By Claudia Mathis
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners …” — Isaiah 61:1
For Zachary Adler, a 17-year-old from Cazenovia who is a member of the high school ministry program Young Life, participating in the Summer Servants one-week overnight retreat was an eye-opening experience. “It changed my perspective,” he said in a testimony at a community dinner on July 11 at DeWitt Community Church. “I did a ‘180’ on the people in Syracuse.”
The summer camp for teens, which was held July 7 -12, is an ecumenical, local mission trip in Syracuse which is focused on creating community with those less fortunate through art, gardening, housing improvements, food initiatives and child development.
In its third year, the retreat attracted 49 teens from seven churches or organizations, accompanied by their 11 adult leaders. They served at the Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, Vincent House, Bishop Foery Center, Hopeprint, Stone Soup Community Garden, Brady Faith Center and residents’ homes.
Kevin Frank, director of Summer Servants and the Brady Faith Center, said the summer camp offers a tangible way for teens to live out their faith. “I wholeheartedly believe that service is important,” Frank said. “It’s so important for all of us to serve. Acting out makes us grow in faith.”
During the week, the young people resided with their adult leaders at DeWitt Community Church. They prayed, worshiped, ate, served and played together, thereby experiencing the rhythm of a Christian community. “For someone who has never experienced it [the feeling of community],” said Frank, “It opens you up in a new way — it allows Christ to come to you in a powerful way. I’ve seen it happen — it’s wonderful. Last night, one of the girls said, ‘I understand God’s love.’ She felt loved by God.”
Attendance at the camp this year doubled and two new work sites were added to the program. Those who attended represented DeWitt Community Church, Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, Eastern Hills Bible Church in Manlius, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Baldwinsville, Most Holy Rosary and St. Lucy Churches in Syracuse and Young Life- Syracuse East in Manlius.
Adler, after attending the camp for the first time, said the experience was life changing. “I loved it,” he said. “It was neat to go into the community to see how they live. They are good people like us but they are in a bad situation.”
During his week of service, Adler worked on the landscaping of an elderly woman’s home on Central Ave. “She was so grateful for the help,” said Adler. “That was the best part.”
Later in the week, when Adler worked at Slocum House, painting and weeding, the homeless people walking by, he said, were extremely friendly, which impressed him.
Adler remarked that his life had changed completely from his interaction with the poor. “I have respect for people’s lives and for what little they have and how happy they are,” he explained.
Laura Wengert, a 17-year-old from Holy Cross Church, also gave a testimony about her service at Slocum House at the community dinner.
“It was heartwarming to see the progress that we made,” she stated. As she was painting the front porch of Slocum House, an inebriated homeless man walked by and attempted to engage her in conversation. At first, she ignored the man, as she was frightened of him. But her adult leader, she said, showed her how to love the man by the example he set by treating the man with kindness.
“Seeing him [her leader] made me do a ‘180’ in my life,” said Wengert. “My leader showed me how to love the man. I saw that he was a good man in a bad situation.” Wengert’s testimony generated cheers and exuberant applause from the audience that evening.
Dan Ortega, a Summer Servant from Holy Cross Church, participated for a second time, serving at Vincent House. He assisted the center’s youth through the its summer program. “It’s better the second time,” Ortega said. “It’s so nice to be among people who share the same values.”
Working with children from low-income families on Syracuse’s Westside, Ortega was impressed by how the children’s lives were so different compared to his as a child.
Those who attended the Summer Servants camp were treated to the presence of newly ordained transitional deacon, Jason Hage, who served the entire week as an adult leader. “I was blown away by the idea of service and teaching them as an example — showing them that this is how the Gospel is lived out,” Deacon Hage said. “This retreat teaches you to respond to God’s love. Each day is a surprise, showing just how the presence of God is among us. We see God in the people we serve.”
Allie Butler, a 16-year-old from DeWitt Community Church, said her first time as a Summer Servant was a life-altering experience. Butler worked with children at the Bishop Foery Center. “It was in a rough neighborhood and I wasn’t expecting to see what I saw,” said Butler. “It was eye-opening and it changed my life.” She enjoyed spending time with the children, listening to their stories.
Butler decided to serve this summer because she thought the camp offered her a way to expand her faith. “It forced me to trust in the Lord and to know that He is working through me,” she said.
Her involvement has inspired her to think about some ways in which she can help out more in her community. “It’s going to push me out of my comfort zone,” Butler said.
Involvement in Summer Servants has made a momentous impact on Sarah Phillips, a 17-year-old from Holy Cross Church. It has affected her decision as far as her college career. “I want to do something that will make a great impact on others and to use my God-given talents to help other people,” said Phillips.
As a Summer Servant, Phillips worked on some home repair projects and served lunch at the Rescue Mission. “I am so grateful to have this opportunity and I feel so blessed,” she said. “It’s changed my relationship with God. It’s much easier to talk about my relationship with God here with my peers than it is with my family.”
“This is the best week of my year,” enthused Frank. “And, it’s been a powerful week. We want them to act as missionaries — to bring that spirit back to their community. I’ve seen tremendous changes. They are more active in their church and youth group.”