Geaux Life, March 2016

To Give is to Receive

Visit to Navajo Reservation Enlightens CHS Students

by Lisa Tramontana

The CHS guys at Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo NationFor the young men of Catholic High School who have participated in the annual mission trip to Klagetoh, Arizona, the memories are positive and powerful. But one experience stands out. It is a powerful Native American ceremony designed to cleanse and purify both mind and body, and it is the culmination of the missionaries’ week on a Navajo reservation.

The sweat lodge ceremony is central to the spiritual life and culture of many Native American tribes. Participants are seated shoulder to shoulder in a small igloo-shaped structure that is airtight and pitch black. Heated rocks are brought into a pit in the center of the lodge and water is poured over them, creating a hot steam bath effect. Conducted by a Navajo spiritual leader, the ceremony is a physical form of prayer that includes discussions about spiritual beliefs, struggles and life goals.

“It makes an unforgettable impression on our students,” said Scott Losavio, CHS campus minister. “It’s the perfect way to end an amazing week.”

Junior Jake Schexnaildre gives a piggyback ride to a very happy Bible schoolerSt. Anne Mission in Klagetoh was established in 1927 by the Franciscan Friars to serve several communities on the Navajo Reservation. In the early 1990s, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and the Dominican Sisters became involved, sending mission groups throughout the year to provide sacramental ministry and to promote spiritual growth and development. The mission features a food bank, AA counseling, a youth program and other services designed to uplift and empower a population that struggles with poverty, poor education and alcohol abuse.

At Catholic High, eight students are selected each year to participate (along with six students from St. Joseph Academy). “It is a bit selective,” said Losavio, “because we can only take a very small group.”

Orientation begins on the day the group arrives, with a special Mass, followed by a hike through a national park. A focus on nature, a key component of Native American beliefs, is an important part of the mission trip experience, Losavio said. The week also includes a visit to Gallup, New Mexico, known as the Native American capital of the world.

CHS religion teacher Scott Manning has chaperoned the trip for nine years. “Our students help lead activities during a weeklong vacation Bible school,” he said. “This includes songs, Scripture lessons, arts and crafts, and outdoor games.” (And over the years, the local children have come to expect non-stop piggy back rides from their Catholic High visitors.)

Senior Ethan Treigle with one of the youth from the missionForty to 50 children of all ages participate in the Bible school, some who live in a housing development near the mission, others who live on family property surrounding the area. Evenings are spent with elderly residents, playing bingo, sharing meals, or just talking and visiting.

“We don’t go there to teach Catholic doctrine,” Manning said. “We talk to the kids on a fundamental level about God. We want them to know that God loves them and that they are special. We want them to come away from the experience knowing that someone truly cares about them, accepts them, and wants the best for their lives and their futures.”

Manning says Klagetoh is a special experience for him because he has personally witnessed some of the Navajo children growing up. “I’ve had the opportunity to see some of them go from 5 years old to 14,” he said. “It’s rewarding that they come up to me and remember me from past years. We’ve made a real connection.”

Junior Taylor Empson helps out with arts and craftsThe effect on Catholic High’s young missionaries is remarkable as well. “For a short time,” Manning said, “they give up the comforts of their lives at home in Baton Rouge, and they gain a better understanding of what it means to answer the call to serve and what it means to be a faithful Christian.”

The students agree. “It allowed me to connect with a group of amazing people from Catholic High and St. Joseph’s, and it showed me how little things are sometimes the most important (like piggyback rides),” said junior Caleb Dugas. “The daily interactions with the kids on the reservation has stayed with me. Just spending time playing with them was a blessing. With the beautiful scenery, daily activities, and my experience in the sweat lodge, I was able to see the world in a different, peaceful way.”

Senior Breton Green talked about the interpersonal connections. “The kids got used to us very easily and vice versa. They treated us like family. They appreciated us. The trip has forever changed me because I now realize how important it is to ‘be present’ for others and I see how much it means to people when you show you care.”

The entire mission group with some of the youth on the last day of Bible schoolJake Schexnaildre, a junior, says he has changed as well. “Playing with kids who were raised in a different culture and lifestyle gave me a new appreciation for the life I have had. The children’s innocence and constant joy inspired me to look at life with a different outlook. Every child’s innocence and joy can be found if they receive the attention they deserve.”

For information on the annual mission trip to Klagetoh, Arizona, contact Manning at smanning@catholichigh.org.

February 2016, Geaux Life

Christ in China

by Lisa Tramontana

(Editor’s note: Because it remains dangerous to do mission work in China, Jack Palmer is a pseudonym for the subject of this article. The name of his city is also intentionally not revealed.)

Although he was barely an adult, Jack Palmer knew that he wanted to be “a light in a dark world.”

In 2001, he was invited by missionary Roy Robertson to take a three-week trip to China to share the gospel with university students. The trip changed Palmer’s life, fueling a passion in his heart that has grown with each passing year.

chinachildren-2Palmer explains his deep devotion to God by recalling how God’s word transformed the lives of the young students he met. Although they had been raised with an atheistic world view, they were open to the message of the Bible. “We are created to be with God,” Palmer said. “Even in a place like China, people still have that yearning to know why they exist and to find true contentment. Even if they are silenced, their hunger for the truth doesn’t go away. As we shared the gospel, we could see that the spirit of God was working mightily to open people’s eyes and hearts. They were like fish jumping into a boat. They wanted to be saved.”

After his mission trip, Palmer came home to Baton Rouge to serve at The Chapel on the Campus and attend seminary. In partnership with The Chapel, he began sending summer teams to China and formulated a plan for a ministry there. In 2007, he got married, and two years later, moved to China with his wife Lucy. Their work has been a struggle at times, but always a joyful one.

China has the largest non-Christian population in the world with about 456 “unreached” groups, which means that less than 2 percent of these populations trust Christ. With about 1.4 billion people (nearly a fifth of the world’s population), China is clearly a country ripe for evangelization. Even so, government restrictions on evangelistic work, coupled with the deeply ingrained shame and honor mindset of the people, have proven to be an obstacle to church growth. However, restrictions have eased somewhat and today, Christianity is believed to be growing at about 3 percent each year.

Jack and Lucy had their work cut out for them when they moved to China in 2009 and officially established their organization, CIC and the Redeemer Network. Their ministry is based in a city with a population of more than 20 million people, and CIC seeks to plant gospel-centered churches that focus on bringing spiritual, social, and cultural renewal. This has grown into a thriving work among university students and workers in the city.

chinayouth-2Orphans and the homeless are two groups CIC helps, Palmer said. “Many of the children have medical issues from autism to Down Syndrome to cleft palates. We help care for the children on the weekends and sometimes foster them while they wait to be adopted. We also help arrange surgery for those who need it.”

Their densely populated city has a great number of homeless individuals, many with mental health conditions, Palmer said. “We physically help them by providing food, clothing, and counseling, but most important, we can offer them the hope of the gospel.”

CIC also partners with a ministry aimed at women who have been trafficked for the sex trade. After identifying those who want to return to their homes and families, CIC helps them, first by paying any government fines they might have, then by providing transportation back to their home countries and offering counseling services.

The life of a missionary is not an easy one. It requires great sacrifices and deep commitment. What is Palmer’s motivation?

“Everyone wants to be happy,” he said, “and we seek that ideal through different pursuits — career, relationships, power, money, love, and approval. At one point in my life, I was doing the same thing. Like everyone else, I wanted that feeling of being important and valued.

“But those things often take us away from God as they become the most important pursuits in our lives,” he said. “And they leave us unsatisfied. At some point, God’s grace opened my eyes and I understood that the very things that keep us from God are the things we eventually find in Him.” (1 Corinthians 1:24). He is the one reality, the only way to fill the desires in our hearts.”

chinabaptism-2The Palmers can be proud of their accomplishments in China. To date, they have witnessed hundreds of new followers of Christ. They have partnered with others to help start more than 50 new churches. And they have sent more than 250 laborers to 35 of the most unreached areas in China to engage those communities.

CIC welcomes those who want to join the ministry. “We can use counselors, teachers, doctors … anyone with special gifts,” he said. He lists three specific ways to help:

“Pray for the redemptive hope of the gospel to reach all people and for the churches to multiply. Come to China and serve short-term or long-term as a laborer for Christ. Or give to the ministry since all funding is through individual donations.”

For more information about CIC and Redeemer Network, call (225) 387-4416 or send an email to info@ciclsu.com.

December 2015, Geaux Life

Carlton and Sharon Jones … Instruments of God’s Love

by Lisa Tramontana

DSCN5374This is a story about music — how it shaped the life of Carlton Jones and by extension, the life of his wife Sharon, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.

From the age of 10 when someone put a guitar in Carlton’s hands for the very first time, music found a special place in his heart, especially for the praise and glory of God. Today, more than 50 years later, he is putting guitars into the hands of Christian musicians in Moldova, Vietnam, Honduras, Romania, China, and dozens of other countries.

The idea came to him 30 years ago when a group of Mexican children visited Carlton and Sharon’s church, Community Bible Church in Baton Rouge. “They sang for our congregation,” Carlton said, “and the boy who was playing the guitar was extremely talented, but his guitar was in terrible shape. It broke my heart. I could only imagine what a difference it would make if he had an instrument that was worthy of his talent.”

At the time, Carlton was well known for his musical ability and had his own guitar collection. He and Sharon gave away one of their guitars to the talented young boy from Mexico, and a ministry was born.

Soon, Carlton and Sharon founded Guitar Dreamers, and later, Guitar Ministries with the goal of donating high quality guitars to needy churches, missions, prisons and orphanages throughout the world. A company based in Nashville (Music Instruments Reclamation Corp.) became one of their most valuable partners, providing them with newly manufactured guitars that had small blemishes or flaws that reduced their price from $1,000 each to about $300. The Joneses started buying as many as they could afford. They also repaired donated guitars and auctioned off others.

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In total, Guitar Ministries has donated about 1,000 guitars, said Sharon. “It’s not just a blessing to the churches and the worship leaders who receive our guitars, but it’s been a blessing to us … just knowing how much happiness we are bringing to others,” she said.

During his travels, Carlton has seen musicians playing guitars that were literally falling to pieces, split apart and duct-taped together, instruments with strings that hadn’t been changed in years. “And some of those guitars were shared between two churches,” he said.

Over the years, Carlton and Sharon have made several overseas visits to personally deliver their guitars. They often visited churches to conduct guitar repair workshops or to lead music conferences, bringing several brand new guitars with them. When it was time to go, they would leave the new guitars behind with the church members, a surprise gift that always brought tears, smiles, laughter and hugs to everyone involved.

Churches that want to receive a guitar must fill out a special form online stating their situation and demonstrating their need. Carlton and Sharon carefully consider each request, confirming with the appropriate agencies that the need is real. Experience has proven that it’s risky to just send a guitar directly to a church in another country, so most are sent personally with friends, relatives or representatives of either Guitar Ministries or the church receiving the guitar. Every gift also includes a case, strings, capos, cables, picks and straps.

guitar.puertoricoGuitar Ministries has attracted the support of other musicians as well. The Joneses have an extensive network of musician friends, including world-renowned guitarists like Tommy Emmanuel, Phil Keagy and Doyle Dykes, all of whom have performed fundraising concerts for the ministry. When Emmanuel first learned about their work, he sent a note to Carlton, saying, “You are changing the world — one guitar at a time.”

Sitting in his home studio, Carlton picks up a guitar and plays a few chords. The walls are covered with photos of famous and talented guitarists he has known, each picture with a story of its own. But in between anecdotes about Chet Atkins or Earl Klugh, he comes across simple photos that impress him on a deeper level.

He points to a picture of children singing in Haiti. In another is a choir performing in Mexico. And always … someone playing a guitar, guiding the music, spreading the Gospel … and yes … changing the world.

For more information about Guitar Ministries, contact Carlton or Sharon Jones. You can visit their website at www.guitarministries.com, or call (225) 936-0349. The couple also has written original contemporary Christian songs together.

Geaux Life, October 2015

Children’s Cup: Saving the ‘Forgotten Children’

by Lisa Tramantona

It happened in Zimbabwe, Africa in 2002.

A group of boys playing outside heard the sad and frightened cries of a small child. Running to investigate, they came across a crude outhouse and found a 3-year-old named Tinotenda struggling in a pile of human waste. His mother had thrown him there to die.

childrenscup2-2Tinotenda was a “throwaway” kid, a victim of the hopelessness and poverty so pervasive in many Third World countries. Fortunately for Tinotenda, he was pulled from the pit and taken to a nearby orphanage run by the Children’s Cup organization. Children’s Cup provides clean water, food and medical care to thousands of orphaned and vulnerable children in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Honduras, Mexico and Swaziland.

The organization was founded by Dave and Jean Ohlerking in 1992 with the purpose of helping and healing the world’s forgotten children. Today, Children’s Cup is run by Ben and Susan Rodgers, the Ohlerkings’ daughter and son-in-law, who live in Prairieville.

Ben and Susan lived in Africa from 2001 to 2011, first in Zimbabwe and then in Swaziland, and raised their three children there. Choosing to live a life of service and sacrifice was not a hardship or a difficult decision, they say.

“God asked us to do this, and we said yes,” said Susan, the organization’s missionary coordinator. “It’s that simple. We are available and fully obedient to Him — whatever He asks, no matter where He leads. We are still in awe of how powerful our simple ‘yes’ has been in affecting so many lives around us and all around the world.”

Ben, who serves as executive director, says Children’s Cup is not only providing the basic necessities for children, but is transforming them to become leaders and “world changers.”

rodgersfamily-2“About 10 years after we saved Tinotenda,” Ben said, “I ran into him at one of our orphanages (called Carepoints). “He was almost a teenager by then — a handsome young man — and after talking for a while, I asked him what he wanted to do with his life when he grew up. He said, ‘I want to be a pastor like you — so I can help other children like me.’”

That help that Tinotenda mentions is more than food and water. Children’s Cup also helps children receive medical care, education and yes … the Word of God. Children’s Cup promotes discipleship by establishing Bible studies for children at the organization’s Carepoints. It’s here that they learn God has a plan for them and hope is able to take root in their lives.

As Ben says, “The biggest problem isn’t disease or poverty. It’s the lack of hope. And hope has a name … Jesus.” Ben makes several trips each year overseas, with teams of volunteers and missionaries committed to the cause.

“I tell them, ‘Your life will never be the same after you go on a trip with our group,’” said Ben. “When we share our stories and our experiences, they have a better understanding. There are children in this world who go through things we can’t even imagine … it’s such a blessing to be able to help them, to bring love and meaning into their lives.”

Over the years, the charity has provided more than 4 million meals to orphans, built 41 churches, and found sponsors for more than 1,125 children.* Even so, Ben and Susan’s work is never done. At every opportunity, they share their message and encourage others to consider working with Children’s Cup. They also provide education and training for those who want to become more involved.

childrenscup3-2Not everyone can serve as a missionary overseas, but there are other ways to make a difference, such as raising money for the organization or making a one-time donation.

Christmas at Carepoint is one example. Children’s Cup hosts a festive party for the children during the holidays, complete with games, dancing, a delicious meal, a special gift, and a dramatic performance of The Story of Jesus. For just a $10 donation, you can send one child to the Christmas at Carepoint event.

You can also sponsor a child (long-term) though Children’s Cup. Just a little more than a dollar a day helps provide children with food, medical care and the opportunity to receive an education.

If your group/church/family is interested, send an email to info@childrenscup.org for details, or call (225) 673-4505.

“I believe what we are doing is the highest calling there is,” said Ben. “God is able to do infinitely more than we could dream of when we are simply willing to listen for his voice and say yes.”

(*Children’s Cup: A Guide to Changing the World)

Geaux Life, September 2015

Bringing Hope and Healing to Africa

by Lisa Tramontana

pyles3After a three-week visit to their hometown of Baton Rouge this summer, Scott and Lee Pyles were ready to return home … to Africa.

Africa has claimed their affections for more than 20 years, ever since they answered a spiritual calling that tugged at their hearts from 7000 miles away. As administrators of L’hopital de Meskine in Cameroon, Scott and Lee have helped to provide spiritual and physical healing to thousands of patients since the hospital opened its doors in 1994.

As a young couple with two small sons in the early ’90s, Scott and Lee had participated in several outreach programs through Baton Rouge’s Chapel on the Campus, but they thirsted for something more meaningful. When Medical Centers of West Africa was founded as a medical mission in sub-Saharan Africa, the couple could see their future taking shape.

“It was not an easy decision,” said Lee, who realized that the couple’s plans would affect their children’s futures as well. “We were very young, but we both felt strongly in our hearts that we wanted our lives to count for something,” she said. “We wanted to help the ‘unreached’ find Jesus. After a lot of praying, a peace came over us and we knew … we just knew.”

Cameroon is a French-speaking country that borders Chad and Nigeria in northwest Africa. It is populated mostly by Muslims, and the area is marked by extreme poverty and lack of education. The hospital was built in the village of Meskine and that is where the couple settled. Their sons Michael and Charlie were joined by a sister, Jessica, a few years after their arrival. “We always told our children … ‘you don’t get to have an ordinary life,'” said Lee. “You get to have an extraordinary life.”

pyles1As for medical care, L’hopital de Meskine was a light in the darkness, and people traveled long distances to receive treatment at the 120-bed facility. Today, an average of 200 patients per day visit the hospital, where physicians and nurses do surgical procedures, treat infectious diseases, deliver babies, and provide pediatric care. Prosthetics are also a big part of the hospital’s practice. The hospital has two operating suites and an outpatient clinic. Other services include pharmacy, laboratory, physical therapy and radiology. The medical team is always changing due to volunteers from all over the world who donate from two weeks to two years of their time as medical missionaries.

Medical services are available to patients regardless of their ability to pay. According to Scott, a “poor fund” helps those who are destitute, but in most cases, families will get together to pool their resources in order to pay their bills. “If it means selling a goat,” that’s what they’ll do,” said Scott.

pyles2MCWA’s medical ministry is just one side of the coin. The bedside ministry is the other. “We never force our beliefs on patients,” said Lee, “because we know there is some danger of persecution in this part of the world. But we do pray with them and share our faith. Some people are not interested, and we respect that, but others are drawn to what we have to say and want to embrace God.”

“There is so much hopelessness in this part of the world,” said Scott. “We’re teaching people how to rise above their hopelessness and find a new way of life that will continue long after we are gone. We have seen a lot of doors open for ourselves and for others. We see that the Word of God is a powerful thing.”

If any one thing has threatened their mission, it is the political landscape. Their corner of the world changed abruptly in 2014 when terrorist attacks and kidnappings became frequent. When the violence came within 10 miles of the hospital, Scott and Lee knew it was time to leave.

“We didn’t want our presence (as Westerners) to put the hospital or its patients in harm’s way,” said Scott. “And now we are certain that this, too, was part of the plan. The safest place to be is at the center of God’s will.”

Their departure has had a silver lining, as the Cameroonian employees have had to operate the hospital on their own in the past year. That, too, has always been part of the plan. Volunteers train the locals to take over their jobs once they leave so that the hospital can eventually stand on its own. That includes nurses, therapists, technicians, builders and administrators. It’s hoped that the hospital will be self-sufficient within five years.

When that happens, Scott and Lee’s work in Africa may be done. “We’ll know it when the time comes,” said Scott. “In the meantime, we’ll continue to be grateful for the opportunity we’ve had to make such a difference in the lives of the people here.”

MCWA offers many opportunities for those looking for a way to serve God. If you feel a calling within your heart, contact MCWA, which is headquartered at 9611 Siegen Lane in Baton Rouge. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call (225) 343-1814, or visit mcwestafrica.com.

August 2015, Geaux Life

Building the Kingdom of God

St. Aloysius parishioners find spiritual fulfillment in Nicaragua

by Lisa Tramantona

nic4Jonathan Duhon recalls the moment the pieces of the puzzle came together in his mind and in his heart. It was during a mission trip to Managua, Nicaragua, and he was listening to the testimonies of a group of young people who talked about their struggles with drugs, gangs, violence and abuse. Before he left Baton Rouge, people had asked Jonathan what he would be doing on the trip. “Will you be building houses for the poor?” many of them asked.

And as he listened to the stories of his Nicaraguan hosts, the purpose of the trip became clear. “We’re not building houses,” he thought. “We’re building the kingdom of God.”

Duhon, 23, is one of 11 St. Aloysius Catholic Church parishioners who made the trip in May. The trip, which is made twice a year, is a partnership between St. Aloysius and an organization called Cantera, which was founded in 1988 by Annabel Torres, a Sister of St. Agnes in Nicaragua. The organization promotes personal and community reflection that leads people to discover solutions to their own problems, taking concrete steps to transform their realities whether their challenges are economical, social or personal.

As for mission work, Cantera urges visitors to focus their efforts on “being” rather than “doing.” As organizer Alvin Raetzsch says, “We were there to listen to their stories, offer support and encouragement, and build relationships.”

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the world, and is haunted by war, gang violence, gender inequality and sexual abuse. Cantera has built youth centers that offer young people a safe place to reflect on their own experiences, realize their value, join the fight for human rights, complete their education, and build new futures. Through discussion and artistic expression, participants learn to identify what is broken in their lives, set goals, forgive others and move forward.

Two years ago, Amy Pizzolato was reflecting on her own life and realized that she was not spiritually fulfilled. “I was doing a lot of praying,” she said. “I was looking for deeper meaning … as a mother, as a Catholic, as a Christian, as a role model … and one day I saw a flyer for the Nicaragua trip. I didn’t have much time to think about it. By the time I inquired about it, there were only two days left to sign up. But I went ahead and took a leap of faith … and it changed my life.”

nic2During that first trip, Raetzsch saw how the experience was affecting Amy, and he asked her to be his co-chair on future trips. “It was a huge commitment,” she said. “It meant making the trip twice a year. My family was surprised but they were also supportive. And now that this is part of my life, I am always excited to share what I’ve learned with others. It has changed me as a person and taught me how to grow in my faith. It has affected my children deeply so that they want to visit Nicaragua someday when they are older.”

During their stay in May, the St. Aloysius group visited three youth centers and met with young people whose lives had once centered on broken homes, abandonment, poverty and abuse. But through their participation in Cantera’s programs, their stories ended with big dreams, small steps forward and hope for their futures. The St. Aloysius group cooked and shared meals with their young Nicaraguan friends, and with the help of a translator, shared stories about their own families in the U.S., their own personal struggles and their desire to be stronger Christians.

“It was all about making connections with our brothers and sisters,” Raetzsch said. “It puts things in perspective.”

nic3Cantera also responds to the rural communities surrounding Managua, helping families that need food, water and other basic necessities. On one of their last nights in Managua, the St. Aloysius group spent the night in a rural village where local families had been invited to meet them. Raetzsch recalls feeling especially close to God that night.

“There was no electricity, no running water … just some lanterns for light and a large group of people sharing a meal and then talking, laughing and singing in the dark,” he said. “It made me feel a part of something bigger. And I realized that while we often feel sympathy for those who live in poverty, we miss the bigger picture … that they also live in the richness of faith. It’s something I was able to bring back to my family and friends … the need to look beyond our own little bubbles and appreciate the dignity of all our brothers and sisters … and the lessons they can teach us.”

Margarita Long, Cantera Development Coordinator, authored an article that was shared with St. Aloysius last month. In it, she wrote, “Our dream for the mission trips is that they provide a space where parishioners are able to experience a deep and transformative love that does not end when they leave Nicaragua … but one that continues to weave through their relationships at home and their interactions with the world.”

nic7Service is ultimately about relationships and Cantera’s philosophy redefines what “God’s work” can be. Obviously, we gain a sense of achievement when we do something concrete to help the poor and disadvantaged — whether it’s hammering nails or delivering medical care. But being present for others is just as fulfilling — sharing in their suffering, nurturing their dreams, connecting on a spiritual level — creates a global sense of community.

As Christians, we want to not only be touched by God’s grace, but be transformed by it. When we make the effort to build relationships with each other, to share laughter and tears, promises and prayers, we can change the world. More importantly, we can change ourselves — what is in our hearts and in our souls.

The Nicaragua mission trip takes place in November and May of each year. Organizers try to keep the groups small (between 8 and 10 travelers). If you are searching for a life-changing experience, contact Alvin Raetzsch at raetzsch@gmail.com, or Amy Pizzolato at amypizz@cox.net.