‘It was a great feeling ... to be the hands and feet of Jesus’
St. Dominic Parish youth spend week serving poor of Cairo, Ill.
Special to the Register
Editor’s Note: This article was provided by Joel McClure, a new seminarian for the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City.
In July, 18 high school students and five adults from St. Dominic Parish in Garden City traveled to Cairo, Illinois on a wonderful week-long journey together to serve the poor by living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“It was a significant experience and the people of Cairo stole our hearts,” said Lea Ann Scott, trip leader for the last 15 years. “We were able to share the love of Christ with others. It is a life-changing experience and an unforgettable journey for all.”
Cairo lies at the southernmost tip of Illinois where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers converge. This town, which was once a main river port, was – in its day - widely known to many Americans as a prominent commercial town with big-city attractions and a robust economy that would rival Las Vegas. But due to the decline of the river industry and escalating racial tensions in the 1960s, many jobs were lost and poverty became rampant in the city. Today the population numbers barely 3,000 people with an estimated median household income of just more than $21,000.
Lea Ann Scott has worked in Cairo three different summers and saw some progress in the community for the first time. New businesses and town clean-up was a welcomed surprise. The two-story hospital that sat empty for years is being torn down along with other dangerously crumbling buildings. “It was wonderful to see the community coming to life,” said Scott.
Participants met with some of the town leaders who are taking the initiative to rebuild Cairo. These leaders, among them a number of Christian pastors, shared that this time around Cairo would be built on faith and not on the worldly attractions that led to the growing populace during its time as a prominent port city.
The St. Dominic missionaries lived the week as a family with other missionary groups from Georgia and Minnesota. They were split up into three different work crews. Some of the youth spent the week doing extreme sports with the teenagers of the community. The other two groups scraped and painted houses and put on a Vacation Bible School for the children of Cairo. The youth also visited the residents of a nursing home, met with the city’s leadership, toured Cairo and learned about its history.
Their day consisted of morning devotion time, preparing the meals, cleaning the building, working in the community, evening activities and night prayer.
“It was a great feeling for us to serve the people here and to be the hands and feet of Jesus to them,” said Thomas Keller, youth missionary. “I’m glad to have met a lot of great people.”
Joel McClure, one of the adult leaders and a seminarian for the Diocese of Dodge City said, “I hope in some way we were able to bless the people of Cairo through our work and prayers. I certainly know that I was immensely blessed by those in the community and through the youth at St. Dominic.”
One of the best experiences of the week came on a Thursday afternoon. Because of the racial tensions in the 60s during desegregation, some men of the town filled the city’s swimming pool with cement one night because the city had ordered the pool desegregated.
Today, Cairo still does not have a swimming pool. Instead, the fire department built a large sprinkler that hooks up to the fire hydrants in town. Once a week during the summer, the fire department opens a water hydrant for the children of Cairo (and us) to take time to cool off and play in the water. This was one of the best experiences of the week because for that time, the children of Cairo had not a care in the world. Poverty and struggle gave way for a few brief moments to the songs of happy children.
This was St. Dominic’s 15th year of mission work and there are plans another trip next summer to work with the underprivileged somewhere in the United States. Please pray for the citizens of Cairo, Ill. as well as for the youth who attended the mission trip, that God would increasingly strengthen their faith and desire to live out the Gospel message of Christ to love and to serve.