The following are unedited statements written by participants in the June 22 to 27 mission trip to Niagara Falls, New York. Twenty-two people, youth and adults, members of Saint Anne’s and a few friends served with YouthWorks mission. Among many projects, we dug a community garden, picked up trashed in a cemetery, sanitized sandals for recycling, fed the hungry and homeless and visited with the elderly. We also spent time in fellowship and worship. And, had fun seeing the Falls and visiting a site of the Underground Railroad. Read these thoughtful words of your fellow disciples of the Lord and let them invite you to reflect on the question, “How do you serve others as Jesus serves us?” Blessings! Father Hastings The Lord taught me to step in and help in a situation when someone else is in need. I learned the importance of fellowship. We need others to build the kingdom of God on earth. The joy of being with other Christians fills my heart. I learned that Jesus was more than willing to die for us because he loved us. I learned that serving can have a huge impact by words and actions. I learned that God sent Jesus as a human so he could be able to talk to us and spread his message. Mr. Jesus showed me how his love can benefit us at any time even during hard difficult times. Also, how hard work can be fun. This week I really learned how to reach out to others. I thank the Lord for the joy we get in serving others. I went this week with my crew to the senior center and we got to spend a lot of time visiting with the elderly just talking to them and giving them company. It was a great experience because I felt I was able to be a light to them and they were a light to me. I will never forget it and I will keep these people in my heart. I learned that small deeds have big effects. Fun can occur anywhere and when you work with people you get to know them well. Over this week God taught me patience and forgiveness. I have had to be patient with a few people. They would also turn around and do something that would make me thank God for sending them into my life. Through Jesus, the universe works and holds together. Jesus was so humble that he did the lowliest service for his closest friends and the one who would betray him. Jesus can be shared and glorified in action and in words. This week I learned that the smallest things matter. Like how washing a lot of sandals can give hope to people and digging and mulching a path can give hope to a city. I learned that God works in mysterious ways sometimes especially when you least expect it. He can answer prayers when you start to wonder if he is listening. Moral of the story is: don’t give up hope when he does not answer your prayers right away. Don’t question his timing because he has his purposes. This week I learned that Jesus was a pretty cool cat, and still is! I learned that I should be kind to my enemies. I also learned not to care what other people think of me. This week I learned that singing about Jesus is fun. I learned that Jesus makes us friends with God. I also learned cleaning. This has been an awesome week at Niagara Falls. I have definitely seen God’s great power in nature and also when we do good for people in need. During the week we went to the prayer meeting at the Potter’s House. The message was about how to “let go” of our ungodly habits and live like Christ. My goal is to grow up to God. I have seen how God chooses who to inspire and in what ways, differently each time. We are all children of God and we are all precious and unique to him. I was reminded: 1) God loves us despite our faults and he will bring to completion what he started in us; 2) There are many people without hope and every bit we contribute can help people receive God’s hope; 3) Missions doesn’t have to be across the world; it can be in our own cities, neighborhood and our own homes. Our service to others allows God’s blessings to flow through us. If we are still and obedient, God will place us where we need to be.
Our ride to Niagara was easy but long. We arrived at St. Raphael Catholic School at about 5:30 and were greeted outside by our leaders. I remember especially Zac, the young man who was in charge, was jumping up and down waving his hat. He looked very young and energetic, a sign of things to come and a very nice greeting. They showed us to the school cafeteria and then to our sleeping rooms on the third floor - large classrooms with huge old windows - a crucifix at one end and a statue of the Blessed Mother at the other. After dinner the leaders met with Zac while the kids had a rock/paper/scissors tournament in the gym. We had to split up St. Anne's group into different groups with the two other churches that were there with us. These would be the groups we would work with at work sites and service sites for the next few days. Our theme for the week was John 13:15, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you". Our work wasn't the same every day, so we had the opportunity to work at different places and serve in different ways. We worked at the community garden, "Heart and Soul" Soup Kitchen, Holy Trinity Church - a renovation project, Sustainable Sandals, Meals on Wheels, Niagara Falls Art Center, and a nursing home. On Monday I worked at the community garden digging a new path and weeding with Nate, Thomas and Joel, who was a young leader from a church in Pittsburg, and his middle school group. Joel worked like a Marine, and set the tone for the rest of us. We had lunch at "Heart and Soul" Soup Kitchen. Monday evening we all went to the Falls and had ice cream. On Tuesday we were fortunate to work at Holy Trinity. We will always remember the beautiful Chapel and Marge, who was so grateful for our help. She treated us to pizza and soda, and we all became very fond of her very quickly. Holy Trinity was a beautiful old church that had closed. Marge was able to get it onto the National Registry for Historic Buildings, but needed a lot of help restoring the convent so it could be used for a retreat center in the future. We tore out carpet, painted and pulled off the linoleum to reveal beautiful hardwood floors. On Tuesday evening we all went to Murphy's Orchard and had a tour of this important historic area, a part of the Underground Railroad. They showed us the underground room in the barn where the people had to hide and the creek that runs along to Canada. We saw 150-year-old cherry trees with roots that went three stories down into the ground. On Wednesday our group served at Holy Trinity and then in the evening all of us attended a church service at Potters House. On Thursday our group served at Meals on Wheels and then in the afternoon Our Lady of Peace Nursing Home. There was a lot of work but a lot of fun as well. Every morning began with prayer and devotions, and every evening ended with Club. Club was a time to reflect on the day, sing worship songs and study a lesson from the Bible. And, there was "Carol in a Barrel" who made us laugh. The leaders would ask us to name people that deserved mentioning for extra hard work or kindness. We were also encouraged to name a time during the day where we saw God's love pour out on a situation - and we all would respond with "Yea God!" Our church time was important too. Fr. Hastings led St. Anne's group in a time of reflection and conversation. Some really important moments of honesty and sharing came out of that time together as well. So much more I could say - so please, if you're interested, ask me or the others that were there. I am so pleased and proud of St. Anne's youth, and so grateful for our hard working, caring leaders. YouthWork's presence this summer is a light to the community of Niagara Falls, and I am so grateful that we were able to be a part of that.