Community (Noun): A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
Last week, I, along with 50 other individuals from the St. John Vianney community embarked on a mission trip with group® [workcamps] to New Haven, CT., where we changed lives, restored houses, and renewed relationships with many. With this being my first year on a journey like this, I was very unsure of what to expect. From what I heard among my peers prior to signing up for this trip last September, something like this is life changing. After experiencing this trip firsthand, that was an understatement.
Personally, I felt so spiritually cleansed when I came back home from helping families in ways that they might not be able to (because of physical challenges or family problems) and gain closer relationships to Christ Jesus. The fact that the other 450 youth and adults on this trip from all over the nation – for the same goal of changing lives – was seemingly unreal to me. But it was all the opposite. We were all called to serve, and that’s exactly what we did.
At the beginning of the week, we gathered as a whole group – yes, all 450 of us in an auditorium, and every evening after that – to discuss what our purpose was on the trip, and worship the Lord through song and prayer. We were asked to focus on the things that were being made new in our lives and others besides the home repairing. To look deeper in us the things that God was making new, the things God was repairing, the things that couldn’t have been done without the support of others on this trip.
We were also introduced to our crew and our house assignments. Many ranged from building porches or wheelchair ramps to painting interior or exterior areas of a house. My crew and I were assigned to paint the exterior of a two-story house. North Branford Intermediate School was where we stayed each night as well, on air mattresses and foldup cots. (And by the way, what a blessing it was to have as much room as we did.)
Along with our task of repairing a home for a week, we were gathered everyday after lunch with our work crew, which consisted of about 6 people (which nobody knew going into the trip) for daily devotions: times to reflect on our real reason of presence in the community. Our theme of the week: MADE. Based on Revelation 21:5:
“He who was seated on the throne said, "Look! I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
Looking deeper than seeing the change in the house I was helping to repair, I saw a great deal of change with myself – all because I allowed God to change aspects in my life.
Our resident, Dorothy, was a very religious person as well. She shared devotion time with us, where she spoke about some very inspiring topics of Christianity. “God works in marvelous ways, especially through the Holy Spirit.” Dorothy said. “The Holy Spirit is like the wind; you can’t see it directly, but you know it’s there, and you can always feel its presence.”
Through those amazing seven days I shared with my crew, I realized another concept that has been said time after time in terms of my crew - come as strangers, and leave as family. We worked to achieve a goal: make a difference in the community of New Haven, CT., and also find the change the Lord has made in everyone present at the work camp. (A special shout-out to Case from MI., Ty from PA., Maggie from DE., Emma from IL., and Kim – our adult leader – from NY.)
Not only have I been able to get close with my crew, but I also became closer to the people in my youth group at St. John Vianney as well. Through the Class III rapids of Pocono Whitewater River Rafting in the Lehigh River of PA., to the longest van rides, we all learned a better sense of communication with one another and became a second family, too.
And so, I came empty handed, and left with a task that the Lord had given me on my way out from Connecticut: bring the sense of welcoming and gathering to my own Parish in ways that will bring more people each weekend to mass, and feel the sense of the Lord working firsthand in their lives, starting at a place we call home. And I also challenge the readers of the Shelby and Utica Patch to do the same in their families – welcome those who you would not think to welcome to events that will change their lives forever.
Working toward a common goal of restoring a home, with people of the same interest, and achieving the task of finding the Lord within each other? (And having a ton of fun in the midst of it all?) Yes, that sounds like a group® [workcamp] to me.
St. John Vianney will be embarking on a journey to Clay, West Virginia next year, working to serve the Lord and change the lives of many.
Special thank-you to Barb Bakotich, the youth minister at St. John Vianney, who makes mission trip possible (and special!) each year at our Parish.