by Jenny Masek
The REAP (Retreat Evangelization and Prayer) Team is a Catholic youth retreat ministry. It is a non-profit, tax-exempt outreach of the Youth Ministry Office of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. The REAP team is composed of adults and teenagers who are specially trained to minister The Gospel and God’s love to others, particularly young people. Recently, The Reap Team has entered the public sphere by performing their first ever entirely secular retreat at a public high school on the topic of abstinence. This essay will examine REAP’s history and development, and focus on its message of chastity and abstinence in both the private and the public sector. (Online, Personal Interview)
The team of seventy-seven volunteers and two full-time employees use comedy, skits, faith sharing, games, and music to present and open up discussion for youth regarding their faith in Jesus Christ. REAP tailors the subject manner of the retreat to the specific audience at hand, working closely with the sponsors and contacts of the representative school or organization. Some topics are inherently more religious in nature, such as God’s love, confirmation, chastity, obstacles to God’s love, ways to pray, the power of the Holy Spirit, Christian hope, and Catholic identity. Other topics also incorporate elements of faith, but are more focused on issues relating to the adolescent experience, such as abstinence, self-image, peer pressure, drug and alcohol resistance, respect for others, and emotional healing. All of the above topics may be used separately or in combination with each other. Retreats last from one hour to several days. Depending on the specific retreat and audience, there are anywhere from two to eight presenters. According to REAP’s web site,
“members of the REAP team are carefully screened to see that they possess the following qualities: a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, a love for teenagers, respect for the Catholic Church, regular participation in Sunday worship, a personal prayer life, freedom from serious sin, regular reading of the Scripture, and an openness to using the gifts of the Holy Spirit”. (Online)
A group who would like REAP to perform a retreat to suit their organization’s needs is asked to pay a small retreat fee as well as travel expenses if the event is more than one hour of travel time from Saint Louis. If a school or organization has a problem paying the minimal retreat fee for a REAP event, it may be arranged for a lower rate or even a free retreat. The REAP team never wants money to prevent them from ministering The Gospel to others. Also, scholarships are available from the Archdiocesan Developmental Appeal for groups who do not have sufficient funds. (Online)
The REAP Team is rooted in personal testimony. Paul Masek founded The REAP Team in 1989. After a struggle with drug abuse in the late 1970’s while in high school, in 1983 Paul made a deeper commitment to his Catholic faith while at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. During his college years, Paul became interested in youth ministry. After graduating from Benedictine with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1986, Paul started performing random youth group work. During the mid-1980’s, Paul worked at St. Joachim and Ann parish in St. Charles and in the Charismatic Renewal Office, an agency of the Saint Louis Archdiocese. (Personal Interview)
In the fall of 1988, the Charismatic Renewal Office sent Paul to a six-week training program on youth ministry with the National Evangelization Team (NET), a Catholic organization focused on youth ministry. NET is a national group of eighteen to twenty-seven year old who commit one year of their lives to serve Jesus Christ by traveling the country and giving retreats. Paul went to the NET training not to join the organization, but rather to get some insights on youth ministry. (Personal Interview)
After he went through the NET training program, Paul had a vision of a different kind of NET, a Saint Louis based version with a few differences. While NET participants would have to leave their work and families behind for a whole year, Paul wanted at Saint Louis organization where participants could hold down a job, school, or a family and simultaneously volunteer and minister the Gospel to youth in the bi-state area. Also, NET was confined to eighteen to twenty-seven year old members. Paul’s ideal organization would encompass volunteers from thirteen years old to retirement age. Thus, incorporating variations from NET, in 1989 Paul Masek officially created the Retreat, Evangelization, and Prayer Team (REAP). (Personal Interview)
Paul chose the name of his organization to be “REAP” for several reasons. In an interview on April 24, Paul said he “thought about it and prayed about it, and liked the biblical relevance of the word “reap”. (Personal Interview) Passages in the Old Testament and New Testament, including various verses in Leviticus, Deuteronomy 24:19, Exodus 23:16, Ecclesiastes 11:4, and Luke 9:21, make references towards “you reap what you sow”, “reaping” in general, and “harvesting”. And Job 4:8 reads, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” (Student Bible)
Through its twelve years of existence, The REAP Team has always operated as an agency of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. Originally, REAP was a part of the Charismatic Renewal Office where Paul first started working. Then, it was a program under the Religious Education Department of the Catholic Education Office, and is now a part of the Youth Ministry Office of the Saint Louis Archdiocese.(Personal Interview)
From 1989 until 1999, REAP was financed solely from retreat fees and private donations. In 2000, REAP received a grant from the Archdiocesan Development Appeal (now the Annual Catholic Apppeal) which accounts for twenty-percent of REAP’s budget. The remaining eighty-percent is funded by retreat fees and private donations. REAP is under the authority of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, and is held accountable to the director of the Youth Ministry Office within the archdiocese. However, REAP is given a lot of freedom because of its long history and standing in the Saint Louis Catholic community. (Personal Interview)
Since its founding in 1989, The REAP Team has grown significantly. It began with one person’s vision, the current coordinator, Paul Masek. Paul has led the REAP team through its growth and development. After over a decade of service to the Catholic and Christian community in Missouri and Illinois, REAP has ministered 1160 ministry events, reaching over 79,000 teens and adults with the Word of the Gospel. See Figure 1.1 in the appendix for REAP’s year-to-year growth the number of retreats given, REAP team members, and retreat participants.
As discussed previously, The REAP Team performs retreats on a variety of topics dealing with the Christian faith, teenage issues, and a combination of the two. Recently, a new focus of The REAP team has been promoting the message of chastity, abstinence, and a healthy lifestyle.
In 2000, Paul Masek, REAP’s coordinator, was playing golf with a friend who was wealthy and a generous contributor to REAP. His friend asked Paul if there was anything the REAP team needed, offering his assistance. Paul replied that his organization basically had everything it needed. His friend replied, “You don’t need anything?” Paul said “Only if I would dream big.” The friend told Paul to dream big. It was at this point that Paul told his friend about how he would like to have another full-time worker beside himself, who would focus specifically on the topic of chastity. Unfortunately though, The REAP Team didn’t have enough funds to pay for an additional full-time worker’s salary. After listening to Paul’s dreams and high hopes for his organization, the friend made Paul’s dreams a reality. The friend made a financial commitment to REAP, promising to pay the new full-time worker’s salary for four years. After the golf game, Paul knew who he wanted to work with him full-time: Heather Gallagher. (Personal Interview).
Paul didn’t even advertise the new full-time position because he knew Heather was a perfect match for the job. Heather Gallagher had been volunteering for the REAP team for over eight years. According to Paul, when Heather volunteered for REAP during high school and college, she was always “especially gifted in promoting the message of chastity”. Heather graduated from Butler University in Indiana with a degree in secondary education and taught high school social studies for one year before accepting Paul’s offer to work full-time. On July 1, 2000, Heather Gallagher officially became the first-ever “chastity director” for the Archdiocese of Saint Louis under The REAP Team. (Personal Interview)
Heather Gallagher’s primary role as an additional full-time employee of The REAP Team is to conduct and assist with retreats, but her special focus is in conveying the message of chastity. To Heather,
“Chastity is a precious virtue in which someone understands and respects themselves, their relationship with God, their relationship with other people, specifically those whom they date and whom they would marry, enough to value sex and keep it in the bonds of marriage.” (24 Year-Old)
Furthermore, in her presentations to area youths, she stresses that chastity is an applicable way to live for people of all lifestyles: single, married, and religious. The opportunity for “secondary virginity” and leading a life consistent with values of chastity is also presented for those retreat participants currently or previously involved in sexual activity out of wedlock. She also stresses that practicing chastity before marriage helps one prepare for faithfulness during marriage. She succinctly asks, “If you don’t start chastity now, why in the world do you think you’re going to have this all-of-a-sudden virtue happen?” When you have a wedding ring on your finger and walk down the aisle? Chastity allows youths and all others to train themselves to respect sexuality as a gift from God and as a commitment to their future spouse. Heather and fellow REAP presenters talk about the gift as sexuality as an inherently good thing when used at the right time, consistent with God’s vision of human sexuality. (Youths)
The position of “chastity director” and Heather’s unique role and contribution to The REAP Team and the Archdiocese of Saint Louis has received rave reviews. Two area youth ministers and educators, Wanda Kullman at Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne and Ree Gerdes at St. Blaise Parish in Maryland Heights, are excited about the position of “chastity director”. Both stressed the importance of teens hearing the truth about sexuality, and not being forced to read about it in a book. The REAP Team, using personal testimony, breaks down the barriers of the sensitive subject and opens up discussion on issues such as pregnancy, virginity, secondary virginity, sexually transmitted diseases, and chastity. Both Kullman and Gerdes agree that these issues need to be addressed. According to Ree Gerdes, “Promoting chastity helps youth to remain true to themselves and their Catholic morals and values”. (Message)
Heather’s work and role as chastity director has also gained the attention of the local media. KMOV Channel 4 in Saint Louis has run two cover stories on Heather’s work within the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. The first cover story originated by sheer accident. Don Johnson, a reporter for Channel 4, was looking to interview Saint Louis Area Catholic youths who participated in Missouri’s pro-life rally. He called the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, and they referred him to an overnight REAP retreat that was taking place, assuring him that there would certainly be youths at the retreat who participated in the pro-life rally earlier in the week. When the Channel 4 crew arrived on the set, they became intrigued by the message of chastity, and decided to have their cover story take a different focus than originally planned. They decided to report on area youths pledging to chastity and a healthy lifestyle. A few weeks later, they broadcast another cover story on Heather Gallagher’s role as chastity director, and the message The REAP Team and Archdiocese were conveying to area youths. (Personal Interview)
I will now focus on two chastity retreats as case studies. Both were given earlier this year by The REAP Team, one at a completely secular public school, Madison High School in Illinois, and the other at a semi-secular organization, St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health at DePaul Hospital.
A policeman with the Illinois State Police Department viewed one of the chastity cover stories on Channel 4. He called the news studio and requested REAP’s contact information, and called on Paul Masek, the REAP coordinator, for his assistance. The Illinois State Police Department was working in conjunction with Madison High School near East Saint Louis in Illinois in a Youth Council Program. The officer informed Paul that through this program, they were addressing the major social problem at Madison High School. Two student leaders chose this major problem to be teenage pregnancy and the subsequent high number of dropouts. The policeman thought The REAP Team’s message tailored to a secular setting would be an important part of the “educational week” scheduled to occur in early February. Paul and The REAP Team agreed, and spoke with the student leaders and school administration to prepare to adapt the retreat to the audience and secular environment. (Personal Interview, Agenda)
The two students, one of them a teenage mother, conveyed to The REAP Team that 100% of the predominantly African-American Madison High School students were sexually active. The student leaders wanted to provide information in order to help alleviate this serious social problem at their school. The principal of the school explicitly requested that The REAP Team keep “church and state” separate since they were speaking in a public school. (Personal Interview, Agenda)
Due to the secular nature of this event, REAP planned a retreat that would not be focused on chastity, God’s plan for human sexuality, but rather a message of abstinence and the benefits of living a “healthy lifestyle”. They focused on talking about waiting until marriage, and how doing so keeps one free from physical and emotional consequences. Like virtually all REAP events, this retreat was rooted in positive personal testimony. REAP leaders spoke about their own personal experiences with abstinence, secondary virginity, regrets, and building trust for the future. (Agenda)
Performed on February 8, 2001, the retreat at Madison High School, appropriately titled “Let’s Talk About Abstinence”, was REAP’s first completely secular event. As the principal reminded them, separation between church and state was vital to the success and legality of the presentation. Therefore, the message was on abstinence in contrast to chastity. Chastity was only mentioned in the context of one REAP member’s personal testimony. She was married, and abstinence in marriage is not within the context of a healthy lifestyle that REAP was trying to promote. However, in marriage, chastity and faithfulness is leading a healthy life. Also, one young man referred to his “higher power”. This is all the “religion” that was entered into the retreat, with one exception: during the abstinence retreat, the audience of one hundred and fifty students was under the best assembly behavior the school’s administration had ever seen, which Paul credits to prayers being answered, God’s will, and the intervention of The Holy Sprit. (Personal Interview, Agenda)
Another retreat talked about the message of chastity and living a healthy lifestyle, at St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Center at DePaul Hospital, which I had the opportunity to attend on April 11, 2001. The REAP team had provided a previous retreat for the facility one week prior to the one I attended.
St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Center is a residential care facility for teens age twelve to eighteen. The teens in the residential complex have been placed there for several reasons. Many of their backgrounds include some type of abuse, emotional, physical, and/or sexual. Also, these teens have been moved from numerous foster homes and orphanages with little success in school and criminal activity. St. Vincent’s is often a place of last resort before the teens are sent to a juvenile detention facility. Because of the teens’ lack of stability in their lives, many also have lack of self-worth or identity and often resort to sexual activity. Also, some have been diagnosed with clinical promiscuity, a disorder that is usually related to a history of sexual abuse. (Gallagher)
Before the two-part series of retreats by The REAP Team, chastity was something unheard of for most of the teens in the residential unit. Many have little or no faith in God. And while at St. Vincent’s, an agency of a Catholic hospital, the REAP team had permission to talk about God, they were told by administrators that it would not be the most effective way to change the teens outlook on sexuality. Rather, The REAP Team focused on the concept of a healthy lifestyle, for both the present and the future. (Gallagher)
I will now document The REAP Team’s course of action for their retreat for St. Vincent’s Behavioral Center in light of the background information above. The two-hour retreat was divided into two, one-hour mini-retreats, one for women of the facility and one for the men. The content matter was exactly the same for each group, except tailored to the female and male’s perspective on sexuality. (“Chastity Retreat”)
Three REAP team members presented this retreat, Paul Masek, Heather Gallagher, and Jen Sallwasser. Before the first group came in, REAP members set up the room and opened with a group prayer. Each session had an introduction, a skit on “freedom”, a talk on freedom by Paul, a talk on defending chastity by Heather, a question and answer session on defending chastity by the team, and practical tips for living chastity by Jen. (“Chastity Retreat”)
Each session began with an introduction. Jen, convincingly told the group that she had changed her mind on the whole idea of chastity and decided that she was free to do what she wanted and wasn’t going to listen to adults telling her what to do. From the audience, Paul and Heather told Jen to sit down but she continued to talk about how she could do whatever she wanted. (“Chastity Retreat”)
At this point, the skit on freedom began. Heather and Paul got up and told Jen that they could relate to what she was saying. Heather played the role of a drinker and shoplifter, persuading Jen to join her in getting drunk and stealing clothes. Paul played the part of a stoner and boy convincing Jen to get high and have sex with him. As Jen deliberated on what she should do, and gave into peer pressure, Heather and Paul tied a belt or scarf around Jen’s arms to symbolize she was bound by her choices. At the end of the skit, Jen was being pulled in four different directions to get drunk, steal, get high, and have sex. A dramatic conclusion entailed Jen completely out of control, pulling against all of her ropes, and falling on the ground exclaiming, “somebody help me be free!” (“Chastity Retreat”)
After the dramatic conclusion, Paul gave his talk on freedom. Relating back to the freedom skit, Paul emphasized that we were free to do what we want, but not free from the consequences. He asked the audience for a show or hands for those who believed Jesus was a wise man. Most raised their hands, and Paul referred to what Jesus said in John 8: 32-33, that “the truth will set you free”. He also emphasizing the very next verse, “but the sin will enslave you”. (“Chastity Retreat”)
As I previously mentioned, personal testimony is the foundation for REAP retreats. Paul continued his freedom talk by speaking on some of the actions and consequences people have endured regarding drug and alcohol abuse and sexual activity. He gave a story about himself, his friend Leroy, a REAP member Tim, a guy named Drew, and a girl, Erica. Paul talked about his own bout with drugs in high school. His friend Leroy died before his thirtieth birthday from a damaged liver due to alcoholism. Tim, a guy who was sexually active, who only had sex in committed relationships, contracted a sexually transmitted diseased, HPV. Currently, Tim thinks he has found the girl he wants to marry and spend the rest of his life with, except with him having HPV, there is a high chance his wife could develop cervical cancer and sterility. Drew, on his college break, had a few beers at a party. He was not legally intoxicated, but still drove his car into a tree. He came out of the accident fine, but the girl in the passenger seat was mangled and has had several reconstructive surgeries on her face. The other passenger in the backseat of the car died, and Drew distinctly remembers hearing her drown in her own blood. Drew was charged with vehicular manslaughter, and must spend holidays and days of family celebration in jail. Erica, after a rave party at the Adam’s Mark hotel in downtown Saint Louis, was high on ecstasy and knew she wasn’t fit to drive home after the party. Instead, she decided to go to the back seat of her car and sleep off the drug’s effect. But Erica never woke up. (“Chastity Retreat”)
After these very personal and very real examples, Paul concluded his talk on freedom by acknowledging that some would say each of the people he talked about were free. Paul challenged the group, “But were these people free? They are not free from the consequences. Is this free? Or is freedom healthy choices?” He continued by saying there is real freedom in life, and you don’t have to be a slave to your sins like Jen was in the drama or the personal examples he used. (“Chastity Retreat”)
After Paul talked on freedom, Heather defended the notion of chastity. She began with an analogy, “If someone said “gosh, I shot myself in the foot and it really hurt”, would you go and shoot your self in the foot or would you believe the person?” She told each group that they don’t have to experience everything that is bad, especially if other people tell them it hurts you. Heather talked about the consequences of sexual activity before marriage including the emotional, spiritual, and physical -sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. She stressed how chastity, on the other hand, forms a basis of respect between partners and is a healthy lifestyle. (“Chastity Retreat”)
At the end of Heather’s presentation, she held a question and answer section for each group. The girls asked a few questions about pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and abortion. The boys did not ask any questions. In general, the girls were much more attentive to the presentation than the boys group. Virtually all of the boys acted like they weren’t paying attention, but members of The REAP Team think most of them really were, only playing it “cool” around their peers. (“Chastity Retreat”)
Jen ended each presentation by talking about the top fifteen practical tips for living chastity. This document is included in the appendix as Figure 1.2. Other free handouts were available to each group, including: “101 Ways to Make Love Without Doin’ It”, “Secondary Virginity”, “Links to Chastity Related Web Sites”, “What They Haven’t Told Me…The Hidden Traps of Sex Outside of Marriage”, “Creative Dating 101 in Saint Louis, Missouri”, and “Abstinence vs. Chastity”. Many of these handouts and additional chastity resources are also available through The REAP Team’s web site. (“Chastity Retreat”)
I was surprised at how much the girls participated in the retreat at St. Vincent’s. They were attentive, asked good questions, and took many of the free handouts. The use of personal testimony was particularly compelling, and The REAP team gave an informative presentation with valid reasons why choosing a life of chastity is choosing a healthy lifestyle.
In the future, The REAP Team would like to perform retreats in more public schools because they firmly believe in the good message they are promoting. At this point they are not actively seeking more clients in the public or private sector though advertising because frankly, they are busy enough with what clients they already serve. However, The REAP Team will present anywhere they are invited, and are sure to expand in both the public and private sectors through the continuous support of their generous contributors, and if their growth continues at the rate is has for the past eleven years.
Gallagher, Heather. Agenda to St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Center Chastity Retreat Team. 4 April 2001.
Masek, Paul. Agenda to Madison High School Abstinence Retreat Team. 1 February 2001.
Masek, Paul. Personal Interview. 24 April 2001.
The REAP Team. “Chastity Retreat.” St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Center at DePaul Hospital. Saint Louis, Missouri. 11 April 2001.
The REAP Team. Online. Internet. 9 April 2001. Available FTP: reapteam.org.
Schildz, Jean M. “24 Year-Old Joins REAP Team as First Ever Chastity Educator.” The Saint Louis Review. 28 July 2000.
Schildz, Jean M. “Message of Chastity Helps Youth to Remain True to Faith.” The Saint Louis Review. 28 July 2000.
Schildz, Jean M. “Youths Choose Chastity, “A Lifelong Lifestyle”.” The Saint Louis Review. 28 July 2000.
The Student Bible. New International Version. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992.
Figure 1.1: Growth of The REAP Team: eleven years of service
1989-90 - Our First Year
Number of retreats: 43
Team members: 19 (12 adults, 7 teens)
Retreat Participants: 1900
1990-91 - Our Second Year
Number of retreats: 68
Team members: 25 (12 adults, 13 teens)
Retreat Participants: 3600
1991-92 - Our Third Year
Number of retreats: 90
Team members: 32 (17 adults, 15 teens)
Retreat Participants: 5600
1992-93 - Our Fourth Year
Number of Retreats: 104
Team members: 42 (21 adults, 21 teens)
Retreat Participants: 7950
1993-94 - Our Fifth Year
Number of Retreats: 96
Team members: 42 (25 adults, 17 teens)
Retreat Participants: 6247 (5875 teens and 472 adults)
1994-95 - Our Sixth Year
Number of Retreats: 95
Team members: 46 (24 adults, 22 teens)
Retreat Participants: 6021 (5650 teens and 371 adults)
1995-96 - Our Seventh Year
Number of Retreats: 105
Team members: 57 (29 adults, 28 teens)
Retreat Participants: 6730 (6176 teens and 554 adults)
1996-97 - Our Eighth Year
Number of Retreats: 122
Team members: 63 (36 adults and 27 teens)
Retreat Participants: 8337 (6785 teens and 1552 adults)
1997-98 - Our Ninth Year
Number of Retreats: 126
Team members: 65 (36 adults and 29 teens)
Retreat Participants: 8777 (7508 teens and 1269 adults)
Chastity: distributed 6000 True Love Waits commitment cards
1998-99 - Our Tenth Year
Number of Retreats: 156
Team members: 67 (39 adults and 26 teens)
Retreat Participants: 13,288 people (11,514 youth and 1774 adults)
Chastity: distributed over 10,000 True Love Waits commitment cards
1999-00 – Our Eleventh Year
Number of Retreats: 154
Team Members: 82 (53 adults & 29 teens)
Retreat Participants: 10,721 people (9205 youth and 1516 adults)
Chastity: distributed over 8000 True Love Waits commitment cards
Running Total - As of the end of our eleventh year of ministry, the REAP Team has presented 1160 ministry events, which have reached 79,171 people with the Gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We have also distributed over 24,000 True Love Waits Cards. True Love Waits cards carry this statement:
“Believing that True Love Waits, I make a commitment to my family, my friends, those I date, my future spouse and children, that I will not participate in sex outside of marriage, either during or prior to marriage. I choose this lifestyle freely, so that I can give the gift of sex, and everyone I know, the utmost respect and honor.”
Figure 1.2: Top 15 Practical Tips for Living Chastity
- Know why you want to wait—be educated about chastity
- Be bold and vocal about your decision (be prepared for peer pressure)
- Find a friend/mentor to support you—be held accountable
- Be selective about who you date and your friends (find people who support you)
- Leave un-healthy relationships—find support to not return to these
- Communicate openly about sex early in a relationship
- Set physical limits/boundaries with each person you date
- Plan dates; Avoid surprises
- Avoid use of drugs and alcohol
- Avoid movies, activities, music that are sexually oriented
- Avoid long periods of time alone
- Avoid pornography
- Think of your future spouse at tempting moments
- Confess when you fall
- Stay close to God—seek His help: PRAY (this will protect and guide you better than all previously mentioned)
- Don’t fall for stereotypes (becoming a man is not connected w/sex)
- Ignore guys who make fun of you
- Encourage women to dress modestly
- Use sexual energy in healthy ways (sports, etc.)
- Be prepared to answer stupid lines
- If you love me you would do it—If you love me, you wouldn’t ask/pressure
- Everybody else is doing it—good, then it will be easy to find someone else
- Don’t you love me—Yeah, but I love God and respect myself more
- I won’t get you pregnant or give you a disease—right, cuz I won’t have sex w/you
- I might marry you—good, then we can enjoy this on our wedding night
- If you don’t, I’ll move on—nice knowing you, bye bye
- Dress appropriately—live modestly, from the inside out