St. Mary's Youth Program
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Youth Mission Trip 2014
Confirmation Class of 2013
2013 Youth Mission Trip
Mission Possible: Tijuana and San Diego 2013
Allie Silvestri, Youth Group Missioner
This summer, 20 teens and three adults embarked on a long bus journey down highway I‐5 to San Diego and Tijuana. Our group included long‐time St. Mary’s members as well as those who had never been on a Mission Trip. The diversity of our group added to the richness of the experience, deepened old friendships, and created new ones.
We had the opportunity to walk across the border into Tijuana on our first day, along with members of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego. The cross into Mexico seemed almost too easy. (Going back into the US was a different story!) Our passports were never checked, and security was limited to two armed guards. While the Rev. Scott and the Rev. Mary had prepared us for what we might see or experience, there were few apparent differences from the U.S. side, only yards away.
We took a bus to Dorcas House which is a privately‐owned and run foster home caring for 32 kids aged two years to about 12 years old. They each had their own reason for being there, from having incarcerated parents, to being orphans, to having parents who were incapable of taking care of them. However, when we arrived, their difficult pasts seemed almost invisible to us. The image of the children waving and banging on the windows from excitement upon our arrival was one that resonated with many of us. We ate, played, talked, and loved the children of Dorcas House. I was moved and astounded by the resiliency of the children; they seemed like any other little kids who just wanted to be cared for, and I feel so fortunate that they so readily welcomed us in.
Our remaining service days were spent at Southwest Key. Southwest Key is a detention center for undocumented youth, one of two such centers in the San Diego area alone. The one we went to was for about 15 boys ages 14 to 17. All of them were from Central America, although in the past, people from Asia, Africa and Europe have been there too. I think most of us were more unsure of going to Southwest Key than to Dorcas House because we feared it might be harder to communicate with our peers than with little kids. However, I think we all found it to be a very rewarding experience. They wanted to share their stories because, as the Rev. Mary explained it, we are their voices. We are the ones who have the ability to make changes, as we will become educators, protestors, law makers, community builders, and voters. We can share their struggles with our friends and family and make immigration a personal issue.
We were able to connect with them over simple things like talking about pop culture or guessing who in the group would win in a soccer match. We were also able to do an art project with them where we traced our handprints into a peace sign inscribed with the words, “We Are the Body of Christ” and “Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo.” We sang karaoke and listened to a few of the boys’ stories. I think Christina Gallagher described it well on our blog, writing,
“Four of the residents shared with us their stories on how and why they tried to cross the border but were caught. Enrique, a very friendly and energetic 14‐year‐old…discussed the violence and sadness he faced every day, and how he was beaten by his father. I was taken aback because just two minutes ago he was happy… the boys were the same age as we were, but the hardships they have been through were so different than our experiences.”
Even though we had such different backgrounds, we learned a lot from each other and bridged a gap by discrediting many of our stereotypes and assumptions.
We were able to go back to Southwest Key and help the children with their garden as well as to do other chores that needed to be done. While it was hot out (especially after the girls were asked to dress a little more modestly by changing from shorts into longer pants), we felt accomplished; and it was nice knowing that we were able to help Southwest Key, however we could.
Even after our service was over, the learning never stopped. We debriefed each day when we returned to the retreat center where the Rev. Scott and the Rev. Mary shared their past experiences and the stories of people they knew, while informing us about immigration issues. We were even able to discover more about other religions by going to the Islamic Center of San Diego where we had the privilege of meeting the very social‐justice‐oriented Imam. Later that day we visited the Self‐Realization Fellowship where we learned about this westernized sect of Hinduism based on the teachings of the guru Yogananda. We also had another great learning experience by visiting the famous San Diego Zoo on our last day!
Having been on every mission trip since I started in Youth Group, I found this trip to be very different. Each trip has been unique and wonderful in its own way, but what made this year different was the way we examined the issue of immigration in the broadest sense. Our knowledge on the issue was not limited to our several service experiences. I don’t think I will ever be able to think about or vote on immigration issues without attaching the stories of the people we met. However, tackling all immigration problems is not something we can do the day we get home. We came to understand that feeling guilt for our privileges is not a productive response; rather, we need to do the next right thing and do whatever we can, as insignificant as it may seem.
All in all, it was a truly fulfilling, perspective‐shifting experience that I was able to share with a great group of teens and adults. I am very grateful to the whole St. Maryʹs community for all the love and support that allowed us to take this unforgettable trip.