Focus Inquiry, Section 031
The Tree That Shaped Me
An important place that shaped my identity is my church in my hometown. It is a big church with a small congregation. I’ve been going there my whole life. I got involved in everything that my family was involved in, like the food pantry, Christmas plays, and mission trips. The name of my church is Discovery United Methodist, and it really has literally helped me discover who I am through my many experiences in the church community. Although, this church has shaped my identity predominantly through mission trips. I have been on many mission trips through the years from Florida to Texas. All have played parts in shaping me to who I am today, it all started on my first trip.
Vero Beach, Florida, was my first mission trip destination, and it was my first time going to another state without my parents. I was very excited to go somewhere new with my friends. My focus was not really on helping people, but it was more about spending time with my friends. Once we got there and began working, I realized the conditions these people lived in were terrible. Litter was all up and down the streets, it had a stench like a garbage can baking out in the hot Florida sun. The houses they lived in were run down, some had electricity but most didn’t because money is tight for these families, and some did not have running water either. As we were working with these people through the week I began to feel sorry for them. I began to realize how privileged I was for having a sturdy roof over my head, a family with a steady income and frankly just having a family. There are also some small things we all take for granted like having clean running water, electricity, and a place nice to stay every night. Lots of the people we helped had literally nothing but the clothes on their backs and whatever they could carry. They have no definite place to sleep every night and a lot of the time do not know where their next meal is going to come from. This mission trip marked the start of my journey to shaping my identity. Each one after that, the reason I was going on these mission trips became clearer. The one that sticks out the most would be my fourth mission trip to Texas.
When we went on a mission trip to Dallas, Texas, we stayed in a very old, decaying, house in a neighborhood where most of the houses had been foreclosed. The neighborhood was right next to a giant highway overpass, and under it was a huge tent city, the biggest any of us had ever seen. Just the sight of it made me feel grateful for what I had and made me care more about the people who have much less than me. I started to realize that these people would do so much to have half of what I had.
While in Dallas we worked at a soup kitchen, where a whole array of people came to get a meal. I was at the end of the line handing out soup to the people. Almost all would be very thankful for the food and would light up. Once all the soup was handed out, we got to talk to some of the homeless population and hear their story. Most of them had a similar plot. Many didn’t know information like their social security number, they didn’t have their birth certificate, and many had a disability. In most cases, this means that they can’t find a job or even open a bank account. These stories sparked a change of heart for me because I was no longer looking at these people as less than me, I saw them as fellow human beings. When I see homeless people asking for money on street corners, I think back to when I was meeting and talking to people just like them in Dallas. I remember the stories some of them shared and the vulnerable state that they were in and knowing that the same thing might be happening to the homeless on my street corner here and now, makes me sympathize with them. In some sort of way, from the experiences on the mission trip, I can put myself in their shoes because I know what the struggles they face are.
I feel like many people, especially adults, see no similarities between themselves and the homeless. These people are dehumanizing the homeless by seeing them as inferior to themselves. In the reading “Who Am I? Who Are My People?” the authors discussed that we generalize people into categories and once you are in one, you get the stereotype along with it (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey). For me I realized the stereotype was absolutely wrong, while I was handing out soup to a family. I said to myself “the person standing in front of me now is nothing like the stereotype, they were just a fellow human being.” They were caring, honest and thankful. Yet, many still believe homeless people are just asking for money to go and buy drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, they believe they are just trying to quench an addiction. But, that isn’t true. For many of them they could be going through a rough patch or something of that sort. The people who see no similarities because of these stereotypes need to realize we are all human, we are divided into different genders, classes, ages, etc. However, we all still fall under human no matter the differences. Once all people realize that they could be the ones standing on the street corners, maybe they will help them too and realize that there are in fact similarities between us all.
The church gave me the opportunity to go on these mission trips. In my opinion, I think of the church as a strong, sturdy, tree with the mission trip represented as branches. These missions have shaped my identity, making me more thoughtful and kinder towards all people, no matter race, gender, class etc. Also, they have helped me realize that life isn’t just about “me” it is about the people around me too. I try to help others every chance I get even if it is just a little thing, like a few bucks or a water bottle. In this world of “me” these mission trips have been a good way for me to remove myself from my wants, for a greater purpose of helping others who have less and by putting others first for a change. In the process of everything these trips have morphed and shaped me into who I am today.
Okazawa-Rey, Gwyn Kirk and Margo. Identitues and Social Locations: Who Am I? Who Are My People? CH. 2. New York, NY: Routledge: Print.