On a Mission

July 22-Aug. 4, 2004
On a Mission
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
Students from St. Joseph the Worker Church Learn About Service at Nazareth Farm

For one week this summer, a group of students from St. Joseph the Worker Church in Liverpool lived simply; they used an outhouse, didn’t talk on the phone and had no radio or television. But for them it was the opportunity of a lifetime. From June 27 until July 3, seven teenagers belonging to the parish’s youth group helped impoverished people by roofing and painting their homes as volunteers at Nazareth Farm, a Catholic-run farm deep in the Appalachian Mountains in the town of Center Point, W. Va. The repair projects they got involved in provided the students with a communal experience of church while working directly with those in need.

John Doughty, coordinator of youth ministry at St. Joseph the Worker Church, has been taking members of his youth group on mission trips for the past 13 years. “The purpose of the trips is to experience Catholic social teaching in the context of service,” said Doughty, who will take another group of students from St. Joseph’s on a similar mission trip to Boston, Mass., later this month. At Nazareth Farm the students visited several work sites where they helped repair houses. Anne Brandt, 16, said that the trip taught her about community service. “At all the work sites you really get to help people,” she said. “I really never expected to get to know everyone there but I did.”

The students stayed in simple dorms and were without many of the necessities they are accustomed to, such as computers, televisions and phones. According to Chris Rosier, 17, the four cornerstones of Nazareth Farm are prayer, simplicity, community and service. Chris said that the living simply aspect of life at the farm was an adjustment at first, but he allowed himself to be open to the experience. “Having things like no radios and no TV’s brought people together,” he said. “You discover that you don’t need those things all the time.”

Over the course of the week, in addition to working, the students were given a lot of time to think, pray and talk which they took advantage of. Each day began and ended with prayer and reflection to center their thoughts and their purpose at Nazareth Farm. “The quiet time gave me an opportunity to strengthen my faith,” said Chris. “You have a lot of time for prayer.” This was his second experience as a volunteer at Nazareth Farm. “I came back again because I enjoyed it so much,” he said. “It is a very fulfilling experience.” There were plenty of opportunities for the students to meet the people whom they were helping. Tuesday night was community night, when the volunteers mingled with residents of the small town. At the work sites, students were encouraged to take a break from working and visit with the people. “Each family we worked with had a different story,” said Chris. Many of the people Nazareth Farm serves are elderly, disabled or have low-paying jobs that do not provide the income to hire someone nor the time to do the work themselves. The students said that the residents were overwhelmingly hospitable, even in the face of extreme poverty. “Sometimes the people whose house we were working on did something nice, like give us some extra iced tea and cucumbers for lunch,” said Anne. Chris agreed that he felt a similar spirit of generosity. “There is so much poverty. These families have nothing besides each other,” he said. “You might feel depressed after you see how they live, but when you met them and talked with them you see how wonderful they are. It’s very uplifting.”

While Chris said that he went to Nazareth Farm with one expectation, he found something completely different. “You go down with the idea that you will just be building and fixing houses,” he said, “but you end up learning so much about the people you are helping.” Chris and another student who volunteered at Nazareth Farm, Angel Rivera, were so touched by the families they met in Center Point that they decided to keep in touch with them by writing letters and sending them occasional gift packages. “When I went down to Nazareth Farm, I started something,” Chris said. “Even though I left I know that there is still so much more I can do. It was a huge wake up call.”

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