Angels with dirty work gloves: Teens mobilize for mission where prayer meets action
by Katie Hyde
Special to the Leaven
EMPORIA — It begins with one volunteer, with one line of song.
“Just a small town girl,” she sings while chipping away on top of a ladder at the faded paint of a house.
And seconds later, over 12 campers helping out at the house along with their youth leaders give full voice to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
“I’ve been serenaded for two days,” said Nicole Smith, the owner of the house the volunteers are renovating. “These kids are pretty amazing. They came, and they’ve just jumped right in. It’s pretty cute to hear them out here singing and trying to figure out a song that everyone knows.”
This is a typical moment of Prayer and Action, the archdiocesan weeklong mission trip experience in Emporia, unifying prayer with works of charity.
The program started out in the Diocese of Salina. However, so many archdiocesan teens were attending camp there that Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann decided to try a pilot program here, spearheaded by seminarians, based on the Salina program.
The archdiocese currently offers three weeklong camps in Emporia, where youth groups combine hours each day renovating homes around the area with prayer and spiritual reflection.
“We want to show these kids the fullness of life in the love of God,” said Dan Morris, a seminarian for the archdiocese at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, who has coordinated much of the camp.
“We are drawing deeper into union with God and drawing deeper into union with love of neighbor,” he said. “We combine the sacramental life of the church with the mission life of the church and show [the campers] how that is inseparable, how that is necessary to live in the fullness of the love of God.”
During the June 26-July 1 camp, groups helped out at multiple sites — even an 135-year-old home being considered for the National Register of Historic Places.
Initially, Marcia Canaday, who owns the home, was reluctant to send in an application for aid. She even decided against applying at one point. So Ruth, her 11-year-old daughter, decided to send it in for her mom with a note saying: “Mom said don’t do this, but we really need the help.”
Although she was initially reluctant, Canaday now can’t thank the volunteers enough. She even baked them a batch of her “specialty” to thank them — raspberry cupcakes with sour cream fudge frosting.
“I prayed a lot, honestly,” said Canaday. “I prayed that I would be a good steward. And then people showed up and the application showed up. God works in interesting ways. This really is the answer to my prayers.”
Not only are the homeowners benefiting from this experience, the campers have also grown in faith and stewardship over their week of service.
“[The camp has] been really great,” said Jane Webb, a senior at Blue Valley High School in Stilwell. “Marcia is just so great, and I love talking to her. Getting to see how much this means to her really helps make the work more worth it.”
According to Susan Riordan, a camp leader and teacher at Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison, the campers still work with energy and determination, even without affirmation from the home-owners. They keep up their morale with impromptu dances and singalongs.
“It’s difficult when the homeowner isn’t out there showing their appreciation, so the kids have to really build each other up,” Riordan said. “They really have to keep each other going.”
And although the teens will eventually leave camp and return home, Morris hopes that the lessons learned will remain with the campers.
“The young people are challenged with something that takes them deeper into their own faith — that makes them look deeper at who God is calling them to be,” Morris said. “They really bring that transformation back, hopefully to their community and daily lives, and start to live that out on a daily basis.”