TWIN LAKES — Tables piled high with supplies emptied rapidly last summer as seven eager missionaries stuffed large suitcases to near bursting.
Men and women had gathered from St. Alphonsus Church in New Munster and St. John the Evangelist Parish in Twin Lakes to take part in the fourth trip to Farm of the Child Orphanage in Trujillo, Honduras. The goal was to paint the interiors of six homes for the children who live in them.
Most of the children arriving at Franciscan-run Farm of the Child suffer malnutrition and other health problems, limited education and a lack of love and affection. Staff and volunteers provide a warm bed, clean clothes and healthy food, and the children are provided medical care to heal them from any illnesses.
The mission team, led by Robert and Susan Riley, included Fr. Michael Erwin, pastor of both parishes, who, in addition to working with the team, celebrated three Masses in the chapel at the orphanage. The experience was humbling for 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, 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,” Fr. 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-20s 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.”
In addition to 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 their luggage. The items were collected as a result of the two parishes’ first “Pack a Suitcase” drive.
“We had a tremendous outpouring of help,” said Robert 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 a coup in Honduras, some team members postponed their mission until the political situation stabilizes.
“It was scary at first,” admitted Fr. 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, Fr. Erwin discovered a peace-loving culture, with people who are proud of their nation and are interested in empowering the citizens of Central America.
“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.”
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, according to the missionaries.
“My wife and are I are 68 years old and I guess we are nuts to keep going,” said Riley. “But the Holy Spirit calls us to remain involved and we will keep going until he tells us to stop.”