The night my church’s teen mission group and I arrived at Our Lady of the Bayous, our FMC leader Erik introduced us to a statement that I didn’t exactly appreciate at first: “I don’t know, but it’s going to be great!”
In other words, we wouldn’t know what was scheduled to happen until we left for the workday; we would just follow along and take each day as it came. Being a natural planner, this was a struggle for me. We’d be going through our mission trip blind. But as I was soon to learn, the best things are often the ones you never see coming.
The second night, we all gathered in the main room and were asked to share about our first encounter with God. At first, most people shared a sentence about a youth conference or Eucharistic adoration. Then, a guy shared about this incredible experience he had, and I learned so much about him. To me, he had just been another kid at church. Everyone after him started opening up about their lives, and I was amazed at all the complexity I’d been too focused on myself to see.
I was going to be the last one to share, so I started planning my testimony. I came up with some funny comments to tag onto it so we’d all laugh and then call it a day.
When my turn finally came, I did start off by making everyone laugh. But then, something unexpected happened. This huge lump formed in my throat, and my eyes started brimming with tears. I cried. I quickly tied up my testimony and focused on the floor for the rest of the meeting. I felt absolutely horrible: I wasn’t used to showing cracks in my little-miss-sunshine image. After the meeting, we went to the chapel for personal prayer time. I sat in the front so people wouldn’t see the tears streaming down my face.
Then, two of the other teens came up to me and said they’d had experiences similar to my testimony. We came together for a group hug that soon included the other teens in the chapel, and I was suddenly so grateful to have met every single one of them. One of the teens even prayed with me, and by the time I left the chapel, I felt not only much more whole, but also much more connected to my fellow missionaries.
After that night, the rest of the week was filled with sometimes difficult, but extremely meaningful surprises. We did lots of work around Abbeville: painting a food pantry and soup kitchen, going on plenty of home visits, building a staircase and a wheelchair ramp, and demolishing both a wall and an abandoned house. I was especially amazed by how FMC organized a speaker event each night, a visit to the nearby Community of Jesus Crucified (I can cross going to confession in an ambulance off the bucket list), Eucharistic adoration, and even a celebration on the last night with a band playing traditional Cajun music – all complete surprises.
At the beginning of the week, I’d expected to just struggle through work, meet some new people, and go back home. I had no idea that I was to do the most rewarding work I’ve done so far, meet an entire community of kind and generous people, and even meet people I thought I already knew. I’m sure that each one of us has at least one memory that’ll keep Abbeville with us for the rest of our lives. As for me, if there’s any memory I’m least likely to forget, it is the night that I totally embarrassed myself – and unexpectedly found both myself and a little bit of everyone else, too.
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