Not all mission trips are conducted in some far-off exotic land or in a Third World type atmosphere. Some of the most rewarding trips can happen less than two hours away from Owatonna, and at times, even much closer.
The first week of June, which also corresponded to the LAST week of school at Saint Mary’s School, found the SMS 8
grade students (Class of 2016), who had just graduated a week earlier, on a mission trip to Victoria MN, just a few miles to the west of Chanhassen (home of the late Prince compound). Our students joined with high school students, almost 200 in all, from around the mid-west states, to serve those in need in the Minneapolis-St Paul area under the banner of
Catholic Heart Work Camp (CHWC)
CHWC heads up as many as SEVEN camp locations around the country each week during the months of June and July, with teams made up of young adults (21 and older) FILLED with energy, excitement, and love of service in the name of Christ, which they shared in abundance with the youth. The teams also have a priest attached as a team member so that Mass, so integral to our Catholic faith, is offered daily. I can think of no better way for the kids to see THEMSELVES as the hands, feet, and love of Christ to others then to start each workday by receiving Jesus in Word and Body.
Most of our kids (believe me when I say they won’t be “kids” much longer) were mixed in with kids from the other regions/schools to form workgroups and had many opportunities to get to know those they worked with, forming some new and extended friendships. Some, as it was with my group, were made up of kids from the same school, but none the less showed a great bonding in their work and friendship towards one another. These kinds of friendship one can only hope will follow them into high school and adulthood where they can find the strength they will need to grow in maturity and succeed in life.
If the morning program with Mass was to get these kids fired up and energized in Jesus, the evening programs were designed to bring all the kids together, all their work for the day together, all the ENERGY, ENTHUSIASM, AND LOVE together to let the whole group
EXPLODE IN JOY AND THANKSGIVING
for the opportunities given to them to be Jesus the Servant to others, a true diakonia. The scenes at the evening programs may have looked to an outsider as shear pandemonium, but the music and dancing and singing was contagious throughout the crowd, even to the point of moving chaperones (yes, even THIS chaperone) to get down and be a bit silly, as we all moved as ONE, as the Body of Christ.
Within all the work and play there was also time for some more meaningful and heart-searching skits and presentations by the camp staff to help the kids come to a deeper understanding of what it means to be Jesus to another, and in how the world around them can suck the goodness and their faith right out of them, making them feel useless and abandoned by God. The skits were deeply felt by many, if not all, the campers, with many a tear being shed.
The “Four Corners” program offered opportunities for those wondering about their faith or lack of it, for those looking for a REAL encounter with Jesus and God, or for those who felt lost, to just sit and talk quietly with selected adults and open their hearts and minds to asking soul-penetrating questions. At this particular program I saw the difference between those who don’t see faith as being relevant in their lives, and those who see the allures of the secular world as a curtain separating them from being able to SEE Jesus in their lives, thus preventing them from having a true relationship with our Lord. Both of these types need strong faith-filled friends to accompany them on the journey of their lives who can help shed some light on their own personal call from Jesus, and to help them see through the illusions of happiness that society offers, so they can see true happiness of living a life dedicated to other rather than self. As St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “No man should seek his own interest, but rather that of his neighbor. The fact is, that whatever you eat or drink – whatever you do – you should do all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:24, 31)
In a week where so much love and good shown forth, there was also frustration and hurt from old wounds festering in the silence of the heart. As the kids started to open their hearts to Jesus, room had to be made in those hearts to accept Him more fully. The hurt they were feeling poured out through deep emotions. In tears we can find growth, reflection, reconciliation, and even redemption. All in all, if measured in a balance, I would have to say that the kids and chaperones alike gained much and were left wanting for very little, other than a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed. Jesus did not fail to raise us up when we felt down. Truly, He was present, and I think all would attest to that statement. I personally look forward to serving with our kids from SMS on future mission trips, no matter where they may go to serve. A note to young adults and parents: think about joining us next year for a week of joyfully carrying your cross, and being the hands and feet of Jesus. Deacon Pat