In the fall of 2001, Epiphany’s Associate Rector, Mark Wastler, asked me if I would be an adult volunteer for the Young People’s Fellowship. I had no experience working with teenagers, so I had no idea why he asked me, but it rapidly turned out to be one of the most important invitations I had ever received. I soon counted among my best friends the young people I sat with on Sunday nights in the garret. The openness, the authenticity, the honest sharing of struggles and joys was a weekly blessing. Mark then announced he was going to take the youth to El Hogar in the summer and asked if I would consider helping him escort the team.
For those who may be new to the Parish, or otherwise may not have heard of this extraordinary place, El Hogar Projects is a school for children of extreme poverty in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Our then Rector, Rob O’Neill, served on its Board of Directors and he and Mark were trying to deepen the relationship between the school and our parish. Indeed, Rob had just hired my wife, Liz, as the new Executive Director in North America. The year before, a team of adults and youth from the Diocese had visited the school, and Mark felt the opportunity to get our youth together with kids of El Hogar was too good to pass up. So, he organized Epiphany’s first service team to El Hogar.
And so began my sojourn with the youth of our Parish and the students and staff of El Hogar. This journey has been one of the great joys and formational experiences of my life. Mark left us in 2003, but in 2004, I returned to El Hogar, and have been going there every summer since – except for 2009 when the political situation caused cancellation two days before we left. That makes 15 trips with 205 people – and I hasten to point out that I always returned with the same number I left with! Many people went with me multiple times, but a total of 131 unique souls honored me in this way. One hundred and fifteen of our youth and 18 brave co-leaders helped me pull this off. Why do these numbers not add up to 131? Because two awesome people went with me as youth – grew up and helped me lead as adults.
This year I will be not be going with the team to Honduras. As I write that line, a lump rises in my throat even as I know that the time has come to let others take up this extraordinary ministry. Apart from how much I will miss it, I feel only grateful. El Hogar is a place where the transformation promised by our Christian faith is worked out intentionally and lovingly on a daily basis. Children are given desperately needed shelter, food, and education in the hard environment of one of the world’s most cruelly poor and violent countries. It’s difficult and relentless work, yet they graciously welcome our young people to witness it and to take part in it. Every year, I have been honored to observe the gathering in of our youth as they experience a reality that could hardly be more different than the one in which they were raised. Without exception, our young people embraced this experience and were in turn transformed by it themselves.
So, every summer, I got to re-experience this amazing process – each team took me along and showed me again the Kingdom of God. I cannot adequately express how thankful I am for those sacred moments. Thank you, beloved community, especially parents, for trusting me and sharing your precious young people with me. I remember and pray for every single one of them. To my teammates, my friends who always accepted me as one of their own indulged me, and showed me the light of Christ, I am humbled by your courage, compassion and good cheer. Many of you are grown now and even have babies of your own – something I can hardly process. God bless you all.
Our Parish owes great appreciation to these travelers to Honduras. The relationship with El Hogar enriches and invigorates our community immeasurably. In many ways, the youth have led us in bringing it about and nourishing it. I know they will continue to bless us with their ministry. Good luck and Godspeed to this year’s team!