In January, Life Teen (along with Mustard Seed Communities and CRS) hosted the second Youth Minister’s Mission Trip. The purpose of this trip is to give youth ministers a hands-on experience of a mission trip as well as training on how to lead a teen mission trip. This trip was born from a desire to empower more youth ministers to give their teens an experience of loving and serving Christ in the poor.
The mission team that God assembled was as varied as the locations they came from. 9 Youth ministers, 4 Core members, 1 young adult minister and 1 full-time missionary traveled from all over the United States and met for the first time in Managua, Nicaragua. The reasons that brought each of them to this foreign country were just as unique. Some wanted to experience missions for the first time, some were exploring the possibility of bringing teens on a foreign mission trip, others were discerning becoming a full-time missionary, and still others had no idea why they were there.
Our mission was to serve the Mustard Seed Community in Managua, Nicaragua. Mustard Seed is a Catholic organization that cares for mentally and physically disabled children who have been abandoned. The ministry began in 1978 and currently they have orphanages in 5 countries (www.mustardseed.com). During our week, we helped with the construction of a new orphanage, played with the children at Hogar Belen (Bethlehem House), and visited Christ in the Garbage Ministry (an apostolate to the families living in the city dump).
I should have expected it… I’ve led enough mission trips to know better… but as usual God caught me off guard. What I expected to be a week of training and service quickly became much more. In the disability of a child or the extreme poverty of the city dump, God revealed His unconditional love and my call to respond to Him with my whole life. The training component, even our service work, quickly paled in comparison to the miracles God was doing in my new missionary family and in me.
Instead of trying to put words into their mouths, I asked the missionaries to write about their experience. Here are some excerpts:
Joe Chernowski, West Seneca NY
“This mission trip to Nicaragua challenged me personally about how I live – not about feeling bad for taking 10 minute showers – but about making harder decisions about how I spend money so I can give more to those who need (You know, actually doing the 10% tithing…). My wife and I have often talked about wanting to simplify, and this trip strengthened that in me. On the plane ride home I prayed through the day’s Mass readings. The gospel was the paralytic who was lowered through the roof looking for healing – and Jesus forgave his sins. I feel that is a perfect metaphor for the mission trip. I went with certain expectations, figuring God would do something, and he does something so much more profound and deep and challenging and inspiring. At the end of the Gospel reading everyone walked away saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” I think it’s fair to say that most people on the mission trip have the exact same thoughts. God didn’t give me the mission trip I expected or wanted. It was exactly what I needed in my life right now. Funny how God knows and does that – isn’t it?”
Valerie Shippen, Ipswich MA:
“The day we went to the city dump I suddenly found myself in those infomercials I had seen on TV. As we walked I took in the absolute poverty, the walls of tin and cardboard, animals in houses, I found myself wishing that a camera crew would suddenly appear and yell ‘cut’ and everybody would leave the set. But the smell of garbage and the growing crowd of children surrounding us kept me grounded in reality. I kept trying to feel something but I was numbed by what I was seeing. I thought I had dealt with poverty and I have seen awful circumstances in our own country but this was different. God had a great surprise in store for me. For, as we were walking up a steep hill to the top of the dump I suddenly felt the weight of the cross on my shoulders. The sensation was so powerful that it left me breathless. I commented to someone that this is Golgotha and they agreed but they had no idea what I was experiencing physically. As I looked at the children still with us I saw beauty and innocence. I saw love. My knees felt weak and the weight was still upon me but suddenly it was worth it. In that moment I felt closer to the Redeemer than I ever have in my life, closer to understanding how desperately we are all loved and why he chose to die for us. It was humbling, freeing and found where I least expected it. Christ crucified truly lives in the dump in Nicaragua.”
Paola Flores, Atlanta GA
“When the opportunity of traveling to Nicaragua for a mission trip my heart was so excited. As much as I wanted to avoid having expectations on this mission trip, there was one that I carried along with me. I hoped to find out how/when I was going to start my life as a long-term missionary. I’ve been discerning the missionary life for some time now and I hoped that this trip would answer all my questions and that God would just present me with His plan – but as the old saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” As it turns out I do not know what lies ahead of me. I do not know if/when/how I will lead the life of a long-term missionary. But as I reflect back on this trip, I know God did something at the very core of my heart. He taught me to love more fully, to love more unconditionally. He reminded me of the simple of but radical truth that as long as I am loving others and letting myself be loved by Him, my life will be blessed and it will be fruitful. He taught me that me being obedient to His will is liberating and not constricting. In the words of a dear friend, ‘I will be satisfied in Him alone and trust Him with my desires – even if I do not know if they will ever be filled like I think or when I think!’”
Jason Deramo, Dedham MA
“Having now had a couple of weeks to process my time in Nicaragua, I realize that this trip was more than just a mission, it was an experience handed to me by God.
Initially, I didn’t really think about it being anything more than gaining knowledge to lead teen trips. However, each moment during those five days was a gift from God, from the kids in the orphanage to the kids in the city dump. The mission trip made me realize the importance of doing mission work because it opens one’s eyes to the wonders of God and to the need of more missionaries to be sent out and preach the Good News. The only way this can be done is to give our teens an experience of what that truly means. I have excitement now for what God has in store for the many teens from the parishes we came from and for the work that will be done through their hands. God truly had His hand in this trip, and has allowed me to realize more deeply the precious gift of life and the impending need to be missionaries in our own backyards.”