COLORADO SPRINGS. Most teens, as well as adults, like to be comfortable. We enjoy being around people who are like us and share similar interests.
Last October, during a 10-day mission trip to Brazil, one St. Mary’s High School senior discovered that sometimes life is best when you move outside of your comfort zone. The mission trip with a group from Our Lady of the Pines was the first international missions trip for Samuel Baldwin, and it changed his outlook on life and service.
“I learned that if we are too comfortable where we are, we’re often not doing anything productive,” he said. “When you get uncomfortable, that is when you have the best experiences. When you move outside your comfort zone, you gain a whole new view of the world and you understand things from a different perspective.”
It was early last year when Our Lady of the Pines Parish in the Black Forest section of Colorado Springs decided to establish a sister relationship with a parish in Brazil. At the request of Father Andrzej Szczesnowicz, pastor of Our Lady of the Pines, the Baldwin family helped to establish a relationship and joint mission between their church and Nossa Senhora de Aparecida in Natal, Brazil. That parish is home to Marcio Oliviera, a Brazilian student who attended St. Mary’s High School during the 2012-2013 school year and was hosted by the Baldwin family.
Christine Baldwin, Samuel’s mother, said she that while she has heard of dioceses doing similar programs, a sister program being done at the parish level was something new that provides different opportunities from the larger programs. The joint mission embodies social justice, compassion, and international solidarity, all within the arms of the Catholic faith and tradition. The planning culminated in a trip to Brazil in late October to work on further collaboration between the parishes and to start the joint mission’s main project, which is installing and maintaining portable showers and wash stations for the homeless and less fortunate in the area.
Both parishes desired to get their youth members involved in the mission as a way to build future church leaders and volunteers who have a heart of faith and service. So, as a senior leader of the Our Lady of the Pines Youth Leadership Council, Baldwin was part of the planning and strategic process both at his local parish and with the youth representatives in Natal.
“I went to each Faith Formation class and talked with the students about how they could get involved,” Baldwin said. “I explained that they could gather products to help the homeless and poor, they could write letters to youth in the parish in Brazil and they could pray for the work.
Our Lady of the Pines parishioners, including the youth, overwhelmingly supported the mission. By the end of the collection period, the mission team had 800 bars of soap, hundreds of tubes of toothpaste and boxes filled with other items, including towels, rosaries, clothing and pen pal letters. Christine Baldwin said these donated items help free up the resources of the Brazilian parish, especially since items like shampoo and conditioner can be expensive in Brazil.
Once the team from Our Lady of the Pines was in Brazil for their 10-day stay, Baldwin helped organize the clothing and toiletries that would be distributed and helped prepare food. When everything was ready, the Colorado Springs team helped the local parish take the portable showers out into the homeless community and was invited into a community that was set up under a bridge.
“It’s a unique thing to be invited into a homeless community, and I think they extended the invitation in part because of they were touched by the youth who were working with us,” Christine Baldwin said. “One woman came up to us and invited us into where she lived to show us her plants. She had lovely plants and she was very proud of them. It was a humbling experience to be invited in.”
While the youth group in Brazil consists of young adults from 18 to around 30 years of age, differences in culture meant that they were facing a lot of the same life experiences as Baldwin, such as leaving home and settling on careers. Baldwin and the Brazilian youth bonded over those experiences and over how they are relying on their faith to guide them in the future.
The missions team also spent a day spreading the Gospel, but decided to approach evangelism as they believed Christ would have. Baldwin’s team worked to get to know the people they were talking to, asking them how the team could pray for them. What they found in almost every home was that someone was dealing with a life-threatening situation. Yet, instead of despairing over their situations, he said, they had complete faith in God to act directly in their lives. That reliance on God changed the way Baldwin thought about his faith, he said.
“I have more opportunities to live out my faith and to experience it than I thought I did,” he said. “Before I thought about my faith in ways that was convenient for me, but the people in Brazil showed me how to live it and how to have my faith really be part of who I am. No matter what was happening in their lives, these Brazilian people never lost faith and it gave them hope for what was ahead. That was an example to me that I needed to trust that no matter what happens, I have a faith that will help me.”
While Baldwin learned these lessons in a different culture, he doesn’t believe that missions trips are required for a change in focus. He said St. Mary’s High School emphasizes community service so that its students get out of their comfort zone and have experiences that can help them learn about what they want to do with their lives or how they want to live their lives. Now, he said, he is more excited to do community service at home and will serve those hours in a manner that is different from the way did before the trip to Brazil.
“The mission trip has enhanced what I’ve done since then,” Baldwin said. “Instead of just serving meals at the soup kitchen without thinking much about the people, now I’m more interested in their lives. After being invited into the homeless communities in Brazil, I’m more excited to talk to them and interact with them and serve them.”
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)