by Morgan Boroviak, Mission Team Member
The afternoon of March 4th was much like Christmas morning, if Christmas morning happened to be celebrated on a warm spring day with nineteen other college students who knew enough about each other to hold small conversation. Our bags were packed with dingy t-shirts, summer sandals, and church clothes that didn’t require any ironing. The only advice we had received was to "bring a rain jacket and to always take the food that is offered". With our suitcases, advice, and anticipation we spent nineteen hours counting herds of cows, signing along to Disney songs, and learning who shared favorite colors in two fifteen passenger vans that started the thousand mile journey to Opelousas, Louisiana.
After a full day of travel we barreled out of the vans and were greeted with warm Louisiana air and warm smiles from the Hope for Opelousas Staff. As our heads hit the pillow that night we dreamed about the coming week, not yet knowing our dreams would be far surpassed. Sunday morning we were awoken to warm sunshine coming through the windows and gooey cinnamon rolls on the counter. After a forty-five minute drive we met a small white church with a congregation that had their arms wide open. After we shared stories, prayers, and desserts we were back in the vans to join the congregation at Hope Presbyterian. Once again we were welcomed with warm smiles and warm casseroles spread out on the table. With full hearts and full tummies we spent the remainder of the day playing the World Series whiffle ball game.
On Monday morning we thought the fun was over because the work was about to begin, but we were wrong and forever grateful. As we worked throughout the day we were sure that the paint scrapers had become a permanent addition to our bodies. As we were growing tired the smiles on the staff kept us scraping more and more red paint. When kids started walking up the sidewalk after a long day of school you could see the sunshine radiating out of them. They were excited to see us, even if it meant doing their homework and possibly getting beaten in a few games of basketball. As the week went on the scraping and the smiles continued. It didn’t matter if the same story had been told three different times, the same joke was laughed at, or the same section of the house was being scraped real joy was always present in every single moment.
On Wednesday the rain clouds moved in our projects, but we had packed our own sunshine for the week. We spent the next three days doing various projects in Opelousas. Nothing about our day was ever the same, in fact some groups went to multiple sites in a day, but the smiles on the faces of the people around us were always there. If I had to choose one word from the English language to describe waking up to more rain on Friday morning it would be bittersweet. In the morning we split up into our groups and dove head first into the various projects. Some kids were elbow deep in coolers of crawfish while others worked in classrooms and some continued to organize clothes. We were spread all over Opelousas with our own patch of sunshine on a very rainy Friday morning. After a short lesson we enjoyed a crawfish boil for lunch and the sun peaked out from behind the clouds to remind us just why we had fallen in love with Louisiana at the beginning of the week. We spent our final afternoon working closely with the students at HFO cleaning up trash in the neighborhoods in the Trash Bash. We shared laughs, stories, and trash bags while making Opelousas more beautiful.
Saturday morning came and the rain returned. We wouldn’t let the rain damper our spirits so we spent our morning making posters for the basketball team and singing Phillip Phillips together before heading to watch the HFO basketball team play. The rain continued and so did our smiles. Changed plans were something we were completely used to, so when we went bowling instead of canoeing we made the best of it, even those of us who were less than stellar bowlers. The only plan that didn’t change was Saturday night’s plans to go Cajun dancing. I’m sure everyone got a laugh watching a group of college students from Iowa attempt to master Cajun dancing, but we had smiles larger than life while we were dancing very poorly. We went to bed that night with hearts and bellies full knowing that the morning was going to come early, and goodbyes would have to be exchanged. Sure enough, Sunday morning was rough. We gathered in the living room one last time to share hugs, laughs, and goodbyes. We loaded into the vans to start the thousand-mile journey back to Iowa with our dirty laundry and wet shoes packed the start of this trip felt nothing like Christmas morning. I was loading up into a van with nineteen new best friends, but I was leaving my heart in Opelousas. I was leaving a heart that was full because for the short time I was there I learned that love changes everything.