When I was 16 I went on a mission trip to Pennsylvania–I had been going on mission trips since 8th grade but this one was different because my church was going to be working through an organization that was new to us. We would not all be on the same work-site; instead, we would be divided into small groups that included campers from other groups from around the country. I was anxious about working with a group of strangers, but I was also excited for the opportunity to overcome my shyness.
There were 5 people in my group (including me), we were all different ages, and none of us were too enthusiastic during our first worship activity. Once we got to the work-site, however, I became quick friends with Ann, a girl about two years younger than me. We liked the same music, the same books, and both enjoyed history classes and fun facts. Overall, I just felt comfortable talking to her and was glad I got to have a positive experience with a total stranger. There were two groups on my work-site because there were a few different projects to do–building a wheelchair ramp, some steps, cleaning up the yard. The two girls in the other group didn’t take to Ann the way I had, and they made that clear on the very first day we met. They loudly whispered comments and mocked things that she said.
After that first day, I made a point to make sure Ann was never alone on the work-site. I guess I just wanted to present a united front, to show them that someone liked Ann, all the while hoping that they might pick on me instead of her. After that week we would all be back in our separate corners of the country, so I wasn’t bothered by the idea of being bullied. Ann, on the other hand, didn’t share the same philosophy. I knew that both of us dreaded going to the work-site because of how she was treated, but neither of us could really do anything about it besides directing all of our attention towards work.
The first time I stood up for her would be the last. Ann and I were sitting on some pallets, eating our sandwiches and talking about one of her favorite musicals and the two girls (along with another member of our group) sat across from us. I remember one of the girls took Ann’s water bottle and threw it across the work-site, and I did something. I was just so upset at that point–this trip was an opportunity to come out of my shell and to ease my social anxiety and every single moment was just so tense and so negative. All I wanted was a positive experience for both myself and Ann. I quietly kicked over the girl’s water bottle after I retrieved Ann’s. The girl called me rude, and I remember telling her that she had been rude since the first day and I was treating her like she was treating the rest of us. She became quiet and her friend jumped up and cut me off, telling me that she was going through a lot and to just drop it, so I did.
I know I could have handled the bullying a different way, selected my words and my timing a little better, maybe gone to one of the adults from my church for help, but the one thing I regret most is not standing up for Ann again after that and even before that incident. I wish I could go back to my firs day on that work-site and stand up for Ann every time those other girls mocked her, or at least apologize for not doing more. I don’t know where Ann is now or how she’s doing–we only stayed in touch for about a month–but I hope she has someone who is plucky enough to speak when something needs to be said.