Walking the talk

New mission program puts teens to work in their own backyard


by Kara Hansen
Special to The Leaven

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — If you think mission work translates into a lot of travel and a foreign country, think again.

A new program for teens is starting up here in the archdiocese where mission work can be done practically in one’s own backyard.

The Prayer and Action program originated in the Salina Diocese several years ago, out of the desire of two seminarians there to create a low-cost opportunity for youth to do mission work locally.

“The program has proved extremely popular with the participants and, for a number of years, our archdiocese has sent groups to Salina,” said Bill Scholl, archdiocesan consultant for the social justice office. “Due to the powerful witness of our teens who have encountered Christ through this program, Archbishop Naumann has requested that we explore bringing Prayer and Action to the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.”

Three one-week mission trips will take place in June and July in Emporia as part of the pilot program of Prayer and Action in the archdiocese. The program is a joint effort by the office for social justice and the vocations office.

“I have seen the fruits of Prayer and Action in the youth from the archdiocese who have returned from the program,” said Father Mitchel Zimmerman, archdiocesan vocation director. “When prayer is connected to handson service of neighbors, when prayer is put into action, then prayer takes a much deeper root in the hearts of young people longing to serve. It is their confirmational grace, the gifts of the Spirit, being put into real action.”

“I’m excited for the new opportunity for our seminarians to take ownership of a ministry to youth in the archdiocese that is peculiarly theirs,” he continued, “and for the chance to do missionary service close to home, and to present a mission experience that is sensible and affordable.”

Sara Batenhorst, youth minister at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, first learned of the Prayer and Action program three years ago while making a last-minute attempt to accommodate a large number of teens that wanted to go on a mission trip.

“To be honest, I had pretty low expectations about the week,” said Batenhorst. “I had just taken a group to San Antonio where we worked in soup kitchens and inner-city day camps, so I was not too excited about spending my week in Hays doing landscaping and painting houses.”

Within a few short hours, however, Batenhorst could see the program was better than she had expected — much better.

“I became very impressed with the program and the staff,” said Batenhorst. “Everything was laid back and relaxed, but well-organized. You could tell that the staff had a passion for what they were doing and for connecting with the kids. The evening program was great and wellplanned; it was fun and forming.”

Batenhorst said Prayer and Action was authentically Catholic, with daily Mass, a daily rosary, and prayer at morning and night built into the programming. The sacrament of reconciliation and an evening talk each night on a different Catholic teaching were also included.

“Over the years, I have participated in two different national Catholic mission trip programs and none of them have even come close to being as Catholic as Prayer and Action,” said Batenhorst. “None of them have had the impact that P&A has had on my kids. I love that they come away from a week not only full of love for Christ, but also with a newfound love and understanding of serving others and giving of themselves.”

Best of all, said Batenhorst, is the impact Prayer and Action has on kids long after their weeklong stint is over.

“To this day, my kids still talk about the seminarians they met and the impact they had on them,” she said. “For my kids to see a young guy studying to be a priest, but also being fun and interesting and outgoing — that is irreplaceable.

“I have had [a couple of] students who have attended Prayer and Action and then a different mission trip program. I pulled them both aside after the week with the other program and asked them which week was better.

“They both said Prayer and Action,” Batenhorst said. “The changes this program has made in my kids is remarkable. Next to Camp Tekakwitha, I think this has the opportunity to become the best formation experience we can offer the youth in our archdiocese.”

The program will be led by Catholic young adults, including archdiocesan seminarians. Youth will stay at Sacred Heart Church in Emporia. The cost is $100 per individual, with $10 requested as a deposit at the time of registration. To register or for more information, visit the Prayer and Action Web site at: http://www.wix. com/prayerandactionkc/missiontrip, or call Batenhorst at (913) 402-3945.

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