Boys and young men at Mary Mother of God Church in Harrison are learning outdoor skills, leadership and above all, values of the Catholic faith, thanks to the establishment of Trail Life USA Troop 14:1.
Trail Life USA is a national Christian-based scouting organization that focuses on a mission to “guide generations of courageous young men to honor God, lead with integrity, serve others, and experience outdoor adventure,” according to traillifeusa.com.
While there are 800 churches across the country that charter a troop and 12 troops in Arkansas, Troop 14:1, based on the Bible verse John 14:1, is the only Catholic-chartered troop in the state.
“We hope to present them with opportunities to grow and change and to become better men of faith,” said Wes Bradford, ministry liaison for the troop.
Divided by ages, Harrison’s troop has three boys in Boys on the Woodlands Trail (ages 5-10), four in Navigators (11-13) and one in Adventurers (14-18). Trail Life USA also has a young adult program, with one parishioner involved so far. There are eight adults involved in leadership roles, including pastor Father Jim Fanrak as the senior ministry leader. Chad Coffman is the troop master.
Wes’ son Matthew Bradford, 13, found the Bible verse that would soon guide their troop, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” (John 14:1)
“I just thought it was a really good one to just come upon,” Matthew said. “It’s good because we live in a stressful life and you need to know if God is on your side, he will comfort you and his son will be with you.”
The Trail Life troop was officially chartered Nov. 25. The parish’s Boy Scouts of America troop was dissolved in December.
“Because of some policies that had been adopted by the Boy Scouting organization, we feel there needs to be an alternative, a more faith-based program with more traditional values,” Bradford said.
At the weekly Monday meetings, which open and close with prayer, the boys learn leadership skills mixed with faith lessons to earn badges. They will also plan hiking and camping trips and community service projects.
Jimmy Luyet, who leads the Navigators and also teaches PRE, said the boys can easily draw on lessons they’ve learned in religious education and apply them to various troop projects.
“It’s all Catholic, so the boys can make the sign of the cross, I don’t think they had any fear before, but they’re so comfortable in it now. We get to interject (lessons about) the sacraments,” Luyet said, adding, “There are going to be times we spend out at that campfire in prayer and reading the Bible. That faith-based element is so important.”
The troop participated in a Veterans Day service with a flag ceremony, livestreamed from the parish, before it was an officially chartered troop. In its first public event, it won first place in the religion category for its float in the local “Stories of Christmas'' parade with the boys in the troop creating a live nativity scene with Boys on the Woodlands Trail troop leader Casey Humphreys as Mary.
Greg Jasper, who leads the Adventurers, said, “I can’t put a price on the time. Isaac is 12 right now. Before long he’s going to be a teenager. He’s going to want to do other things not necessarily with dad, so I’m cherishing every moment with him.”
Because of COVID-19 pandemic cancellations, Isaac said time with his friends was limited.
“I don’t get to see my church friends very often, and I just enjoy seeing them and being able to do stuff for the community,” he said of being part of Troop 41:1.
Jimmy’s son Samuel Luyet, 13, said a fun project has been “working on a foil oven. Just being a team and working on it together and solving problems on it.” Made out of cardboard and foil, the troop is drawing up plans, delegating who does what for it and building it.
“Just having fun and stuff and learning more about God and trying to be a part of a troop and praying,” Samuel said has been the best part.
Wes Bradford said they take pride in being the first Catholic troop, “but by no means do we want to be the only one.” He hopes their troop can one day plan activities with other Catholic troops in the state.
“We as believers are trying to incorporate the Catholic beliefs into Trail Life and that will reinforce everything we’re taught during our Church service and understanding the liturgy and how we’re supposed to be out there helping our neighbors,” Greg Jasper said.
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