awareness of most things because we just can’t know everything. We rely on communication with one another to facilitate the process of learning about things outside our realm of knowledge. Often we have to, first, stumble around like the blithering idiots we are, espousing our biased beliefs in a public forum, and subjecting our ideas to criticism before we can properly orient our thoughts.

When the open exchange of ideas is allowed, you get the opportunity for multiple people to put forward their biased oversimplifications and engage in debate that raises the resolution of the particular question and answer at hand. Ideas are hit with hammers, combed for contradictions, inadequacies and even falsehoods. On an individual level, this kind of scrutiny sharpens the schema you use to navigate the world because other people can tell you things you can’t know by yourself.

Maybe it’s an opinion espoused, or a behavior that manifests itself, or a misconception you hold- in any event, subjecting your beliefs to criticism is, in the short term sometimes painful because we often learn things about the world and ourselves that are uncomfortable; but, in the long term, it is the only way method we have for moving closer towards something that more closely resembles truth – and if not anything true, at least something less wrong. As a result, the lens by which you look at the world becomes clearer.

Further, it is also through a collective process of dialectic that we identify problems in our societies, formulate solutions, and come to some sort of consensus.

Thus the right to say what you believe should not just considered as "just another value." It's a conical value, without which all the other values we hold dear, that people have fought so hard, in such an unlikely manner, to preserve and produce all disappear.

Without it, there can be no progress. Without it, individuals abdicate their responsibility to engage in the sacred process of discovery and renewal. Without it, we can’t think. Without it, there can be no truth. Without it, there can be nothing but nihilistic psychopathology. The end result is a populist that is not only afraid to say what they think, but that doesn't even know what they think because they haven’t been allowed to stumble around in the dark to find some tiny fragment of light.

Therefore, when we consider placing restrictions on the freedom of speech we must do so with the most extreme caution. By setting ridiculous preconditions for discussion, the campus left not only makes the process by which we solve the problems with our society more difficult, but also, if taken to its extreme, it can lead to totalitarianism.

In the wake of dozens of campus protests last year, universities are now in a position where they have to choose between two incompatible values: truth or social justice. The former will lead us to a greater understanding, while the latter can only divide.

Cover Image Credit: Teen Vogue

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Being An English Speaker Is A Privileged Status

Multi-lingual is the way to go

English is not the official language of the United States of America. But even if it was, a country apparently founded on the idea of valuing every citizen as a free individual could do a much better job welcoming people who do not speak English.

While it is natural that one language became the most common, and that this has simplified many processes, this same simplification is not afforded to those who do not speak the language.

Language barriers can reduce one’s job opportunities, meaning that even if one has degrees and plenty of experience, many jobs are simply not available. Many employers are unfortunately unaccepting of those who do not speak English fluently, and some even discriminate against those who do not natively speak English.

Education becomes extremely complex for non-English-speakers. On the student side, while many schools offer English as a Second Language programs, which is wonderful, it should be acknowledged that these students face more work and less support than students who are native English speakers. To add to this, if parents do not speak English, communication from the school or with teachers becomes harder to access.

One of the greatest privileges of English speakers lies in healthcare. They can be sure that they will find a doctor who speaks their language and can clearly explain their medical situation in that language. The same goes for psychologists, social workers, and others in the health professions.

This becomes especially complicated for those who speak languages that are not commonly studied.

A friend of mine who teaches was mentioning recently that while there are many students and families in her district who speak Arabic, there are so few people working in psychology, social work, or other support services who speak the language that for the district to access them is not only difficult but expensive.

This too often means that schools fail to offer students and parents speaking these less-commonly studied languages sufficient aid.

So what is the answer? To adopt English as an official language would be so wrong in our country full of diverse and wonderful languages, backgrounds, and cultures. Instead of attempting to make English more and more widespread, we should focus our efforts on ensuring that people in this country who do not speak English can receive all of the same support as those who do speak English.

Some of this lies in ensuring that systems and institutions offer resources in several languages and that employers will not discriminate against those who are not native English speakers.

Much of the solution, however, is on us, especially if we are students entering a people-oriented profession. In fact, in all professions, becoming multi-lingual does not merely open doors for us but creates a society where more people have access to the services they need.

Cover Image Credit: Maialisa

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