My name is Leah and my youth group from Our Savior Lutheran Church has been on three Week of Hope mission trips over the last four years. In English class this past year, I was assigned to write a memoir about a life-changing experience I have had. It did not take much thinking for me to decide to write about my experience with Week of Hope. Even though this is about a trip I took two years ago, I thought that is was still worth sharing with you at Group Mission Trips. Here is the story of how my youth group served in Fort Collins, Colorado during the summer of 2015 and how I discovered that sometimes the simplest things can create the biggest impact on others.
When I signed up to go on a church mission trip to Colorado, I had no idea that this trip would not only change my life, but the lives of many others as well. Week of Hope is a mission trip that allows youth from all over the country to come together and make a difference in communities that are in need. The previous year, I had gone with my youth group to Week of Hope in Minneapolis and I was excited to hear that this year we would be going to Fort Collins, Colorado. Traveling to Colorado sounded like a lot of fun to me, especially with friends from my church. Going to Week of Hope last year enabled me to build friendships with kids from my youth group, and now we could all grow even closer. I could not wait until it came time for us to leave in July.
After months of anticipation, the day finally came for us to depart. We crammed into our church van and said goodbye to North Dakota. One very long car ride later, we arrived in Colorado. After checking in, unpacking, and eating supper, we got to meet our work crews. My crew consisted of a girl from Iowa and two boys from Kansas. I didn’t know anyone in my crew, which definitely put me outside of my comfort zone; however, I would soon find that my crew members were all very affable. We ended up having a lot of fun together and we all became close friends.
Later in the evening, we got our assignments for the week. “Your crew will be working at Soaring Wings Ministries,” said Hunter, one of the program directors. “Soaring Wings is a ranch that works to help the homeless in Fort Collins.” We learned that we would be doing work around the ranch like painting, staining, and yard work. We would also get the opportunity to hand out “blessing bags” to the homeless around town. Other people from my church ended up working with children, working at a nursing home, or packing clothes to send overseas. All of us were looking forward to starting work.
The next day, my crew arrived at Soaring Wings. The scenery there was beautiful. I could see the mountains rising like giants off in the distance. The sound of the breeze dancing in the tall prairie grass, mixed with the occasional barking of dogs, filled my ears. I was filled with a sense of awe and peace when I stepped out of the car. The house, however, was a different story. The exterior of the building was run down and dirty. It was weathered from the many years it endured the dry, arid Colorado weather.
The owners of the ranch, Ed and Anita, told us their story about how they ended up in Fort Collins. They had been living on the East Coast when they both felt God calling them to go to Colorado and help the homeless there. After putting it off for a while, they finally decided to move. They were nervous about the move, but God provided for them; they found a ranch that had exactly the right price and amount of land. When they bought the ranch, it was in rough shape, but other groups from Week of Hope came throughout the summer to help them. We spent our first day there cleaning off the front porch so we could stain it. After the porch was stained and the siding was washed, the house seemed to be totally transformed. I was amazed that one coat of stain could do so much.
My first work day had been fun and exciting; I could not wait to hear how everyone else’s day went. I got back to our room to find my sister, Sarah, with tears in her eyes. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “I don’t feel like we did anything. All we did was paint their nails, and the people at the nursing home acted like they didn’t even want us there.” At the time, Sarah did not realize that what she did actually was important, and she still might not even realize it today. Even if not all of the people at the nursing home appreciated their hard work, my sister and her crew were there to help them anyways. Sarah’s crew was able to spread God’s love to them through even the littlest things that they did.
Later that night, it came time for our youth group devotions, where all of us got the chance to share stories from our first day of work. Something that stuck with me from that night was my friend Eva’s story. Eva and her crew were working with an organization to pack clothing to send overseas. The lady in charge of the organization, Jessie, was not a Christian. When it came time for their lunchtime devotion, Eva asked, “Jessie, would you like to join us for our devotion?” “Out of all seven groups that have come for Week of Hope, you are the first person to ask me that,” said Jessie. “I guess I could sit and listen.” Eva told me that at the end of the day, Jessie joined them for prayers and she prayed for the first time. By the end of the week, Jessie had become a Christian. Just one little question changed her life, one little act of kindness.
My crew returned to Soaring Wings the next day. We packed food, water, toothbrushes, and other supplies into Zip-Lock bags. Then, we drove into town to a park where a lot of homeless were staying. My crew ended up handing out all of our “blessing bags” to the people. It was amazing to see how thankful they were for simple things like a toothbrush and toothpaste. This experience definitely touched my life.
Week of Hope has taught me that you do not need to travel far to help people. You do not need to do big, important things to make an impact. Simple things, like painting nails, asking someone to join you for devotions, or handing out simple supplies to homeless in a park, can all make a big difference. All you need is a serving heart to help you to reach out in faith and touch people’s lives. My experience at Week of Hope is something that I will never forget. I was able to make new friends, grow closer to others, and make a big impact on people’s lives.