Diary of … a non-traditional spring breaker

Alyssa is a sophomore elementary education major and one of The Current’s news editors. For spring break 2015, she went on a service trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, where she helped rebuild the city 10 years after Hurricane Katrina hit.

Sometimes it strikes me how poverty and privilege became silent neighbors, and the world just keeps going because it has to.

I took a chance, ventured off my normal path and decided to step out of my comfort zone. I chose to do something for someone else, to be a more giving and selfless person. For my spring break, I went to New Orleans for a service trip, and this incredible experience taught me more than words will ever be able to express.

I had never been on a service trip before, much less shared a week with strangers, and I had no idea what to expect. Normally, I don’t get nervous, but as we entered the city on our first day of the trip, I felt as though my heart was going to beat out of my chest, and, to be honest, I didn’t want to be there.

A total of 13 NSU students and staff set out on a mission to help New Orleans recover from the horrible nightmare of Hurricane Katrina, which they still haven’t woken up from. We brought our support, and we were able to assist a newly built elementary school by organizing books, storage closets and assisting teachers who were overwhelmed with work.

We also went to a rescue barn where we fed, bathed and nurtured horses that were once abandoned and abused. The way the horse’s eyes stared into mine, I could see its pain penetrate through. They looked at us as if we were the only hope they had in the world. The powerful and intense encounter with the horses left many of us feeling empty, wishing we could do something more.

Regrettably, some days weren’t as inspiring as others. There were a few times when we all felt discouraged and unfocused. During this time, for the first time in my life, I could blatantly see a spiritual battle against the powers of darkness. We experienced individuals who were ungrateful of our support or some who would ignore us altogether. But, our apprehension slowly began to fade as we realized what we were truly there to do – to care for someone else other than ourselves.

We experienced yet another powerful encounter. A man kindly allowed us into his work, a homeless shelter. He shared his testimony and prayed, and we listened as he told us how God has truly saved him and changed his life. I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to meet him.

We were able to make sandwiches for the homeless and hand them out. The amount of appreciation these people had, just because of a small bag of food, was breathtaking. We all stood in silence; no one spoke as realization floated through the air, striking each of us.

Every day that I have been back, I realize more and more how truly blessed I am. I have three meals to eat every day. I have a bed to sleep in, a roof over my head and a place where I am safe. Despite the incredible poverty and unimaginable suffering that they endure, the people in New Orleans truly exemplify that through everything, they are OK.

The people of New Orleans were so grateful for our help and would continuously say things such as “Thank you for coming here and helping to change my life.” But, I have to disagree; they have changed my life far more than I could have ever changed theirs.

I encourage everyone to go on a service trip. Seeing the amazing grace, abounding mercy and steadfast love right before your eyes — no words can accurately express the wonder of this until you have experienced it yourself.

Never underestimate your ability to make someone else’s life better. Look for a way to lift someone up. And if that’s all you do, that’s enough. The best medicine for despair is service, and the best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of A. DiMaria

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