Lakers Share Mission Trip Memories

May 30, 2021
Mission work is another thread woven into the history of Silver Lake as we remember it. I posted on the Silver Lake Conference Center Alumni group on Facebook looking for memories from folks who had taken part in CT Conference mission trips. I received a FLOOD of replies filled with fond memories. I want to thank everyone who responded. The song written by Tim Hughes and Bob Smith may sing about “The Road You Came In On,” but the ministry has always included an emphasis on mission that traveled back out that road. Building on the work of the Rev. Deane Hodges and the Rev. Ken Taylor and nurtured by Alden and Ruth Tyrol, mission-oriented connections outside the Lake developed over decades.

The first were trips for high school youth to sites in Puerto Rico like Ryder Memorial Children’s Hospital, established by the UCC in Humacao, and Deborah Home, an orphanage in Rio Piedras. There were also trips to St. Vincent’s Home for Handicapped Children, Port-au- Prince, Haiti, to Jamaica and more. They centered on outreach to those living in the poorest conditions. The connection to Deborah Home became the strongest and lasted from the 1960s to the 1990s. Several young men from Deborah Home served on summer staff in 1967 and in the 1970s. Among them was Alberto Lugo, who has kept involved with Silver Lake by bringing young men from his church in New York City to work at Action Weekend. In 1971, a youth group connected to the Episcopal Seminary in Carolina came to Silver Lake and shared in the construction of the Cedars.

A common theme in the memories was how life-changing they were. Nancy Jennings wrote: “I was lucky enough to visit Deborah Home in 1982 and Ryder Memorial Hospital in 1983. They were two totally different experiences that helped shape who I am today. At Deborah Home, we built chicken coups, sorted donated clothes, played Uno (which the Spanish-speaking kids called
ONE), and spent hours at a time playing with the kids on that amazing swing! My expectation of Deborah Home was of an orphanage filled with sad, depressed children. Wow, was I wrong! It was truly a place filled with love, positive outlooks, and amazing spirit. I find myself drifting back in time whenever I’m feeling down. Years later, a song or a memory will take me back to that Deborah Home playground and it immediately makes me feel better!”
A high school group from Connecticut visited the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico in 1986.

Rev. Jennifer Gingras wrote that her journey began in 1986, at the age of 16. “I participated in a trip to Puerto Rico. The group was large, and we were separated into smaller teams disbursed
throughout the island. Mine went to Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico. We worked in refreshing buildings and structures with a new coat of paint, but the real learning came when we heard accounts of what colonialism had wrought to the people who live there. Now, as an ordained clergyperson, I’ve co-lead adult mission trips to Oaxaca, Mexico, and South Dakota with Simply Smiles, and to H.O.M.E. in Orland, Maine. It has been a blessing to see the transformation that people go through when they learn about systemic poverty first-hand. Not as the ‘white saviors’ we may imagine ourselves to be, but as partners with children of God who deserve justice, compassion and to be heard.”

This article would not be complete without noting the Hammer & a Nail summer conference in Orland, ME. Since 1993, Rev. Susie and Brad Craig have lead a summer trip with young adults to support H.O.M.E. Inc.’s work with low-income and homeless families in rural Hancock County. Rev. Sue Latourette shared: “Brad and Susie opened our eyes to the reality that even in Maine, which many people think of as a vacation destination, there could be one of the poorest counties in the U.S. It was always a wonderful blend of learning about the local area, appreciating the sites Maine offers, working side by side with the people of H.O.M.E., and understanding the underlying problems that lead to poor nutrition and many other personal health issues.”

These reflections and others I collected but didn’t have room to share here prove that one thing is for certain: The “road we came in on” has had a lot of traffic in mission undertaken and lives changed!

By Rev. Karl Duetzmann, Alumni

Silver Lake Camp & Retreat Center

Silver Lake Camp & Retreat Center is a ministry of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ.
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