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Sabadosa: St. Catherine of Alexandria youths take two mission trips

TessDearth takes care an orphan. | Supplied photo

Tessa Dearth takes care of an orphan. | Supplied photo

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Updated: September 12, 2013 2:18AM



Oak Lawn’s St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish Youth Group outdid itself this summer with two separate mission trips.

A group of adult volunteers and youths journeyed to Haiti in mid-June. Why Haiti? The Youth Group Leadership Council had strong feelings about taking an international trip, youth minister Terry Landstrom said.

The council decided on Haiti because the country is one of the most impoverished in the Western Hemisphere, even more so since the devastating earthquake of 2010.

Adult volunteers Sue Gross and Therese Melaniphy joined Landstrom with youth group members Phil Caffee, Dan Melaniphy, Erik Landstrom, Tessa Dearth, Siobhan McAvoy, Phil Herard and Gianfranco Calafiore.

An Orland Park couple, Sue and Ken Gross, have headed the not-for-profit Haitian Lutheran Mission Project for the past 12 years out of a home base of Christ Lutheran Church in Orland Park. The project advertises throughout Illinois, seeking donations, and invites willing youth groups to join in getting the mission work done. The complete story of the project and its mission statement can be found on its blog at http://haiti144.blogspot.com/.

As you may imagine, living conditions in Haiti are far from optimal, due in large part to the intense heat and lack of modern conveniences. The average Haitian has limited use of electricity, and whatever toilets they have may flush only at 7 p.m.

Once the volunteer group’s plane landed (after a six-hour flight), it took 111/2 hours to go 130 miles by bus from the airport at Port au Prince, the nation’s capital, to the town of Jeremie, which is largely a farming community.

Lutheran Pastor Isaac Jacquet met the group at the airport and journeyed with it, along with coordinator Lophane Laurent, who was an interpreter and also served as armed security because the volunteers had to travel through some dangerous areas.

The bus driver had to navigate through mountains and along treacherous roads, sounding the horn almost continuously to warn people walking along the roads.

Landstrom said that at one point during the trip from the airport, the bus’ gas tank fell off and had to be reattached. She said there were extra people on the bus for the sole purpose of moving large boulders out of the road.

While in Jeremie, the St. Catherine volunteers stayed with the Jacquet, his wife and 30 orphans. Because of the earthquake’s horrific toll on families, the Grosses originally built the orphanage for another pastor, who has since died. Jacquet now keeps the orphanage going.

When they arrived in Jeremie, as is the tradition of these generous people, the Jacquets and some of the orphans gave up their beds for their guests to use.

The volunteers went to Haiti to do a specific job — to improve a school by helping to build much-needed student benches and new school wall. Their presence also helped send a message to the people of Jeremie that someone cared about them and wanted to make a difference in their lives.

The Haitian people have not yet recovered from the destruction of the 2010 earthquake. Landstrom said most people are “literally living on top of each other, separated only by makeshift tarps.”

“They must burn their garbage daily. The same water used for bathing is also used for drinking,” she said, adding that the extreme poverty was a strong, at time shocking, lesson for the volunteers, especially the youths, who were witnessing a level of deprivation that they likely had not imagined.

Despite their harsh living conditions, Phil Caffee told me that the Haitian people were always joyful and strong in their religious faith. They were eager to have the visitors join them for services at their storefront Evangelical Lutheran Church. Caffee was surprised to hear the children singing praise and worship songs in English.

Jacquet’s wife cooked the group’s daily meals, mostly consisting of beans with rice or pasta. To celebrate the arrival of the volunteers, she prepared a rare meal of goat stew. For all meals, the Haitians always waited until their guests had eaten before they would do so.

On the last day of the trip, while in the “tent city” in Port au Prince, the group helped to clear out cinder blocks and handed out hygiene packets (containing toothpaste, soap and washcloths), soccer balls and baby quilts — all brought in from the U.S.

In the early part of July, Landstrom and Caffee led a second mission trip, a “Collegiate Challenge” through Habitat for Humanity. The group traveled to Pritchard, Ala., which is near Mobile and is a poverty-stricken area.

Participating in this trip were adults Adam Bykowski, Bill Coughlin and Sue Ludwig. The youth members were David Landstrom, Jason Blazevic, Jose Hernandez, Israel Acevedo, Ryan Ludwig, Robert Reed, Jack Panella, Allison Parker, Mary Kate Glavis, Tyler Roche, Abby Ludwig, Maddy Keeton, Courtney Leverenz and Carrie Bykowski.

The group members were guests of “Camp Christian,” which is sponsored by a Baptist church in Pritchard. Under hot and humid conditions, the volunteers helped re-roof and paint an older house, while a second group worked on painting and installing flooring at a new structure.

Due to some last-minute administrative changes within Habitat for Humanity, the assignments became a challenge for the group. The members realized that the only way they would succeed was to come up with their own action plan.

Landstrom said they worked with little or no instructions from those in charge but managed to get the jobs done — despite some days when it rained so much that they had to leave the work site early to avoid being caught in flooding.

“As we worked hard, I sensed our teens saw the big picture of many hands coming together to help the family who would move into this house,” Sue Ludwig said. “One of the children in this family had recently been paralyzed in a car accident, and as we worked, I think we all felt grateful for being able to make an impact in contributing to their home.”

Finally, a community news item: Reavis High School,. 6034 W. 77th St., Burbank, will host its annual Fall Arts and Crafts Fair from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 28. Don’t miss it!



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