Tag: Service

Mexico Mission Transforms Hearts, Lives


This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ July 2017 newsletter.

For thirteen years, Renewal Ministries has been taking area high school students on a mission trip to Mexico, where they minister to people who live in a garbage dump, visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and spend time at a home for special needs orphans and at government-run facility for elderly men. About thirty students went on this year’s mission.

“It’s grown to be a part of the school’s culture,” said Debbie Herbeck, who assists Renewal Ministries’ Country Coordinator Jim Murphy during the trips with the students from Father Gabriel Richard High School (FGR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The school faculty also made its second mission trip to Mexico this summer. “The mindset is: ‘This is what we do: We care for others.’”

“The students who go get more deeply evangelized,” she continued. “You see freedom and joy on their faces as they give themselves away for a week. Also, the ability to disconnect from their teenage world—they have to leave their phones at home—is life-changing. It teaches them to communicate face to face with others, to be present and attentive, to listen, to love.”

The week begins with a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“We dedicate our mission to Our Lady, tell the story of what happened there, and climb up Tepayak Hill as Juan Diego did,” said Debbie, “it’s no longer just a story, but a message for us too. The Virgin Mary appeared, and within ten years, eight million native Mexicans were converted, baptized, and came into the Church. Now, the Lord and Mary are sending us to share the same message.’”

One of the services Renewal Ministries offers in the dump is a basic medical tent. Since mission teams return to the site every few months, medical personnel are able to distribute medicine for things like high blood pressure, diabetes, and thyroid problems. The team also distributes clothing, shoes, and toiletries for the people living in the dump. The students’ fundraising efforts also allow for the purchase of two tons of food, for almost 1,000 people. The team also offers haircuts; spends time playing and doing some catechesis with the children; and provides prayer ministry and—thanks to a priest on the team—offers Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In addition to playing soccer or coloring with the children, the youth also practice the “ministry of presence,” said Debbie. They learn to notice people who may be sitting on the outskirts—people who may just need someone to sit with them, hold their hand, and listen: “We’re there to love, to show them they are valued, and also that they have much to teach us,” she explained.

Unfortunately, a fire completely destroyed thirty “homes” and the roof of their handcrafted chapel just two days before the team’s arrival this year. Thankfully, the team learned about the fire in time to have each member pack a tarp and rope—enough to provide some shelter to each family that lost a home. Donations also came in for a new roof, and the team was present to pray as the chapel was re-dedicated.

The team also visited an orphanage that is home to 230 mentally handicapped children and young adults. According to Debbie, when you are with Mother Inez, who started the home fifty years ago, you have the clear sense that you are in the presence of a saint. Mother Inez, now in her early nineties, spoke and prayed individually with the students.

Debbie described the most moving part of their visit:

As the students gathered around Mother Inez, she told them, ‘I won’t be here much longer; my time on earth is almost done. I am asking you and pleading with you to carry on the work I’ve begun.’

This was more than a plea to continue visiting the orphanage. She was commissioning the students to be disciples of love in the world. In fact, the reading the next morning was Jesus’ commissioning of the apostles. Many students were deeply touched by her message and heard the Lord personally call them. I felt the Lord gave a few of them His heart for the poor and for love in a very significant way.

The team also visited a home for elderly men who have no families. Debbie explained, “It is very moving for these men to have young people want to spend time with them, listen to their stories, and pray with them. In a place that sees little joy or hope, we livened it up with dancing and singing Disney songs. One young woman on our team had recently experienced the death of her grandpa, and it was very healing for her to talk and pray with these men. There were so many ways God was present and caring for us throughout the week.”

At the end of the week, the team gathered to pray for a deeper outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “After a week of encountering Christ in the poor and one another in such a profound way, everyone was open to a deeper anointing of the Holy Spirit,” said Debbie. “That night, in the ‘upper room,’ our meeting place at the top of our hotel, the Holy Spirit came, and began to prepare these young disciples for the mission ahead of them back home—in their own families, friendships, and schools.”

The lessons from Mexico, and God’s work in and through them, stay with many students for the rest of their lives, said Debbie:

“They encounter Jesus in the poor, and they learn, in very simple yet profound ways, what it means to be His love to others. It gives them a window into the potential of who God is calling them to be and opens their eyes and hearts to a world that desperately needs to know God’s love—through them. It also gives them a genuine experience of what it means to be a community of missionary disciples. This deep connection with one another is what they desperately desire.”

University of Michigan junior Lauren Yurko exemplifies the impact the Mexico mission can have on a student’s life. Because of her time in Mexico, Lauren added Spanish to her Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience major. She feels called to do mission work and wants to be better able to converse with people—something she hadn’t considered before her trip.

Lauren recalls three experiences with people in the dump that she reflects on nearly every single day. The first was with a boy named Alexís, who offered her a sip of his water—even though he hadn’t seen fresh water in months. The second was with children who used their bubble solution—a precious and rare toy—to help wash her face, after she had let them paint on her skin. And the third was with a girl named Lupe, who—after other children were flocking to Lauren to ask for cheese, when she was cutting it for sandwiches—said she didn’t want the cheese; she only wanted to sit with Lauren, because she looked a bit stressed out. While Lauren sliced cheese, the girl sat with her, braided her hair, and rubbed her back.

In each instance, “they were giving everything they had for me and not focusing on themselves,” said Lauren. “The joy I experience in the dump changed who I want to be. Every day, I think about how they had so little and gave so much. It’s inspired me to live more simply and to give whatever I have—to look out for people, to serve my community, and to be more of a friend to people.”

Can Grandparents Help Pass on the Faith?

Danny and Claudia Abramowicz. Photo courtesy of Danny Abramowicz.

Danny and Claudia Abramowicz exemplify what might be termed intentional grandparenting.

The two, who celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary last month, are no strangers to service. Danny—who has had a long history with the NFL as a player, coach, and broadcaster—appears on EWTN’s Crossing the Goal, is actively involved in evangelistic outreach to Catholic men, and wrote the book Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint. He also serves on EWTN’s Board of Directors. Claudia was a stay-at-home mom while raising the couple’s three children.

The two share simple priorities: God first, family second. They cared for their two elderly fathers. And when the need arose, they gladly moved to a Chicago suburb to help care for three of their grandsons, ages seven to fourteen, while their daughter and son-in-law work. They also have a nine-year-old grandson who lives in Colorado.

“We knew God was calling us here and that we must serve,” said Danny. “Just because your kids get old doesn’t mean your job stops.”

Live Your Faith

The best way to have an impact on grandchildren’s lives is to examine how you live your own life, said Danny.

“It’s important to be genuine around your grandchildren, in order for them to trust you,” he said. “Just be yourself around them and let them be themselves around you. Then, they trust you.”

Even the decorations in your home communicate a message. As Danny said, “Our grandchildren see—there’s no doubt in their mind—that God is number one in our lives. There are no NFL pictures on the wall—it’s Jesus, Pope John Paul II, and Mary.”

“But we don’t push it,” he added. “We talk about sports, and Grandma cooks. Then, as we’re doing these things, we slip in spiritual aspects and how you live it in your life. We also just let them have fun with us. We go biking and let them see Granny and Papa can have fun.”

Claudia said, “You have to try to seize the moment to bring in the faith.” She finds many simple ways to bring the faith into discussions. “If I come across something—a song or an article they can relate to—I save it so we can we listen to it or look at it together.”

She added, “You can only give what you possess—a prayer life, virtues, knowledge of the faith.”

Danny’s oldest grandson recently chose him as a Confirmation sponsor. He told Danny, “I knew you would take it seriously and you would hold me to it.” Danny said, “He didn’t make that choice in a day. He had to see something about how I live my life. How you live, how you treat other people, and what you do is an important part” of helping educate your grandchildren in the faith.

Perhaps the best by-product of this form of evangelization is that their “kids see and hear the message too,” Danny noted.

Respect Your Children

Danny and Claudia noted it’s important to respect your children’s roles as parents when building relationships with your grandchildren.

Danny explained, “The father is designed by God to be the spiritual head of a household. Whenever a function is at our home, I take the lead role. When we go to their house, I let them take the lead. This is where a grandparent’s role can be tough. It’s their house and their children. Our grandchildren—they love us—but they have to have a sense that their father and mother are the head of their household.”

Claudia also keeps this in mind when she watches her grandsons. “For the past six years, I’ve taken care of these little ones,” she said. “I’ve had to realize that their home is not my home. I can’t organize things my way. I have to allow them to have the comfort of that home while I be aware of their needs and responsibilities.”

The couple also said it’s important to have a good relationship with one’s own children first. “We have to make sure the relationship with our adult children is right, and then the other relationships will fall into place,” said Danny.

Grandparents also can help support their children’s marriages, the couple agreed.

“We see the stress on marriage,” said Danny, who noted that they sometimes offer to watch their grandkids overnight. “We have to be observant as grandparents, especially if we live nearby. It’s critical to let them know the number one relationship is a husband and wife.”

Bridging the Distance

Danny and Claudia also put a lot of effort into fostering their relationship with their grandson from Colorado, who they see two to three times per year.

Danny said that in order to be a long-distance grandparent, “you’d better be in social media—FaceTime, text, and send pictures. We dote over him, and they send us updates about what’s going on in his life. We have the option to talk just him and us. When we’re around him, it has to be quality time.”

Claudia added: “We always try to hold on to the information we get about what he’s involved in, and bring it up with him. (Two of our grandsons) have similar interests. We share with them what each other are doing and what books they are reading. We want to make him feel a part of our lives.”

In fact, he is flying to Chicago to spend time with his grandparents and cousins this summer.

“You have to work at it to maintain these relationships,” Danny explained.

One-on-One Time

Danny and Claudia also prioritizing on-on-one time with their grandchildren.

“For birthdays, instead of gifts, we let them choose to go to something like the Art Institute or the zoo,” Danny explained. “We’ll spend the day together. We do a lot of listening and observing. They are three totally different kids. Once they feel comfortable, they will say things and get into discussions.”

Laying this groundwork enables the couple to talk about more serious topics with their oldest grandson. “He’s fourteen now, and we’ve got to speak to him in a different way,” said Danny. “We let him know we understand what it’s like to be fourteen, and also that it is important to keep your mind and conscious clear, and about the importance of Confession.”

To anyone with an older grandchild making potentially harmful choices, Danny offered the following advice:

Pray for the child and ask the Holy Spirit to come down upon them. Keep the lines of communication open. Sometimes a grandparent can have more influence than parents at this particular rebellious stage. Remind them their parents love them. I would show them they are off track—through examples, for instance, of how in my own life I was off-track. And finally, love them back into the fold. That’s your best chance to break through.

Growing in Faith

Danny and Claudia both say their own faith has grown through being grandparents.

“Being a grandmother has helped me grow in reflection,” said Claudia. “I have to keep tabs—where is my faith? What is my demeanor for the day? Do I need to be praying for different virtues for today? Do I need to be praying for my grandchildren? I want to be a prayer warrior on their behalf. It keeps me on my faith toes.”

Danny added, “I’ve seen how grandparents can have a tremendous influence on the grandchildren and children’s lives. But the only way we can stay on target with this is to intensify our prayer time. Prayer is key. We can’t be afraid to evangelize in our families—but you can’t evangelize if you don’t have it in your heart.”

This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ 2016 newsletter. You can view it here.

The Joy of Serving

Joy of Service
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The Chairman of Renewal Ministries’ Canadian Board Msgr. Greg Smith recently addressed the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Canada on “The Joy of Serving.”

His talk is a beautiful Jubilee of Mercy reflection on the fourteen spiritual and corporal works of mercy. He encouraged his listeners to spend some time this year considering how they can incorporate into their lives at least some of the works of mercy they may not normally utilize.

If you tend to emphasize the spiritual works in your life, perhaps you could implement some tangible, corporal works of mercy this year.

If you tend to emphasize the corporal works of mercy in your life, perhaps you could add in some additional prayer time, or even work toward better cultivating your ability to patiently bear wrongs or forgive offenses.

Either way, the end result will be an increase of joy. As Msgr. Smith said, “if our charity is animated by the love of God and a desire to share his mercy we can be guaranteed joy in all we do.”

You can read the full text of Msgr. Smith’s talk here.