Emily Little

An eye-opening experience

This year, I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of the Youth Leadership Highlands program of the Mason G. Smoak Foundation. This program is for sophomores in Highlands County to learn about our community. We meet several times during the year, each day having a theme to it. Just before Christmas, we had a day dedicated to public service.

We visited several places, including Habitat for Humanity and the Children's Advocacy Center, but one had a major impact on me - the New Testament Mission. I have known of the mission's existence for several years, but I had no idea of all the work that goes on there.

When our bus arrived, we were shuffled into the main dining area. There, the co-director Katie gave us a bit of the history of the mission. To hear that the mission had been in existence for 40 years was quite surprising to me. The walls were adorned with paintings of Bible stories, which I later learned were painted by someone who came through the mission.

We were then given a tour of the facility, which is much larger than expected. From the road, only the main portion of the mission is visible. However, there is an entire chapel, dormitory, and garden area behind it. While walking around the grounds, I noticed several bulletin boards. On these bulletin boards were signs for those who stayed on the grounds, stating things such as they were required to go out and look for work each day. I thought this was a great push to encourage people to get back on their feet.

After the tour, we were led back to the kitchen. We had the chance to serve people who came for a lunchtime meal, which was certainly outside of our comfort zones. I was put as the first person on the serving line, which meant I was the first person to greet them. I gave each person a huge smile and said, "Good morning!" Some were quiet, some smiled back at me, and some grinned wide and launched a full conversation with me.

After every person went through the line, we were served plates of our own. My friend Cassie and I saw a man who was extremely kind to us in the line, sitting with two open seats near him. I walked up and asked if anyone was sitting there to which he smiled and replied, "You are!"

Lunch was quiet, as there wasn't much to talk about, but we did make a bit of small talk. When the man finished his meal, he got up to leave and we wished him a Merry Christmas. He did the same to us, and went on his way.

After our meals, we went back into the kitchen to clean up and wash dishes. I was happy to volunteer to spray off the dishes and ease some of the work off of an employee. On the bus ride home, Cassie and I talked about how much we loved getting to spend some of our time at the mission. We decided we wanted to go back and do this again there, since they serve meals twice a day all year round.

I have participated in service projects before, but this experience was truly eye opening. During the Christmas season, it's hard to see outside of your individual bubble - your family, your meals, your presents. Meanwhile, there are those who don't have any of these things. This trip reminded to keep those people in mind, especially when you start to take all of your blessings for granted.