St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Columbia City starts its members on mission trips relatively young, as evidenced by Stephanie Hamilton, the parish youth minister.
“I’ve been a member of St. Paul’s since before I was born,” said Hamilton. “My first mission trip was when I was 3 years old. I also went on one when I was about 5, but then didn’t go until I was a senior in high school.”
Asked if she remembered her trips as a 3- and a 5-year-old, Hamilton laughed and admitted that what stood out most was the piggyback rides from the older girls, “and playing in the laundry basket while the high school ‘big kids’ wrote their devotionals in their journals. Oh, and there was a ton of food!”
“My dad says that I was a huge help, because we were out hiking once, and I said I didn’t want to go any further. I started crying and telling him I was scared. He looked ahead and saw a rattlesnake, which I had not even seen. That’s not what I was afraid of. I was scared of the thorns.”
The St. Paul of the Cross youth group has been providing service on its Kentucky mission trips for more than 25 years. The group used to perform work in the Lake Cumberland area, but now they go to Prestonsburg. This year’s trip took place July 21-28.
Hamilton’s parents, Mike and Tonia, are both longtime chaperones. This year Hamilton led the trip and her father chaperoned. Both parents help with youth groups at the parish.
Her mother was parish youth minister the year Hamilton was an assistant, and then they switched roles.
What changes has she seen in her missions as a 3-year-old to the present?
“Cellphones can be an advantage and a disadvantage,” said Hamilton. “They can take away from the retreat-type atmosphere, but they also make it easier to share our experiences with others. And we use a lot of the same tools, but cordless drills are super nice!”
Audrey and Ed Collins, mission trip coordinators, and the project leaders who are chaperones decide which projects they will tackle during their trip each year. That list usually isn’t finalized until they get to their destination.
The sojourns are a means of implementing Christian service while simultaneously offering an opportunity for the young missionaries to learn self-formation. All junior and senior high school students are encouraged to participate, and freshmen and sophomores can join in as well. This year, one participant from Blessed Sacrament Parish, Albion, also participated. “And this year is the first year that no girls signed up,” noted Hamilton. Five young men went this summer. There were two male chaperones and two female chaperones, one of whom stayed in the cabin to cook during the day.
The youth camp where the group stays has cabins for the kids to sleep in, with the boys getting one cabin and the girls another. Meals are in the girls’ cabin and devotionals are in the boys’ cabin.
Hamilton now has an 18-month-old daughter, Alexis, who went on the trip last year. This year, her dad was able to take the week off and stay home for some daddy-daughter time. “He considered coming with us, but instead he worked part-time from home since we had enough chaperones.”
The biggest challenge on the trip, said Hamilton, is maintaining the balance between enough work to keep everyone busy and not so much that their project can’t be finished.
“In my senior year of high school, we helped redo the living room for a lady whose house was so bad, the other mission group said they wouldn’t touch it,” said Hamilton. “She has been forever grateful and still asks to see us every year. I still have a purse she gave me from our first year there. Occasionally we’ll do another project for her, depending on what the other needs in the community are that year. Most of the ladies love sharing treats with the teens!”
Hamilton said she loves how uplifting and supportive everyone in her parish is about the mission trips and other youth events she plans. “If I have an idea, everyone pulls together to make it a reality,” she said. “For example, I decided three years ago that I wanted to take the teens to the Steubenville conference. The young adult group hosted a fundraiser for the trip and I continually had parishioners asking if anyone needed sponsorship or if I needed more chaperones.”
It was Hamilton’s mother who summed up her daughter’s giving nature: “Stephanie’s love for our Lord and passion for serving others are an inspiration to me. She is continually finding new and creative ways to bring God and His teachings to others of all ages.”
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.