— Payton Thomas
Leaders are made by what they have been through. He or she is an amalgamation of their experience. I, as a leader, have experienced many things. Youth Leadership Rutherford is one of those experiences. Each experience, if handled well, breeds virtue. One of the most vital virtues for leadership is persistence. Persistence alone, although still virtuous, can sometimes be in vain. The virtue becomes truly excellent when it is paired with overcoming. When a hardship can be met with persistence all the way to overcoming, that is when the virtue is most notable. I am no stranger to struggle, and a certain experience in particular taught me an invaluable life lesson. A mission trip to the Dominican Republic taught me what service truly was, and I could only learn this firsthand through persistence and overcoming the struggles I faced.
This trip was different from my other international service trips, as it was the first one I went on without my family. It took being alone and self-reliant to understand service more fully. As I boarded the plane with a small group of members from a church, I wasn’t nervous, or tired, or frustrated, at least not yet. I could only feel the excitement that came every time I set off to a new country. Upon arrival we were greeted with hospitality and shown around the village and the school we would be helping. The week’s long trip had just started, and I was ready to serve.
Our task was to build a second story onto the local schoolhouse and to fellowship with the local people. The trip ran smoothly the first three days, I was proud of my self-sufficiency both practically and emotionally. But then the fourth day hit. Most of our group was sick or stayed in our quarters to help those who were. I spent that day building only with two other Dominicans who spoke no English. By the end of the long hot work day, I was filled with frustration and exhaustion. I had no family with me and no way to communicate with the US. I had to deal with me, no one else.
That night, service to others became real to me. I prayed for strength and the ability to be a good servant. After staring at the off color light fixture above my bed for a while, I came to the realization of what it really meant to serve. The essence of service could be confined to one word, one idea: selflessness. Pure selflessness was the key to real service. With this in mind, I continued the trip without frustration or anger for the most part and the exhaustion’s hindrance loosened its grip. I was no longer focused on myself but rather completely understood for those last three days, I did not matter. I was a vessel of something greater than myself. It was not self-diminishment but rather I was able to become part of something greater.
The trip ended and my time of service there has been long over, but what I learned there will be applied for the rest of my life. I will selflessly serve more fully as a result of my persistence on that trip. The overcoming of the challenges both mental and physical will stay with me through my entire life and the lessons I learned though experience are what separates me as a leader. That is why the world needs me, specifically, to be a leader.