2005 Winter Retreat: Jordan's Account
The Orthodox 2005 Winter Youth Retreat
in Pharr, Texas
By Jordan Rovny
During the Orthodox 2005 winter youth retreat in Pharr, Texas, parents and teenagers from five families came together and grew in fellowship as they supported the Casa Amparo Orphanage, assisted in the St. George's Food Pantry, interacted at a beach in South Padre Island, and shared their talents at the talent show-all within the span of a week. Thanks to the Perdomos for hosting such wonderful events.
Monday night upon everyone's arrival at the church, Dr. Mark Cherry, an Orthodox Philosopher, who had kindly traveled from Austin treated us to the first of a series of three lectures on "Living an Orthodox life in an Un-Orthodox world." One of the main focus points was that a person should not only be good but more importantly holy. The next day three cars fully loaded with goods such as clothes, food, and toys, traveled to Reynosa, Mexico where the Casa Amparo Orphanage for girls is located. Over twenty of us started to unload the vehicles. From a bird's point of view we all looked like ants. Then the nuns gave us a tour of their home. We saw where the girls play, eat, and sleep. They also had an impressive thrift shop and a large chapel. After the wonderful meal prepared for us by the nuns, some of us tilled their garden dirt and the rest painted the children's swing set. Having exchanged goodbyes we returned to Pharr.
On Wednesday we all began preparations for the Saint George's Food Pantry which the Perdomo’s hold twice a month at the church. Many boxes, set up on tables, had food items such as cereal, canned goods, and frozen meat placed into them. There were also many blankets, coats, jackets and outfits of several sizes. Many people, ready to receive the goods, had been waiting outside for hours. One family at a time was let in and had a choice of one clothing item and one blanket from two tables, candy, an OCA Christmas stocking and one large box of the food. They then exited out through the back door to the parking lot with one of us behind them carrying the supplies to their cars. This continued for five hours until a record breaking seventy families were attended. Every time the Saint George's Food Pantry is held, more families come for help. After that all the helpers played a good game of soccer and held a vespers service.
Thursday was our day-long outing to the beach at South Padre Island. After our picnic, everyone enjoyed the beach by building sand castles, playing sand soccer, swimming, and just walking along the shore. Having washed up from the beach, we proceeded to the sand dunes at the end of the highway. The sand on the high, lofty hills was quite soft and the sunset was splendid. Friday morning everyone participated in a Spanish Divine Liturgy. We all had a fun time with that, including Father Perdomo. Especially considering the fact that it was only his second* Divine Liturgy in Spanish. It was the first time I had ever been a fan boy and a reader of the Epistle, all while acting as a server for the first time in a Spanish Liturgy! After that the time came for each group to present their talents at the talent show. Three girls played recorders, several played the piano, and a few sang songs. My family did a play on "Good King Wenceslas."
Overall, we had a very full, exciting week. Each day was blessed with a prayer service. I had never before helped at an Orphanage or read the Epistle during a Divine Liturgy. Besides all the new experience gained, I became better acquainted with other Orthodox youth and more enlightened in the ways of the Church.
* Note: Actually, Father forgot that he’s helped at a number of Divine Liturgies in Spanish in Mexico, plus one in Miami and at the orphanage affiliated with Project Mexico in Tijuana.
Jared Rovny’s Account
During the last week of December 2005, an Orthodox youth retreat was held in Pharr, TX, for the experience, unity, and edification of the youth and a blessing for the girls of the Casa Amparo orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico. Hosted by Father Antonio of St. George’s Orthodox Church and his family, this retreat maintained its focus on God, with every eventful day beginning and ending in prayer.
The wonderful Orthodox philosopher from Austin, Dr. Mark Cherry, was kind enough to treat everyone to a series of three lectures titled “Living an Orthodox Life in an Un-Orthodox World”. These lectures were very enlightening and presented many debated issues of today with the clear lens of Orthodox perspective. Among other things, he discussed abortion, euthanasia, and being unashamedly open with the Faith and Orthodox practices. Dr. Cherry’s buoyant atmosphere was missed when he left for Houston on Wednesday morning to visit family.
The first day of the retreat, Tuesday, started with gathering the donated supplies, jamming them into the vehicles and taking them to Casa Amparo girl’s orphanage. After a very warm welcome we unloaded the supplies and were given a tour. We were shown the beautiful grounds and buildings which had started from absolutely nothing- from complete scratch. The incredible efforts of the sisters and their enduring love for the girls has slowly but surely hammered away at the plot of ground, bringing forth a magnificent community. After being given a delicious lunch we got to take part in the beautification of the orphanage: some painted while others worked in the garden, every person joyful to help on any level. When we were near finished and Madre Natividad saw what had been accomplished, the look on her face and the joy she expressed (even if we couldn’t understand what she was saying in Spanish) gave everyone their energy back and more - we could have done it all over again. We then said our goodbyes and headed back across the border.
On Wednesday we all participated in the food pantry event, held by St. George’s twice a month. This time, each person/family came to receive various warm coats and clothes, blankets, OCA Christmas Stockings, candy, toys and many food items. Everything proceeded smoothly and we received many glad thanks from recipients, a record seventy families. With everyone helping we were never short on hands-it was another chance for us to practice our Spanish-speaking. Afterwards we all played soccer together in a field behind the Church. That night we attended Daily Vespers and practiced for a mostly Spanish Liturgy on Friday morning.
Thursday we spent at the beach. The water was chilly but the weather was great-especially for the middle of winter! We swam, built castles, played soccer, destroyed castles, and just strolled along the beach. For me at least, this period contained the most exciting and also the most peaceful times of the week. It was terrific for everyone. That night we had a Great Vespers in preparation for Divine Liturgy the next morning.
The Spanish Liturgy was a very new experience. The songs sounded wonderful in Spanish, and the choir got a taste for singing a service in a different language. Difficult, but we all enjoyed it. We then had picture time before breakfast and the departing of two of the families. That day was spent in preparation for the talent show that night, which included everything from a King Wenceslas play to a recorder trio, contortionists to song solos, and a grand piano finish. Afterwards the talented Angel taught everyone how to dance to salsa, which we thoroughly enjoyed for hours on end. Saturday morning we said our final goodbyes after breakfast and left for home.
I eagerly await the next gathering and am hopeful that the number of participants will grow. This PRO-ORB retreat was a great experience and something I wouldn’t have missed for the world. But until next time, everyone will be paying much closer attention to their Spanish teachers!
The week after Christmas, the Rovny family plus Christiana and Nick Anderson went on a youth retreat to Pharr, Texas. We stayed at Father Antonio and his family's home. We got there late Monday evening; just in time for Professor Mark Cherry's introduction to his talk, "Living an Orthodox Life in an Un-Orthodox World," a talk that was spread over the next three days. After the intro., we had a special blessing and evening prayers at the Perdomo’s home, and then went off to bed.
The next day we went over the border to the Casa Amparo Girl's Orphanage. Before we left, we had crammed our van full of donated clothing just for them. The orphanage was over the border, which happened to be only five miles away, in Reynosa. This was an adventure. For many of us, this was either the first time over the border, or at least the first time to drive across. In fact, on the Mexican side, one of the officers kept insisting that we could not bring the clothes over the border. Finally, Fr. Antonio, in exasperation, asked, "What are we supposed to do then?" The officer finally just let us through.
The orphanage lies in the center of a poor neighborhood, which is very sad to drive through. However, the grounds of the orphanage, run by a few Catholic Nuns, seem like a little piece of heaven inside the protective walls. Once we had unloaded all of the donations, we did a little bit of gardening in a patch reserved just for us. We were told to pick the "weeds", but somehow we confused the grass there as weeds. Oh well, we just redistributed it in little "plugs." I really wish I knew who coined that term, but I digress. After a grand tour of the grounds, it was time to head back to Pharr. This was another adventure. Getting out of Mexico is easy, just pay two dollars and you’re out. Getting into America, now that is interesting. It is easy to imagine the seriousness that the border police take about terrorism. Therefore, the number one rule about crossing the border is; "NO JOKES!!!" They WILL take you seriously and literally tear your car apart no questions asked. You feel rather relieved after the guard has cleared you. It feels so good to be back in the States!
The next day was the twice-a-month St. George's Food Bank day, where poor families can get the essentials of life at the most reasonable price available--free. Once again I wish I had more language experience under my belt, but, alas, I am only in my first year of Spanish class, so I only knew about three applicable phrases--not many when somebody is trying to explain that they want something. I believe we served about seventy families that day, some with well over three kids. Even if you can't speak the same language, it feels good to help someone.
Thursday we went to South Padre Island, to swim at the beach. Swimming in late December?!? This was unheard of near Fort Worth. Anyway, we had a fun time despite the frigid water. Yes, the water was cold, which is why most people played soccer or made sand castles. After a walk around the dunes, with everyone getting a small dune in their shoes, we went back to the house to practice for one of the oddest things tomorrow, a Spanish Divine Liturgy. Luckily, the choir director, besides being an excellent tenor, speaks at least four languages, including native Spanish. The Litanies are quite easy to master, since all you have to sing is, "Señor ten piedad." On the other hand, the Cherubic Hymn was extremely difficult, at least if you don't know the tune. Knowing the tune and Spanish pronunciation elevates it to just being "challenging."
The day of the Liturgy en español was destined to be fun. This was the day of our first Divine Liturgy in anything other than English or Greek and the day of the Talent Show. Early in the morning was the Liturgy, right before some people, unfortunately, had to leave to return home. The Spanish Liturgy was surprisingly easy to follow, due to the similar tunes and brief English sections of un-translatable material. After Church, we then went to the house and had a break before the beginning of the Talent Show. The seven of us acted out the song "Good King Wenceslas.” The musical skit starred Jared, our King; me, the Page; Jordan, our Narrator; and Jeremy, Rachel and Christiana, our Choir. Nick demonstrated his, ahem, physical flexibility. Ana, Cristina, and Joanna played a trio of some sixteenth century music on their recorders. Angel demonstrated his remarkable piano-playing skills. Christiana sang "Sweet Baby James." Nathan sang "A Whale of a Tale" from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Cristina performed a Lord of the Rings song and piano duet with Joanna. What an end to a terrific week, for that was the last whole day we would spend in Pharr on that retreat. The next day, we would commence on the ten-hour drive back to Arlington to drop off the Andersons, and finally back home near Ft. Worth. Coincidentally, we got in the house fourteen seconds before the New York City Ball Drop on New Years Eve.
¡Gloria a Dios por todo!
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