Seven men and women from St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in New Munster and St. John the Evangelist Parish in Twin Lakes returned August 8 from a week in an exotic locale. But instead of lounging in the sun and sipping cocktails, they painted six homes at Farm of the Child Orphanage in Trujillo, Honduras.
The country of Honduras is the poorest and least developed nation in Central America. Poverty and hunger prevail leading to disease, violence, crime, alcohol and drug abuse. Because of this, many families are broken and the children left orphaned and abandoned.
Most of the children arriving at Farm of the Child suffer malnutrition and other health problems, limited education and a lack of love and affection. Through the generous hearts of staff and volunteers, children thrive in a loving home-like environment.
The team, led by Robert and Susan Riley included Fr. Michael Erwin, pastor of both parishes, who, in addition to physically working with the team, celebrated three Masses in the chapel at the orphanage. The experience was humbling to the 42-year-old priest, after witnessing the faith of the volunteers, staff and children.
“I think my greatest impression of this orphanage was the support for these children who would otherwise be lost to society and dead at an early age due to difficult situations,” he said. “They bring love, education and lead them out to the other end as leaders back into the community and are changing children’s lives.”
While he heard many stories from the Rileys after three previous trips to the orphanage, experiencing it in person, gave him a greater appreciation for the missionaries and those who run the orphanage.
“This is a little town and they take these high risk children and transform them into very good members of society,” Erwin said. “Being able to be a part of this is a way we live out our faith. There are so many young people in their mid 20’s who work there and volunteer there and help run this place and do it filled with grace. They take their faith very seriously and multiple times per day offer their hearts in prayer. God can work through them to accomplish the significant goals set before themselves.”
In addition to the physical work included in painting the interiors of the six homes, the team brought along 16 suitcases filled with school supplies, flip flops, scissors and nearly anything else they could cram into a suitcase. Donations poured into the two parishes, for their ‘Pack a Suitcase’ drive.
“We had a tremendous outpouring of help,” said Riley, member of St. Alphonsus Parish. “I couldn’t believe we had so much support from little St. Al’s and St. John’s –people really cared and stepped up to help these little children.”
Originally, the team numbered 14, but due to the recent coup in the country of Honduras, part of the team opted to postpone their mission until the political situation stabilizes.
“It was scary at first,” admitted Erwin, “And even I was debating whether to go or not. Some discerned it was too risky and situations in their lives didn’t lend themselves to go—but they will be part of a group that goes next year.”
Despite the political upheaval, Erwin discovered a peace loving culture, who are proud of their nation and are interested in empowering the citizens of Central America. While they were nervous, they prayed and continue to pray for the country’s stability as it deals with a challenge of presidents. He was pleased that a peaceful state has been maintained and credits the Honduran people and leaders who are able to manage the situation.
“It was a marvelous thing and fun to be a missionary,” he said. “We were able to take our faith on the road and the risks that went with it. We were able to get to know new folks and let them know us. Anytime we can do that, it is a good thing, whether it is meeting new people at church or taking a risk by going to a different area of the world. The difficulty might be in the language but we stretch ourselves anytime we take risks like that.”
Making a difference by providing hands on religion is one way Riley chooses to live his faith. Most families live in tiny homes, with dirt floors, and make an income of approximately $300 per year. Despite their incredible poverty, the residents are welcoming, friendly and willing to share what little they have with the Americans who come to help.
“My wife and are I are 68 years old and I guess we are nuts to keep going,” he said. “But the Holy Spirit calls us to remain involved and we will keep going until he tells us to stop.”