Be. Serve. Love. Repeat.

The traditional way to write about the mission trip I went on in March would be to spend the entire article telling you about the children that we served and the Jamaicans that I met, both those who worked at the school we stayed at, and the others who we met in the infirmary and elsewhere. How they taught me things, rather than me teaching them things. But truth be told, I think that’s the story that you get with every mission trip post, and I don’t really have stories like that. There are moments here and there, but these are not the moments that stick out for me.

Instead, I remember laughing with my small group until I thought I was going to pee my pants. I remember filling up water buckets with my new friend Christina, struggling to not let the buckets get us wet while we simultaneously got soaked from the rain that had been falling all day. I remember four of the girls in my room piling onto my bed one night and bonding while talking about boys. I remember my friend Emma and I rushing back to our dorms to shower, somehow managing to shave, wash our hair, and get dressed in twenty minutes. I remember what it sounded like when thirty-seven people all sang “Oceans” in the dining hall, our voices echoing through the room, and knowing that God was with us in that moment. I remember everyone coming together to pour concrete and rebuild part of the road, and then the next day, everyone laughing and splashing at the beach.

In short, I remember the moments where we built community with one another.

Community is something that we’ve all searched for at one point in our lives, and are maybe still searching for. I’m not sure that we ever stop searching for community. It’s hard to come to college and leave your old communities behind, and not know where you’re going to find the new ones. One of the biggest concerns I had coming into college was not being able to make friends. Underneath that was a fear of not finding community.

Communities take hard work and time to come together. And I’ve been slowly finding my place in mine over the past two years. It’s been really easy to feel alone, even in a room full of people that I know and have built relationships with. You feel overlooked, like no one would really drop everything to come get you in the middle of the night if you truly needed it. But you push through.

One of the biggest things on my heart coming into this mission trip was that I wouldn’t make friends. That we were too large of a group and that we wouldn’t be able to build a community. On our last day of work, I had two interesting conversations with two of our trip leaders.

Lex and I talked about how I hadn’t been feeling God in the past couple of months. How I hadn’t been able to see Him in anything that I had been doing; how I couldn’t hear what He was telling me to do. She told me that she likes to think that because we are all created in God’s image, God is always in us, and we are Him, in a way. In this life, we are the closest things we will ever come to meeting God face to face.

Jim and I talked about my sign from God. I had shared with my small group two days before that I had been praying for a sign, that God would show up in my life and show me He was still there. That night, Jim told me I had already received my sign, but wouldn’t tell me what it was until Tuesday. And when I asked, he told me that he thought my sign was Emma. Both she and I heard his comment, and were very confused until he explained that sometimes he thinks that signs are the moments where we realize we don’t have to do it alone.

The next day, our group headed an hour and half away to Ocho Rios, where we spent the day climbing a waterfall, lounging on the beach, and wandering around the town and market. We climbed onto the bus exhausted, holding onto bags of souvenirs, twenty-eight of us squished into a bus that shouldn’t have held that many. As we drove back, each minute seeming longer than the previous one, someone turned on worship music, and after a while, it seemed like everyone who wasn’t asleep was singing along to the music playing. And as “Oceans” came onto the playlist, it hit me that I no longer had to do it alone. I started to cry.

My entire year has been defined by my desire to meet new people and make friends. To grow and nurture old friendships, but to plant new ones as well. The week I spent in Jamaica was a perfect example of that: I walked into the week without any close friends, and walked out with at least one, and a handful of others that have the potential to turn into better friendships.

I came to realize that God wasn’t absent from my life—He was simply speaking to me in a different way than He previously had. I’ve reached a point in my life where God speaks through other people to get to me. He puts people in my life who push me and who help me to grow, who ask me the hard questions, and let me ask them the silly ones. And He’s not only working through the new people I’ve met, He’s been working through the old ones too.

I didn’t get to spend time with everyone that went on the trip; with thirty-seven, that’s just impossible, and I don’t work like that anyway. But I think that we still created a community. The thirty-seven of us all shared an experience that can’t be replicated. We’re not all friends with one another, but our friendships overlap, and in that way, we continue to have community with one another, growing and changing and doing life together.


Emily Karlsson