Finding God on Gannon’s Campus: Nathan Demarest’s L’Arche Alternative Break Service Trip

Gannon asked students about religous perspective and worldviews in a recent online survey.

Gannon asked students about religous perspective and worldviews in a recent online survey.

Hello there dear reader. As I am writing this column, it is sunny and 60 degrees outside. I’m so happy spring is pretty much here. For this week’s column, I will be talking about the experiences I had on my spring break.
I left Gannon with six other people (five students and a campus minister) on the morning of Friday, Feb. 26. Our destination: Ontario, Canada. This trip was part of the Alternative Break Service Trips (ABST) who Gannon offers every Spring Break. The people who participate in ABSTs go all over the world, which is a beautiful thing.
Anyways, I found myself on my way to Canada in a rental van with Anna Swick (the student leader of our trip,) Megan Davis, Kara Fisher, Jeb Chase, Zack Witt and Emily Muntean (the campus minster and van driver.)
We listened to Taylor Swift and some hardcore metal music on the way there and had no trouble crossing the border. Crossing the Peace Bridge into Canada was an awesome moment. It was my first time outside of the country since I was about 6 or 7 years old.
Pretty soon, we arrived in Hamilton and went to a Tim Horton’s (the Canadian coffee go-to), and then stopped at our first L’Arche home.
For those of you who do not know, L’Arche is an organization that supports adults with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities. They offer houses for people to live in, so they can be a part of a community that meets their needs, without the feeling of being stuck in an institution.
The people who live in the L’Arche homes are referred to as “core members.” These individuals are very special and close to my heart, because of how simply beautiful and joyful their souls are. I got to meet and develop a friendship with all of the core members — especially with Alice, Laurence, Michael and Charles.
Alice would show affection by using her index finger to gently stroke your nose, and Laurence was a spunky woman who just turned 73 while I was there. We had a great time celebrating her birthday. She got suspenders with shamrocks on them and cheetah-print glasses, which definitely matched her style.
Michael was always smiling, coming up with beautiful prayers or imitating WWE announcers. He was a joy to be around, and his prayers were so inspiring.
Last but not least, I got particularly attached to Charles. He was usually a pretty quiet guy who liked to shift glass “stones” through his fingers and put them into a box. When he did speak, it was usually to ask if he could do something “now” or “soon,” or if it was time for bed.
I got to spend a lot of time with Charles, and one day, a man named Paul come to play guitar for all of the core members, and he tried to get them to sing. I was sitting next to Charles, and I started using my hands to pat the rhythm on my knees. Before I knew it, Charles was doing the same thing.
Then Paul started to sing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” and he encouraged Charles to sing. I didn’t think he would, but Charles started to sing very softly. My heart jumped, and tears started to well up in my eyes – I was so overtaken. I give Paul a lot of credit for pulling Charles out of his shell so that he could express music like that.
There were so many great things that happened over the course of my trip, and I could talk about them for a long time, so if you see me walking around campus, don’t be afraid to ask me more about it. I also encourage you to participate in the ABSTs next year. They are amazing and powerful opportunities.
NATHAN DEMAREST
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