This is the beginning of a series on a mission trip I took to Providence, R.I., with my university. I hope to take you through each day, so prepare yourself for some regular posts on the Ocean State!
When I stepped out of my room in the wee hours lugging a bulging bag on wheels for my spring break mission trip to Rhode Island, the farthest concern I had was the people of Providence. But a week later, they overshadowed my thoughts of my future plans and current obligations. My heart was pulled to the industrial desert of the tiny New England state where efficiency and time are valued more than friendship and Southern manners.
This morning at 3 a.m., however, I was consumed with a desire for my pillow, especially after a sleepless night of persistent hacking. Sinus infections have no mercy, not even for the soon-to-be weary traveler. I was in no way the most pleasant person on my ten-member team that early, dark morning as we piled into the packed white van taking us to the airport.
A couple of naps and a flight change later, we landed in Providence, our home and mission field for the next seven days. Still plagued by a tickly throat, I added to my woes a pounding headache. I learned that inflamed ears do not handle pressure changes necessary in flying well. Despite my maladies, I was eager to meet the people and ministry we would be serving in the following days.
Stepping out of the airport, I was struck with the burden of a city so different from my own. At home, churches are just a part of the landscape; little buildings dot street corners beckoning people to come and join in worship. Here, the home of the First Baptist Church in America, churches are fewer in number and smaller in active members. The religious history remains — Providence was founded by Roger Williams to protect religious minorities — but its legacy has been sucked dry. The city’s children have strayed. Yet a remnant remains, and part of them welcomed us with a quick walking tour, Greek food and a brief history lesson.
Unfortunately, the eagerness my team had to meet Providence when we stepped off the plane did not do much to keep us awake. Once we arrived at our meeting spot, which was home base for our student leaders, Kim and Hannah, three rounds of Catchphrase was all it took to wear us out. Even a pasta dinner made by graduates of Johnson and Wales, a culinary school held in high esteem that happens to be in the middle of Providence, was not enough fuel to hype us up. But the evening was not over, and my two hours of sleep from the night before made it difficult soak in the explanation of the ministries — Grace Harbor Community Church and Christian Student Fellowship — and our schedule for the coming days.
By the time Amanda, my roommate for the week, Julie, our fearless, thoughtful leader, and I arrived at our host home, our only thoughts were of soft beds and closed eyes. We had enough time to meet our bright host who apologized for the loud but joyful music being played by her husband and friends. Joy would be how I would come to define the people of Grace Harbor throughout the week, and even in this instance it wasn’t a nuisance. Their gladness filled the room so much and our exhaustion held on so tight that we didn’t mind the noise. The laughter and guitar strums welcomed us and seemed more like a lullaby than a ruckus.