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Mission trips help students ‘outside the box’

Thinking outside the box. That over-used phrase calls for new thinking, new ideas, new approaches.

Students at several high schools were "outside the box" on recent mission trips and projects – some to other countries, others more or less down the street (see story on Page 7), seeing poverty and hunger firsthand and doing their part to make a difference.

But it wasn’t so much "thinking" outside the box, but experiencing and learning outside the box … perhaps for many, outside their comfort zones.

While those traveling outside the country experienced a new culture in terms of ethnicity, language, food and customs, all of the mission trip participants experienced another type of culture, possibly for the first time – the culture of the poor.

The students stepped outside the comfortable life of Middle America into worlds very different from their own. They helped build a home, paint a clinic, worked in homeless shelters, served at food pantries, and volunteered with a program for the intellectually disabled.

And they learned about Pope Francis’ never-ending call to reach out to the poor, to really live God’s love in this year of mercy.

They saw what it means not to have enough – or perhaps anything – to eat. They began to learn how they take the so-called basics of life – running water, a comfortable home – for granted. They experienced people not through tweets or posts or uploads, but in a very human way – person-to-person – and realized that real joy in life isn’t about the what but the who.

Our family was reminded of that lesson a couple of years ago at Christmas. One daughter made several dozen sugar cookies for the grandkids to decorate and then deliver to a local shelter. Designed to give the kids something to do, it was more about preserving the adults’ sanity.

With boxes of cookies and several grandkids (all 10 and younger) riding along, I joined one son for the delivery trip, and as we approached the shelter area, we spotted many individuals walking the streets.

We told the kids about how those people didn’t have a home, didn’t have enough to eat, didn’t have warm clothes. The more we talked, the more quiet it became in my son’s SUV. An occasional "why" broke the silence, as we continued driving around the area before making the delivery.

Then my son suggested that each of the grandkids take a good look at one homeless person and remember that person in prayer. Again it became very quiet, but you could see the wheels turning and the hearts loving as the grandkids looked around.

The prayers were for bedtime, but when we returned home, someone suggested delaying a gift exchange to allow time for group prayer. Each of the grandkids then shared prayers for their special homeless friend.

We didn’t build a house or dig a new well that night, but those had to be some very powerful prayers. And, as with the students on mission trips, it was a great learning experience outside the box for the kids … and for the adults.



With so many experts and insiders offering their take on Pope Francis’ document on family, the "Joy of Love," it’s good to hear others – including Archbishop George J. Lucas – refrain from some type of assessment and, instead, offer a suggestion for all of us.

Before judging, before jumping to conclusions about anything the pope wrote in that apostolic exhortation, the archbishop encourages each of us to take time to read the document.

Sound advice for each of us ... for anyone.


Deacon Randy Grosse is editor and general manager of the Catholic Voice. Contact him at

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