As the plane’s wheels touched down on the runway in Cusco, Peru, I thought, “Maybe it won’t be so bad.”
At first, when I learned I’d be going on a service trip to Peru with other young Christian Scientists, I was beyond excited. As the trip got closer, I became even more enthusiastic … until the night before I was scheduled to leave, when a wave of nervous fear flooded over me. Should I go on the trip? Would it be safe? I didn’t want the nervousness I was feeling to ruin my experience.
I couldn’t shake that feeling of missing home.
I was still nervous when I flew to Miami the next day, but seeing my friends was exciting and everything seemed to change. In bed that night, I felt relieved to be with the other students and ready to depart for Lima.
As soon as we landed in Cusco, we were off and running. We toured Cusco, moved into our host homes, and found out that we would be doing construction at a library and teaching English at orphanages. After settling into our daily routine, I felt more relaxed and comfortable in my new surroundings. I was really starting to love the trip until our fourth night in Peru when homesickness overwhelmed me. I attempted to combat it by remembering that I was there to give, and I tried to focus on being unselfish and helping others. But I couldn’t shake that feeling of missing home.
On our sixth day, we were studying the Christian Science Bible Lesson one morning when another student on the trip brought up the concept of the kingdom of heaven. He reminded me that no matter where in the world I happened to be, I was and always will be in that kingdom of heaven that Jesus said was “at hand” (Matthew 4:17). We also talked about the definition of kingdom of heaven in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “The reign of harmony in divine Science; the realm of unerring, eternal, and omnipotent Mind” (Mary Baker Eddy, p. 590). I knew I didn’t need to feel like I was cut off from anything good when I am always living in the kingdom of heaven and able to experience its harmony. After that, I felt much better about being in Peru.
On that same day, we went to a marketplace for lunch. I was really excited to visit a market and experience the culture, but once I was inside, I had a major shock. Walking up and down the aisles and looking at all the things for sale, I felt so out of place, uncomfortable, and alone. I felt the homesickness come back even more strongly. Even the thought of the kingdom of heaven, which had been so powerful that morning, didn’t feel reassuring anymore. It felt too much like something I was just saying rather than something I truly believed.
I didn’t want anyone to find out that I was homesick, so I hid it from all of my friends by acting like I wasn’t struggling. At the orphanage that day, I temporarily forgot about the homesickness when I was playing soccer with the boys. They were always so spirited and full of life that I felt like it was easy to share their joy. From then on, I focused on finding that joy every day, and as the trip went on I found I was recognizing and appreciating joy in my fellow students as well.
The joy I’d experienced throughout the trip came from God and was evidence of the kingdom of heaven “at hand.”
The trip turned around for me completely when we went to Machu Picchu. As I experienced the pure joy of being together and sharing this joy with others, I felt peaceful and the feelings of being out of place vanished. I finally felt free to enjoy the service work we were doing, as well as our amazing surroundings.
At the end of the trip, I talked with one of our chaperones and shared that even though I’d struggled with homesickness, giving and receiving joy throughout the trip had helped me so much. She replied, “Gretchen, you’ve connected with Love.” It was like a light bulb went on. I’d been so focused on how I couldn’t feel the kingdom of heaven anymore that I didn’t even realize that the joy I’d witnessed and experienced throughout the trip came from God and was evidence of the kingdom of heaven “at hand” all along—and that recognizing this joy had been an effective prayer.
I thought of the passage from Science and Health that says, “And Love is reflected in love” (p. 17). I saw that in loving both my classmates and the boys at the orphanage, I was expressing God’s love, and this had enabled me to feel the presence of divine Love, even though I hadn’t recognized it at the time. In the presence of Love, there wasn’t any place for homesickness. I was free. I thanked God for this healing.