This past July I spent one week in Newark, NJ on a mission trip helping those less fortunate. Each year, our church will send our youth out to different parts of the US to participate in an organization called Catholic Heart Work Camp. It’s a fantastic organization, hosting over 250 kids from all over to eat, pray, serve and love.
This was the first year our two boys participated, and seeing chaperones are always needed, my husband and I signed up to make sure our 14 kids were delivered safe and sound.
I was very nervous prior to the trip. The unknown is always scary. Not knowing where you are going to be placed to work for the week is a little unsettling. Because you are to serve as Jesus did, you are not placed in the best sections of town and you are not serving those in posh places. You are usually placed where there are gangs, lots of poverty, low crime areas, etc. I just kept telling myself God will place me where I need to be, but mostly, where my children need to be. Once again, God did not let me down and took care of my family as he saw fit.
My husband use to be a health inspector many years ago, so his hygiene is a bit over the top, along with keeping things neat and clean in our home. His first mission was taking 14 girls to the home of a hoarder, which was so bad, 3 girls couldn’t go in the house, they were given yard duty. The rest of the week they went on to a local church to clean, paint, and take care of a very neglected yard where local drug addicts hang out. His final mission was at a local shelter, for battered women and children, painting the children’s rooms bright colors in order to remind them there is beauty and color in their dark world. God placed him exactly where he needed to be.
My son Patrick was placed at a home for the disabled, washing their transport vans for the week. Patrick hates to was vehicles. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to pay him to wash my car and I always get, “is there anything else I can do? I don’t like washing cars.” God placed him exactly where he needed to be !!!!
My son Michael, whom I was really worried about, and wanted him to be placed in a really run down, dirty, hardship home was placed in a spot where I thought he’d gain nothing from this appointed mission.
The first problem was Michael being placed in my group, under my direction. Parents that chaperon are not suppose to be placed with their child. I immediately went to the director to rectify this problem, unfortunately, when you set a schedule for over 300 people, oversights happen and nothing could be done about it. I was stuck with my son.
Our appointed mission was at The Most Blessed Sacrament Friary with the Brothers and Priest and our job was painting the hallways where their private living quarters are and taking care of a very large overgrown yard. I had no idea how my child was going to benefit from this somewhat glamorous, easy job. Again, God placed both of us right where we needed to be.
My son is a big gamer, he loves his Xbox. Taking time to do quiet, reflective things at home are not part of his daily routine. Since the friary is not ‘wired’, Michael was forced to settle down, slow down, listen, reflect and build relationships with total strangers. Michael’s self esteem was pretty low at this time, his first love broke his heart one week prior to the trip and unfortunately she was a participant in the work camp, so he was still be tormented by her while in New Jersey. I think the true mission for this boy was trying to get over his heartache.
God sent a wonderful angel to the two of us while at the friary, his name is Brother Vittoreo. Brother Vittoreo meet us at the friary gates our first day and both Michael and I felt we were entering through the gates of heaven. I have never, in my entire life, felt so much love, acceptance, and a sense of real belonging than I did when I looked into Brother Vittoreo’s eyes. They were truly the eyes of God.
During the week, Brother V. spent a great amount of time with Michael talking with him and really getting to know him. There was still things Michael needed to work on, however, Brother V. planted a seed that I knew was going to grow inside Michael. It has been 5 months since our trip and Michael has matured and overcome obstacles that would normally bring him down. God worked through Brother V. and at the end of the week when our job was done, I left with a new son.
For me, I was given more than I could have asked for. After entering the friary and was asked to work in the gardens it was confirmed what my purpose on life was, which I had been questioning for many, many years. I now know I am a steward for all God has created in nature, to put a smile on someones face, to help those who cannot help themselves and to create a brighter world for others.
I now have a very special friend whom I have unconditional love for. Brother V. and I spent many hours gardening together and sharing conversations that were truly meaningful and fulfilling. Praying with the brothers and priests each day before lunch was a true gift. My prayers are now more meaningful and I pray in a totally different manner than I did before.
I truly believe certain people come into your life for a reason. After 5 months, Brother Vittoreo and I are still corresponding and both Michael and I just spoke with him on the phone the other day. Once again, I have learned to step aside, place my cares and worries at the feet of God, for He truly has a plan for all of us that is beyond our comprehension.