I believe in the importance of caring and serving one another. This past summer I went on a missions trip to Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I was ready and anxious to serve, step outside of my comfort zone, and grow as an individual. Even though I thought I was prepared, no one could have predicted how the people I interacted with would change my life forever.
I attended a four day conference to be trained and prepared for the work ahead. There were 300 people at Nelson Mendela University, from 22 different countries. I had the privilege to meet and get to know people on my team and others attending the conference. The openness, genuine respect, and interest for each person there was present in everyone I came into contact with. I was blown away at this unusually amazing treatment. I began to realize that we all cared so much for each other, because of the purpose that we shared. We were there to serve others.
Once my team went to our work site, I was even more stunned. People from the community gave up their time, food, money, and living space for a week and came along side us to work. No one was judged by their skin color, accent, background, or gender. We began to make new friends- shared laughter, burdens, singing, and hard work. It created an incredible environment to be in. I was surrounded by people who cared so much for everyone’s well being, and truly enjoyed the new found friendships. I could count on anyone to come up along side and offer their help or company. I learned to trust and depend on people in a completely new way.
As much as my fellow Americans appreciated the South Africans, they received and were grateful for us in return. They felt blessed that High School students would give up their time and money to help people that they didn’t know- half way around the world. We asked each other all sorts of seemingly goofy questions trying to grasp eachother’s culture. They gave back to us, by providing their homes to shower, eat, and rest in. Both groups felt lucky to have the opportunity to be served and give back.
One person that especially impacted me was one of the leaders named Lwazi. He has his devoted his life to serving others through teaching. Every time he walks into a room you know it by the presence of his overwhelming smile. He checks on each individual, letting you know that your feelings and experiences are extremely important to him. No friend has ever shown such a caring spirit, and it was contagious to the whole group. Everyone should have the experience of serving- and not because it’s required or something they’re pressured into. It teaches you how to truly care about others needs instead of always being overly consumed with your own. When friendships are based on being selfless and working for a common goal, it generates an incredibly strong and supportive bond. I have never felt so cared and loved for ever before in my life. After being lucky enough to experience this, I no longer take for granted the true friends in my life. I don’t underestimate the little or big things I can do or say to anyone to make them feel cared for. People don’t need to be in an unusual situation to put serving and caring into action. It makes everyday sweeter for everyone involved.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.