Moving in the Spirit: Mission to Heavener

Posted: 9/10/2006

By Kathy O'Brien Pastoral Associate
St. Jude Mission, Waldron Ark.

Confirmands from Waldron, Ark., missionNine confirmation candidates from Glenmary's mission in Waldron, Ark., along with one older teen and their adult sponsors, moved with the Spirit as they traveled 35 miles one way this summer through the Ouachita Mountains to the Glenmary mission in Heavener, Okla., to lead a summer Bible school for the children of the area.

The idea for the Heavener Bible school surfaced last summer when the youth group from Jesus Our Savior Church in Maryland helped staff a Bible school in Waldron and Heavener. But they had to cancel the event in Heavener because of lack of participation—only one family with three children came.

Prior to the arrival of a chicken processing plant a few years ago, Heavener was a dying frontier town. Now hundreds of workers, most of whom are Spanish-speaking Catholics, make up the town's population.

Glenmary, through a collaborative effort with the Diocese of Tulsa, helps provide a Catholic presence in the county (Catholic missionaries Billy and Maria Butts) as well as a sacramental minister (Glenmary Father Don Tranel).

Many of the Heavener residents haven't had much faith formation, let alone experienced a Bible school! So the Waldron youth knew they were in for a challenge. And with the Spirit's help, they were ready to tackle that challenge.

They went into the project trying to imitate the volunteers from Jesus Our Savior who had given so much to them through the Waldron Bible schools.

Using the Waldron summer Bible school as their guide, the confirmandi created an outline. But they created their own unique program centered on the message that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.

The group began collecting materials for the week-long event and pastor Glenmary Father Neil Pezzulo ordered T-shirts with the logo "Moving in the Spirit" on the front and the gifts of the Spirit listed on the back.

The Bible school kicked off with a Sunday evening Mass and an open invitation for all the children of the community to attend. Excitement grew as the Waldron youth shared pizza after Mass that night. But there was a bit of fear too-fear that kids would not come, fear about getting up and presenting the program they had planned.

When Monday evening arrived, only a few local children showed up at the scheduled time for the program to begin. But there was a group of young boys riding their bikes outside Sacred Heart Chapel's storefront.

They seemed curious about the red-shirted teens. They accepted the invitation to come in and were promised that if they didn't like it they could leave.

Then others began to arrive. In total 23 kids attended the first day. The "biker boys" stayed too. For the rest of the week, they were the first ones to arrive and the last ones to leave each day!

The confirmandi themselves, all Hispanic except for one, had not experienced, for various reasons, much faith formation in their early years. It was that fact that motivated them. One Waldron youth said she wanted the kids to have what she didn't have as a child.

By the end of the week, 44 kids had participated. Glenmary Father Don Tranel, the new sacramental minister for the Heavener parish, expressed admiration and appreciation for the kids and their witness. Billy and Maria Butts thanked the group for bringing the Bible school to life in Heavener.

By Friday there were tears that the week was over-tears from the teens and from the participants as well. The "biker boys" did not want to leave either.

Watching and being a part of this whole experience I felt that indeed mountains had moved. The Heavener kids now had models of faith to imitate.

One of these children, after the weeklong experience, asked about making First Communion. With music and dance the Waldron teens spread love and the power of the Spirit and planted the seeds of faith in the children in Heavener.

The seeds have been planted. The mountains have moved. The gospel and the mission of the kingdom of God continues to grow and spread in our day.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.