Greetings from Team 16 in Naples Florida!

I have Two reactions writing this… Wow it’s ALREADY November? & Wow it’s ONLY November?

We’ve been in Naples a little over a month now. Team announcement night feels like yesterday and at the same time like ages ago!

We were mostly strangers to each other and now we call one another brothers and sisters! What can I say, time on NET is crazy! So little time has passed, yet we’ve grown so much as individuals and as a team that it seems much longer.

We along with the other parish teams left the NET center on September 16 to go to our parish. BUT due to hurricane Irma, we were not able to arrive in Naples on schedule.

We were “stuck” in Orlando for the meantime (a week) until people returned to their homes and Naples got their power back. A NET alumni’s family who lives in Orlando generously offered to host all of us. Though we were saddened about what was happening to Naples and our delayed arrival, we made the most of the time we had in Orlando to further our training and get to know one another with team building activities. Looking back now, I can see God’s hand in the timing of everything. We have become such a close knit team because we’ve had more of an opportunity to spend quality time together in the beginning and for that we are grateful and blessed. Not to mention the great blessing of getting to go to daily mass and having adoration at the Catholic Church near by our home in Orlando AND going to the “happiest place on earth”…Disney World! (6 out of 8 of our team members had never been) so we all got to share in that “first time” experience with one another. We call ourselves the team of many “firsts” simply because ever since we’ve been put on a team there has been many “this is the first time I’ve done this” amongst the group. One of our team members had never been on a plane before. One had never had Chick-fil-la. One had never seen the ocean. A few of us got to try ceviche for the first time (octopus, squid). One carved a pumpkin for the first time (yes, they carve pumpkins during fall in Florida even though it still looks like summer.) A few of us even ran into the governor of Florida on a whim at the mall on a no Ob (obligation) day! That’s just to name a few of our random first experiences. Also, NONE of us had ever been to Naples!

Fun fact: Naples has some beaches that have been voted in the top 10 beaches in the world before! Needless to say we’ve had a few team days on the beach.

We officially arrived in Naples, September 21st. Many places in Naples including our parish had just gotten power back on the date we came (Parishioners of the church talked about how ironic it was that the lights came on as soon as the Netters arrived on site, Good one Jesus!) many people were just arriving back to their homes from having to flee elsewhere during hurricane Irma. We weren’t sure what kind of state the parish would be in with us coming right after the storm, but we were pleasantly surprised to be welcomed with open arms!

The first few weeks were filled with just trying to help the parish in whatever way we could. We helped with donation drop off, because our church was one of the few collecting things for the more devastated places in the area; clothing, food, diapers, and water were brought to us and then we helped at a distribution center that was set up in a neighboring city of Immokalee.  Honestly, at times it felt like we were missionaries in a third world country as we drove through the streets we noticed the curbs full of damaged furniture and other home goods that the flooding had ruined. Besides that, limbs and branches of trees that had fallen over were lining the streets. Much of the city of Immokalee lives in poverty, even before Irma came through. At the distribution center we saw many women with young children coming to pick up cases of water, food, and clothing. We saw one young woman carry a case of water on her head while her arms were full of supplies for her family. Because of the poverty, many of these families do not have vehicles so they would walk a few blocks carrying all the supplies they needed, often with a young child in one arm as well. Though it was very sad and hard to see, the overall experience was a testament to the faith and generosity of the people we encountered. We were reminded to love without limits by witnessing those who had little, giving to those who had less. It was a beautiful thing to see the community come together in a time of tragedy in support of one another. At the distribution center our team was placed in charge of organizing a large room full of donated food. The task seemed very daunting at first because there were canned foods, snacks, drinks, toiletries displaced everywhere around the room. Not to mention there was hardly any space to even walk through the high piles of food. In just a few hours of hard work we basically had the whole room organized. At one point in the process there was a bunch of different food items flying through the air at the same time.We had gotten into a rhythm where we knew who was in charge of each food and we’d holler out their name to catch the package of whatever we had just come across in box we were sorting through at our feet. On that day in particular we were proud of ourselves and saw the great potential we had as a team to make a difference this year in Naples.

In the more recent weeks we have been able to have more of a constant schedule. We are a second year team here at St. John the Evangelist, and the building where last year’s NET team held their classes, activities (faith formation, confirmation, youth groups) and offices was badly affected from the hurricane and only just reopened. Our office before that was wherever we could find space! Outside the church, in the prayer garden, narthex of the church and in the hallway that connects the bathroom and the church. NET has this joke about how there is a silent F in NET for flexibility, but our team has decided that for us it’s not so silent, we are just calling it what it is… NEFT. We have grown as a team even in the simple fact of seeing the good in every situation because of our beginnings here. We have gotten to know the staff and parishioners at the parish pretty well. Not having an office workspace, we were just amongst everyone and those are conversations and relationships that we treasure.

Because of the building damage and it being closed we haven’t been able to start up any of our own ministry groups just yet, but as of right now we help with high school youth group and attend FCA (fellowship of Christian athletes) lunches at different  high schools throughout the week. We also attend different high school sporting events. We have recently started helping with middle school and high school faith formations and confirmation class along with a young adults bible study.

We’ve had to learn to Trust in the slow work of God.

After training we felt equipped and ready to save souls for Christ! But because of Irma our ministry had a very slow start and at times we felt we were losing that initial oomph and excitement and felt discouraged at times since there was simply some things we couldn’t do yet.  There’s a quote from a Jesuit philosopher that says “Trust in the slow work of God.” Saint Paul says in 1Corinthians 15: 37-38  “what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel of wheat… God gives it a body as he chooses.” In our ministry, we are asked to plant seeds, but we must remember God is the one who will make them sprout over time.

We do not know the end story of the youth we are ministering to, but we trust that God will make those seeds grow even when it seems fruitless, we must persevere whether we see results or not, for no work of mercy is ever in vain.

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