Island church members find mission trip ‘transforming’
While many churches traditionally celebrate the season of Lent by asking their members to give something up, Rev. Kathryn Palen of the Central Baptist Church in Jamestown asked her congregation to take something on.
Palen and six of her parishioners – three adults and four teenagers – traveled to Danli, Honduras, this past February as part of a larger intergenerational missionary team of 22 American Baptists in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The week spent constructing a school in Danli with Mission Honduras and interacting with the children and their families was “a reminder about how much we have and take for granted,” Palen said.
She explained that because Honduran public schools are not mandatory and often require students to pay a certain amount of tuition, attendance is unaffordable for many in Danli. The Newman School, she said, will be for children who can afford to pay a certain level of tuition, as well as for children who can’t afford to pay any.
Working with the crew that was putting together the cinderblock school building, Palen said the group lifted 1,000 blocks up to the second floor during their stay, finishing the walls of the second story.
The mission team also sorted donated items such as clothing and toiletries, and took them to some of the more remote church sites in the area. The Central Baptist congregation collected baseball caps to distribute, and provided $1,000 to buy Spanish Bibles and chairs for churches, which in Honduras, Palen said, often have no sides and tin roofs.
Palen’s group included father and daughter, David and Tory Dolce, mother and daughter, Kathy and Sydney Pazera, Grace Hyde and Rachel Bessette.
“Working with children to have that real emotional connection and see how open they were, how loving and joyful the children were given how little they have, was very touching for me,” Palen said.
She reflected on one of her most memorable moments during the trip, when an older woman at one of the poorer churches up on a mountain outside Danli was so thrilled with an instrument she had made, she told Palen through a translator that she was going to bring it back every Sunday to be a part of their worship services.
“These were the things that you think about the children enjoying, but so many of the adults really enjoyed them too because they don’t have any luxuries, and that for them, these felt like a luxury,” Palen said.
Jamestown resident and North Kingstown High School senior Tory Dolce said she gained as much from her experience in Honduras as the children she worked with.
“I think before the trip, I took life for granted,” she said. “My nice house, running water, clean clothes, warm showers and happiness. The children and families there were so happy all the time. They had a constant smile on and you always heard laughter. It was somewhat odd, because they seemed so much happier with little things than the children here and they have far less than us.”
During a walking tour in Danli, Palen said, the hot hovels, barbed wire and gates epitomized the level of indigence. Dolce agreed, saying the poverty was one of the things that struck her the most.
“What really hit me was that the people of Honduras weren’t sad about it,” she said. “They loved life because they were able to enjoy their relationship with God and their families.”
Through a combination of individual and congregational mission trip funding, several Jamestown residents were able to make the trip to Honduras, including firsttime mission trip participants, Kathy and Sydney Pazera.
“Honduras was an amazing experience for my daughter, Sydney, and I,” Kathy Pazera said. “We didn’t know what to expect from a mission trip, but we knew we would be doing some good for people that have very little. We expected it to be eye-opening, but it touched us in ways we didn’t expect.”
Sydney, 14, agreed, saying that the trip gave her “a new perspective on her life,” and made her aware of how “truly grateful” she is for all that she has.
Palen said she was impressed with the level of compassion and maturity that the teenagers who went on the trip displayed, and said she hopes the trip “made their faith more real.”
“There was a real sense of being there to work hard and being grateful for the opportunity,” she said. “So when you hear stories about how American youth are on the decline, we saw the exact opposite.”
While Palen and the Central Baptist Church plan a mission trip each summer to Maine, Palen hopes that an international mission trip will become a bi-yearly occurrence.
“This is our first time to Honduras,” she said. “We have a partnership with a young missionary couple working there, who have a relationship with American Baptists in Rhode Island. We decided we would see what it’s like.”
Palen and her group made an effort to bring back their experience to share with the whole church, in the hope that they would all feel involved and enriched. She brought each child in her congregation a bracelet to wear and a photo of a child from Honduras to pray for during the Lenten season.
“It’s making those kinds of connections with the people and it’s really about how it changes you,” Palen said. “You go thinking, ‘We’re really going to help people,’ but it’s really about your own transformation, about recognizing how much we have in common with other people and how blessed and fortunate we are.”
Palen said she hopes that all the young members of the Central Baptist Church will be able to have the opportunity to take part in an international mission trip.
“Once a set of people from the church go, they realize how powerful the experience is and they want others to have it or they want to go back,” she said. “My hope is that all the youth who go through our church will have at least one chance to go.”