by Deacon John Pepi
St Bridget, Maynard
On July 14, 2018, I embarked on the 18 hour bus ride to the Nashville, Tennessee Catholic Heart Work Camp Mission along with 4 adult chaperones and 30 teens from our collaborative. I expected the week to be a good experience, but I never expected it to be one of the most powerful journeys of my lifetime.
I have been in ministry as a deacon for nearly 25 years, and have been privileged to experience many great moments: working with children, teens, the elderly, the homebound, and the poor; assisting with the sacraments of Eucharist, Baptism, and Matrimony; leading prayer services, and so on. Nothing can take away from those moments. But I must say that the Mission trip to Nashville was the most rewarding and blessed event I have ever experienced.
So much happened at the Mission work camp; early rise, prayer, and daily Mass; morning and afternoon work assisting the needy; evening music with 250 energetic teens; more prayer, Adoration, and reflection; and late night lights out in preparation for the next day. When I ask myself why these days and nights were so awesome, the answer is simple: seeing the face of God in the teens who never stopped working, and seeing the face of God in those whom they served. Being holy means to live a life of prayer and service; this week was an example of holiness. While everyone’s personal experience may have been different, it was all the same – the love of Jesus in the face and response of his people.
Watching the teens dive in and work, pray, reflect (and dance!) was remarkable. There was nary a complaint about cold showers, lack of sleep, or hard and long work in hot and humid conditions. Rather, in my particular work group with eight teens, I witnessed the unrelenting, overwhelming, never-ending love of God in their ethic, words, and actions. Our task was to clean 25 apartments of kind residents who were for the most part living in unimaginable squalor and conditions. And yet, each teen spoke on how the people they helped were a blessing to them. Of equal importance, each resident who was helped spoke on how the teens who served them had blessed them. Loving and suffering go hand in hand.
One of the residents whom the teens assisted traveled ten miles to the camp, in spite of her physical disability, and gave witness to our entire group, summing up the experience nicely. She spoke eloquently: “I knew you boys and girls had to be Christian; I could see it in the joy of your faces, in how you dove in to clean our refrigerators, and stoves, and floors, and windows; and in the love you showed in your hearts. I am the one who was blessed, I will never forget you; you gave me strength and hope forever.”
Seeing the love and joy of the teens, watching their enthusiasm in song and their respect in prayer, listening to their reflections, and witnessing their interaction with other teens from across the country as well as with those whom they served was remarkable; I am strengthened by their spirit; I am blessed and privileged to know them, and to have once again met the Lord in them and in those whom we served. I will never be the same. Deacon