Teens learn life lessons on mission trip to Nashville

by Annalise Deal on July 19, 2011

Editor’s note: Contributor Annalise Deal will be a sophomore at Menlo-Atherton High School; she’s interested in journalism from both a writing and photography perspective. If you’re a student with an interesting experience this summer, we’d love to hear from you! Send your stories/photos to tips@inmenlo.com.

The opportunity to talk about life with those who have been victims of abuse, homelessness, and drug abuse is a reason in itself for Cait Black, youth minister at Trinity Church in Menlo Park, to fly 11 teens 2,000 miles across the country to Nashville, Tennessee for a six-day mission trip none of us will ever forget.

After months of fundraising and preparation, we set out on June 19 and returned on June 25, leaving behind a newly- landscaped yard and five large trash bags of thistle flowers. We received more in return, thanks to our experience with an incredible residential women’s program, Magdalene House, and partner business, Thistle Farms.

According to the Thistle Farms website “Magdalene is a two-year residentialteen volunteering at Thistle Farms community founded in Nashville, Tennessee in 1997 for women with a history of prostitution and drug addiction. Magdalene was founded not just to help a sub-culture of women, but to help change the culture itself.” The program helps women through every step of the process of recovery with the mindset that “love heals.”

Thistle Farms is the business created to fund Magdalene, where many of the women and graduates work. Thistle is also used as part of their treatment to teach the women how to work in a professional environment.

Many of us teens went into the trip expecting to simply do service to the women of Thistle Farms, to do as we were asked, make a difference, and go home feeling good about helping those in need. But we went home with a whole new picture of the world, one showed to us by one of the Thistle Farms’ graduates, Cynthia.

She opened our eyes to the reality of her lifestyle, showing us how easy it is for anyone to be manipulated. Through our conversation, she showed us just how similar we all are, even though we live 2,000 miles away in an privileged area and she grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Nashville.

We walked away from this mission trip with lots of memories of all the fun we had together and the amazing service we did. But if in 20 years we forget everything else, we’ll remember Cynthia’s story.

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