Sad. Unforgettable. Life changing. We arrived at the church in Louisville, Kentucky at 6:15pm, walking into somewhere new and different. None of us had any idea what called us to be there at the time but we knew we were there for a reason. Rushed and panicking because we didn’t know anyone else there. The leaders gave us a very strict schedule to follow, eat at 6:30, bible time at 8:00, in your sleeping room by 9:30pm. I knew I had to get sleep because the next day I was to start my week of work: Mission work.
I woke up at 6:00AM on Monday July 24th and realize that something isn’t right, the air filled and sturdy mattress I had fallen asleep on was shriveled down to a thin useless sheet. I got up off the lifeless mattress and started getting ready for the long and stressful day ahead. By 9:30am I was in a smelly, crowded van. I was not welcomed at first. I was the “lucky” one who got to ride the van with the new and different people that no one knew. I thought the van was going to be the worst part of the day but then I saw it, the place I would be working for the next week of my summer. The old fence splintered. The huge metal doors thickly coated with the copper tone of rust. And in the back a sad, lonely, playset worn out from the scorching sun. I knew when I arrived that the next week of my life was going to be so amazing but yet stressful and hard.
I walked into the salvation Army Kids camp with an open mind and a big heart. I never knew kids at the age of 6 could be so broken but yet so loving and forgiving. Why is it that the kids that have the least are usually the kindest? Right as I walked through the cold, rusted doors that would later cause a storm inside me, a little girl by the name of Nigeria sprang up from the sea of children and hugged me. At the moment I didn't know why she picked me of all the 14 kids that were there. That little, broken, and innocent girl that clung to me when I walked in changed my life forever. I never thought a little 6 year old girl, that I only spent a week with, could impact my life so much. She told me about her life story and what she had been through. Heartbreak, abuse, and abandonment are just a few words to describe Nigeria's poor life. From hearing her story and her hearing mine we connected on a lot of topics, like losing people we love, moving schools, and being mentally or physically hurt by people. This little girl that I thought would not alter my life at all made me think about my life in a way that no other person could have.
I spent the rest of the week bonding with her and getting to know her very well. Even though she was only 6 she had been through so much. On the third day of being there she told me about how her father abandoned her family at the age of 5 and how her mother worked from 3am to 9pm so she had to walk 45 minutes everyday to get to the salvation army. Then sadly she showed me something that I will never be able to remove from my mind. She slowly walked me over to a corner and showed me what her dad had left as a “goodbye” present. The scars — running down her back like scratches from a tiger — healed now, but you could still see where she had scratched the scabs and tried to remove what her father had given her. I didn't know exactly what to do in the moment but I remember the rain of tears running down my face. I had seen that sight too many times — the sight of scars, abuse, and being so afraid to trust someone.
I left that day with the image of Nigeria plastered in my head. I fell asleep thinking 'People should not be hurt by someone who is supposed to be a father figure and raise their daughter to be polite and kind.' The day after that horrific scene was my last and saddest day at the Salvation Army kids camp. I had to say goodbye to the little girl who depended so much on my happiness for her own. But right before I left she told me why she picked me out of the 14 mission works kids that were there. She picked me because she said that I reminded her of her favorite sister who died in a shooting 2 years prior to us going there.
As I slowly walked out of the Camp that had been my home for a week, pushing through those old rusted doors for the last time, my eyes began to well up with tears. As I turned back to look at Nigeria bawling her eyes out, I realized that I had affected her life just as much as she affected mine.
I had stopped my eyes from watering before I got into the van, that now smelt like week old sweat from the dirty socks slung over the seats, the sweaty tennis shoes, and the sopping towels we hung over the headrest to dry. I realized that I would never see the kids that yelled at me, made crafts with me, and hung all over me, again. I didn't even realize I was crying until Mitch — a guy from my group that I became very close to — leaned over and asked me if I was okay. I didn't have an answer, I was so happy because I spent the week with some amazing kids and made some amazing friends, but I was also sad that I had to leave them all behind the next morning at 9:00am.
I got back to the church with rivers of tears and black mascara running down my face. 7:30 AM, The last and saddest church service of the week. We sang songs with sadness in our voices knowing it would be the last time our voices would sing the great words of Jesus. After the final church service we had free time and no bad time. So being a bunch of teenagers we decided to go into the gym and have an all night volleyball tournament.
Throughout the night people would talk about the week and how amazing it was to be there and how happy we all were that we went. The night flew by faster than a bullet train. Then, the last morning, the cereal was stale and the oranges were too ripe from sitting out for a week. After breakfast the time had come — I had to say goodbye to the new friends I had made. Worst of all I had to say goodbye to the city of Louisville. A city that became my home for a week, and a city I will always remember. As we drove past the “Thank You for Visiting Kentucky” sign, I could feel something cold and wet running down my face: tears.