Having the life of a community college student has been great and very convenient, but does not exactly provide a means to experience life outside of the comforts of home.
Since the option of transferring to a university was still a year away, I decided to sign up for a program through the Salvation Army called Summer Missions Teams, or SMT. It is a missions program that sends young adults, ages 18 to 28, to different parts of the world on mission trips lasting six weeks total.
The goal of SMT is to educate and influence the people in different countries around the world about God and the beliefs of the Salvation Army. While I was not able to choose the country that I would be sent to, or the people I would go with, my desire to do something amazing in another part of the world outweighed my concerns and fears.
I applied in early January, 2011, and on Feb. 27, was informed that my application was accepted and that I would be spending this summer in India.
I, along with six other students my age from around the central part of the United States, set out on June 13 for Chennai, India, the major city in the southern part of India. From there we took a 15 hour train ride north to the Andhra Pradesh region of East Central India.
Our trip started at the beginning of their rainy season, which usually averages around 35 to 44 degrees Celsius, or 95 to 112 degrees Fahrenheit.
Starting from the northern most part of the region, we spent the next six weeks visiting Salvation Army Churches and facilities within six different divisions of the region, including: Rahjamundry, Tanuku, Eluru, Gudivada, Mandaveli, and Vijawada. In total we visited almost 40 churches, three youth hostels, four schools, and thousands of wonderful people.
This program, we soon discovered, was just as much for our team as it was for the people, who blessed us in so many ways. We learned a new level of humbleness as we visited the homes of people and children who were incredibly poor and yet still full of joy.
Some of the villages that we visited had never had any outside contact. Many of the elderly were amazed to see a group of seven young white people. Most having never seen a white person in their life.
Although it was hard to communicate because of the language barrier, the people we met connected to us easily and we were able to build relationships with many of the people and translators who taught us a lot of Telegu, the language of the Andhra Pradesh Region.
Regardless of the evident poverty that was everywhere we traveled to, the positive effects that the Salvation Army had on this country were just as visible and amazing to see. We discovered that not only does the Salvation Army bring financial support and food to the poorest of villages, but because the people who convert to the beliefs of the Salvation Army are considered Christian, they are no longer affected by the caste system, which is still a problem throughout India.
Learning all that I have about India and meeting all the people who have influenced and done so much for me has given me a new appreciation for life. Although there is still much work to be done in India, I have experienced firsthand all of the good that is happening there right now. While my stay in India was relatively ephemeral, the events of this trip will stay with me forever.