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Sad News: Change of Plans

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 4, 2015 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (1)

With deepest regret we share the news that we are cancelling the YLA trip to El Salvador.

Throughout the year, we have been aware of concerns about the situation in El Salvador. However, the steady and informed reassurance of our partners at Cristosal have until now led us to believe that our group would have a positive experience and remain out of harm’s way. At the same time, we have indicated all along that we would monitor the situation for any dramatic change which might necessitate a re-evaluation. Unfortunately, developments of the past week have indeed caused such re-evaluation.

Two factors have led to our decision to cancel. One factor, which you may have seen reported in the media, is a dramatic surge of deadly violence in the past week involving the transportation system of the country. The other factor is word received in just the past couple of days relating to two American Episcopal church workers who were forced to return home suddenly after credible threats to their personal safety. This represents a new threshold crossed – one which we cannot ignore in considering the safety of our young people. We now feel that the volatility of the immediate situation requires us to cancel this trip.

The late timing of these new developments comes as a heart-breaking blow to us, to the YLA pilgrims, and to our valued partners in El Salvador as well. We cherish our relationship with Cristosal and with the Diocese of El Salvador, and will be eager for appropriate future manifestations of that partnership. Please pray for their work and for the situation in their country.

The YLA participants, parents, and leaders are currently exploring options for an alternative trip. Once plans are made we will reach out to donors who have invested in the 2015 YLA trip. In the meantime, as we grieve for the loss of this opportunity that the group has been dreaming of and working toward for a year (and more in some cases), let us also remember to hold the Salvadoran people in our hearts and our prayers.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. H. Mark Smith
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates

 

Preparing to go: Cameron Abell

Posted by H. Mark Smith on July 27, 2015 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

If I had to leave one thing behind me when I go to El Salvador, it would be my ambivalence. In my life I am indecisive, and I really don’t care about the outcome of anything, or put full effort into something. I usually just drift through life, riding the tide, letting people push me along, not caring where I go. It worked for me, never having an opinion, and when I did, I would not show it. My objective this whole mission trip is to turn that around. Instead of always letting my life take its own path, I want to live my life, because if I don’t, then my life isn’t worth living. In this mission trip, I aim to end my time being a follower all of the time, and really be a leader. I wish to take control of my life and do something in the world. Instead of treating this mission trip as just another part in my life, I want to treat it like a chance to show MY opinion about the world. It is my chance to show my leadership skills. I don’t mean on this trip that I will only listen to my opinion, I mean that I will finally take my opinion into account, instead of letting other people live my life, and step over me, if they mean it or not. If anyone asked my opinion on anything in the past, my answer would always be “I don’t know”, but now I know. If I could gain one thing over the course of this trip, it would be confidence in myself, and the ability to express my opinions. I ask for your prayers to give me confidence in myself so that I can be a leader not just to everyone else, but also to myself.

Preparing to go: Christian Hotte

Posted by H. Mark Smith on July 27, 2015 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

In terms of things that people can pray for me to overcome on my trip to El Salvador, the most noticeable challenge I face when I go on any trip in general is that I am not the sort of guy who responds well to being around people for an extended period of time. To phrase this more understandably, I am an introvert by nature, and this entails that I get my energy and operate most efficiently when I am in solitude. That said, I have noticed that with mission trips (one of which I have participated in earlier this Summer), an individual receives little to no time to oneself, which I personally find emotionally taxing. The result of such exposure can often take the form of a decrease in my productivity, positive attitude or even ability to socially interact with others, any of which being severely detrimental to my own experience and that of my fellow YLA-ers. I fully intend to do everything within my capacity to overcome this barrier, and leaving it behind for this mission trip is definitely an achievable goal, given the prayers and support I have been receiving.

Preparing to go: Sydney Robinson

Posted by H. Mark Smith on July 22, 2015 at 9:05 AM Comments comments (2)

Hi all! My name is Sydney Robinson and I am going into sophomore year in high school. Throughout my freshman year, I have been a part of the Youth Leadership Academy (YLA). During this program, I learned about leadership and taking action. I have developed many useful skills that have helped me to lead a parish project that supported the Birthday Wishes organization. In addition to my project, I worked extremely hard to raise the funds needed to travel on the annual YLA mission trip to El Salvador.

For months I have been eagerly awaiting this trip. I have been looking forward to meeting the Salvadoran youth and learning how people from different countries can come together to better the world. The only part of this journey that I am not exactly excited about is this blog, since writing has never been one of my strong points (at least in my opinion).

So, here it is; my first blog entry:

As I brainstormed what to include in my response, I wrote down the first words that came to my mind. These ideas were basically the most obvious things that anyone would need to leave behind if they traveled out of the country; like family, friends, and social media. After I reread my work many more times than necessary, I realized I did not really allow my prayerful voice to be heard. I had not made personal connections to myself in a religious context, which basically defeated the purpose of this blog. Although it required more thought (and a lot more writing), I started to take note of things I will personally need to let go of in order to fully respond to God’s call for me on this pilgrimage.

Since I wish to let my voice be heard, I created a new list. These new ideas include: feelings of doubt, fears and hesitation, which, as I realized after, all fit into the category of “distractions”. My parents have always told me that I need to focus more on the tasks at hand and be less distracted by diversions that originate from my surroundings, random objects or even my own thoughts.

On my journey to El Salvador, there will be many challenges to face. I will be meeting new people, communicating in different languages, and be away from my parents, sisters, home and country for seven full days. I will also be encountering many differences in El Salvador compared to my home in the U.S. There will be changes in the environment and people around me, places, foods and a two hour time difference that will impact my daily routine.

To be completely involved in this year’s YLA mission trip, I believe I will need a clear mind. I will need to leave most, if not all, of my distractions behind so that I can learn, take risks, make connections, interact in the new environment, understand my mission and respond to God’s calling for me to travel to El Salvador.

 

Preparing to go: Alan Novaes

Posted by H. Mark Smith on July 21, 2015 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

I can’t believe in less than three weeks I’ll be traveling to El Salvador. I’m very excited for this very eye opening experience to a whole other view of the world. All this work and perseverance; fundraising, meetings, sleepovers, asking for donations, has all led to this. I’m not sure exactly what to expect, but I’m excited for what’s in store. This experience is going to change my life in a way that I didn’t think was possible. I am anticipating for it to open my eyes, heart and mind to how grateful I should be for the things that I have. I’m going to see firsthand what the life of a Salvadorian is like, and I do not expect it to be an easy one.

Based upon what I’ve learned from our meetings, the internet and from what my sister has told me from her experience, the Salvadoran history is a violent one and the people have gone through a lot. I am interested to understand how the people are able to stay strong in their faith. I am also interested in knowing how, when under this stress, they are able to celebrate their lives, family and friends.

I am very interested in learning more about the history of the Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero. I know that he spoke out against injustice, poverty, and assassinations . His death was so tragic, but I feel that this is an exciting time for the Salvadoran people. Since the recent recommendation of Pope Francis, Oscar Romero is on his way to becoming a saint. Given that I am kind of a History geek, I must admit that I am hopeful we will see the Mayan ruins as well. I pray for a safe and influential experience.

 

Preparing to go: Seamus Fagan

Posted by H. Mark Smith on July 20, 2015 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

I want to let go of any type of beliefs or stereotypes of El Salvador and its people. I must go into this experience with a clear and open mind and form my own beliefs about the people I meet based on the interactions we share. I want to remember that we are all God’s children and what we share is much greater than what might distinguish us. In order to leave behind these beliefs and stereotypes, I must confront what I’ve heard.

I am told El Salvador is an extremely poor country and from that there is a lot of crime and violence. Adding to that, I’m told there are a lot of gangs and poverty. On a brighter note, I’ve also been told that the people are very bright and happy, and I am very curious to interact with these people and to learn more about their happiness in the face of such challenges. This makes me wonder about the source of true happiness as I’ve heard they are as happy as or perhaps even happier than we are in the U.S. despite having hardly any of the same resources many of us have here. Although I have been pondering about these two categories, crime and happiness, for a long time, I must forget about these two things as I venture into a country in which I have no firsthand experience. I want to learn for myself about El Salvador and its people.

I also hope that the experiences of trying to be open to meeting and building relationships, along with forming my own opinions, will be something I can carry back with me after the trip, and that this will be a mindset I can continue to apply as I meet new people and experience new situations back home. As human beings, we are shaped by our experiences, and I hope to be open so that this experience may help to shape me in ways that God wants.

Please pray for me that I might be able to fully live into the prayer of our baptism throughout my experiences during our trip: Give me an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.

Preparing to go: Sarah Tringali

Posted by H. Mark Smith on July 20, 2015 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

As I sit here trying to reflect on this past year and trying to think of something that I need to leave behind in order to connect with and strengthen my faith in God, I realize that the thing I need to leave behind was right in front of me.

This past academic year, there were good moments and bad moments. It was a difficult transition for me because it was going to be my first year in high school and I had no idea what to expect. Even though my mom, dad, and brother (who has been at the high school for two years already) told me I was going to be fine but, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t going to be liked by my teachers, new classmates, my soccer team and the coaches. Basically, I was afraid of the unknown. After the first few weeks of school, I started to settle in and that feeling was lifted off of my shoulders. I was doing well there; making new friends, teachers seemed to like me and soccer was turning out to be extremely fun.

As I was trying to figure out what I need to leave behind to connect and strengthen my faith in God as I travel to El Salvador, I knew it wasn’t going to be something physical but I wasn’t sure what it was going to be. It finally hit me, I need to leave behind my fear of the unknown. I know this is a broad and a little bit vague topic but to me, I have always been hesitant to try new things and step out of my comfort zone. During YLA I made new friends who I know I can count on and I have become more comfortable with myself, testing how far my limits without fully stepping outside my comfort zone. As I travel to El Salvador, I hope that I can use the fear of the unknown to help me break out of my comfort zone.

 

Preparing for El Salvador

Posted by H. Mark Smith on July 20, 2015 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

August 8, 2015, members of the diocesan Youth Leadership Academy and their adult companions head off to El Salvador for a week of mission and pilgrimage, organized by the Office of Youth Ministires in partnership with Foundation Cristosal, a faith-based human rights and community development organization with Anglican roots based in El Salvador. As our young leaders prepare for the trip, amid the packing, they have been asked to reflect on something they will need to leave behind in order to be more present to what God has in store for her or him on the trip. Over the coming weeks, look for their reflections here.