It was 7:30 a.m. in the morning, and the sun, now extending its rays, had already been awake for two hours. I made my way out of our mission house, down past two teenagers pushing young residents in wheelchairs, another teenager holding the hand of a young boy with cerebral palsy, and a few more individuals in wheelchairs waiting for someone to walk them to morning devotion in the chapel.
I continued to walk down the path to the farthest cottage — the one for young boys — to see if anyone else needed to be helped outside. As I entered the door, my walk slowed, pausing to take in the beauty of the image before me. There, on top of the bed, was a towel — twisted and turned into an artful design. It was a sight you would expect to see on a Luxury Cruise Line, yet here it was, at Blessed Assurance, a Mustard Seed Community (MSC) home for children and teens with disabilities located outside of Montego Bay, Jamaica.
I have spent most of my life leaning into opportunities to serve others, and in doing so, I have observed that there can, in fact, be negative unintended consequences that harm those you are in fact trying to help. So, how to avoid these pitfalls? It is a process that I examined in my Master’s thesis, and one that I continue to learn every day. I do know, however, that part of the answer can be found in the towel art atop a young boy’s bed: the embodiment of a smile soon to be expressed. There is nothing in the caregiver’s job description that asked her to transform an ordinary towel into a gift waiting to be unwrapped. Yet, here it was, the extra mile that fulfills both giver and receiver. It is an act that does not treat the recipient as “less than” but rather conveys to the recipient that he is entitled to the same joy as any other child, regardless of his disabilities.
One of the teenagers from my parish defines service as “helping others be the best version of themselves.” Service, when viewed through this lens, must inherently focus more on accompaniment (“walking with”) rather than paternalism (“walking for”). It must, first and foremost, preserve and promote the dignity of others. Last week, I watched as time and time again, the caregivers and even my mission team held a wheelchair steady so another could stand, cradled a bongo drum so that another could play, and positioned a crayon so that another could draw. These are the moments that echo the sight I saw in the younger boys’ cottage, a subtle expression that says your joy is my joy.
I am the Chief of Staff of Business Operations at Thrive Global and I was fortunate to use my Thrive-allocated giving days to volunteer at Blessed Assurance, a Mustard Seed Community in Jamaica. Although I volunteer domestically, this year I felt called to give back to my church community, Church of the Presentation, as an adult team member of our international youth mission trip. Thirteen years ago, it was this same international mission trip — at that time, I was a teenager and the trip was to Mexico — that first inspired my passion in international humanitarian work and my first career in the humanitarian training sector. Through my giving days, I once again felt the core of who I am emanate from my soul, reminding me that to truly live out my mission, I need only to nourish it. This trip allowed me to do just that — care for myself by allowing my heart to expand in service to others.
During our nightly reflections, my dear friend and fellow adult volunteer, Marianne, shared with the team her observation that the mission trip was, in fact, more like a retreat. The actual mission, our mission, is what happens after the trip. How will we remember the residents of MSC with whom we worked? As children and teenagers with disabilities? Or as resilient individuals who have taught us more than we could ever imagine about true strength and the power of accompaniment? How will we choose to live out our mission?
And so, I asked myself:
How will I serve to the fullest of my being, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to walk a little more closely, listen a little more deeply, and love a little more completely?
This is my Mission. This is how I Thrive.