What if I lose my passport? 

What if I wake up next to a tarantula one morning? 

What if I come home with Zika? 

What if the language barrier makes it impossible to communicate?

Going on a mission trip to Haiti sounded like a great idea back in May, when my brother casually mentioned that his friend’s organization had an open spot.

“Um, count me in,” was my initial response, knowing full well I could never pass up any opportunity to travel. And, bonus, this one included playing with kids. “Where do I sign up?”

Fast forward three months. I’m over-packed (as usual) and ready to go, waiting at the airport for my brother and his best friend to arrive so we can hop on our first flight to Miami. The flight’s delayed a few hours, so I settle in with some snacks, thankful I remembered to bring an extra book. Once on the plane, an hour or so after takeoff, the friendly flight attendant brings us each two adult beverages—free of charge—to make up for the delay. We share a laugh, toast our drinks, and relax into our seats. So far, so good.

When we do finally land in Florida and meet up with the rest of the crew at the hotel, it’s 11:00 PM and I’m ready for bed. I meet my assigned roommates (two awesome ladies with whom I quickly hit it off), shower, and set my alarm for 5:00 AM the next morning. Once my head hits the pillow, I’m sound asleep, dreaming of the adventures to come.

When I told my friends and family where I’d be traveling this summer, my news was met with similar reactions.

Oh, wow… Be extra careful. Never go anywhere by yourself. Wear bug spray. Don’t drink the water. Hide your belongings. Are you taking malaria pills? 

All valid concerns and good advice, no doubt. Driving through Port-au-Prince, I clung to these words of wisdom like a timid child clings to its mother, hoping they’d keep me safe. But it wasn’t until later that I realized there weren’t enough wise words in the world to prepare me for the experiences ahead.

From a distance, putting on a brave face is remarkably easy. Oh, I’ll be fine! The trip will be a blast. It’s only when you’re confronted by your fears—fears you didn’t even know you had—that you find out what you’re truly made of.

On our second night in La Vallée, in a one-on-one conversation with the trip counselor (and lifelong family friend), I opened up about how overwhelmed I was suddenly feeling. How I was having trouble falling asleep at night despite our long days. How all of these worst-case scenarios kept running through my brain. “The truth is, I’m scared of everything,” I joked half-heartedly. He sighed with relief, and the words that followed took me by complete surprise.

“I’m so glad I’m not alone.”

During my brief time in Haiti, I met the most incredible kids. A little boy named Bona stole my heart–and then my camera–with his cheesy smile and mischievous manner. Two sweet sisters, Asmede and Mika, became my closest companions on our walks through the town. Adson, quiet and kind, held my hand all the way down the slippery hill to Codeha so that I wouldn’t fall.

I’ve never seen people so happy, and with so little. From sunrise to sunset, a group of our Haitian buddies would play on the street outside of the hotel, waiting for us to join in the fun. They’d greet us with hugs, show us to our destination, teach us Creole phrases, and laugh at our American accents. They’d proudly lead us in prayer, kick our butts in soccer, run barefoot through the woods, ride on our backs and whisper “I love you” in our ears.

And somewhere along the line, amidst the carefree laughter and palpable joy that filled our endless days, their fearlessness became my own. Slowly, everything else—all of my petty worries and self-perpetuating fears—faded into the background and proved insignificant by comparison. The warning words circulating through my head began to loosen their grips on my psyche, one by one, until there was nothing left but love.

Driving home from the airport, after more than twelve exhausting hours of travel, I gave my parents the complete rundown of the week’s events. It was almost 11:00 PM in Houston, and yet I couldn’t stop talking. I wanted to tell the whole world about those kids, about how much they had touched me, and how much I already missed them. How I would go back in a heartbeat if it meant spending more time with each and every one of them.

When I signed up for the trip in May, I hoped that by the end, I could make some small difference. I wanted to bring happiness to at least one child’s week in any way that I could, to change one person’s life for the better. Little did I know that the kids would be the life-changers, and that the life altered forever would be mine.

Turns out, I didn’t lose my passport.

Or wake up face-to-face with a tarantula.

Or come home sick (with anything more than a cold).

But if I had, it would have been okay. Because at the end of the day, they understood me and I understood them. The connection was effortless, and the effects infinite.

Originally published on Her Story Goes.