The REAP (Retreat Evangelization and Prayer) Team is a Catholic youth retreat ministry of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, under the Catholic Youth Apostolate. 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.
The team of two full-time employees, one part-time employee, and over one hundred volunteers 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 contacts of the representative school or organization. Some topics are inherently more religious in nature, such as God’s love, Confirmation, ways to pray, the power of the Holy Spirit, and Catholic identity. Other topics also incorporate elements of faith, but are more focused on issues relating to the adolescent experience, such as chastity/abstinence, self-image, peer pressure, and drug and alcohol resistance. All of the above topics may be used separately or in combination with each other.
The REAP Team is rooted in personal testimony. Paul Masek founded The REAP Team in 1989. After a struggle with drug abuse as a high school student in the late 1970s, 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.
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-olds 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.
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 envisioned a local 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).
Paul chose the name of his organization to be “REAP” for several reasons: he thought about it, and prayed about it, and liked the biblical relevance of the word “reap.” 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.”
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. After some time, it moved to the Religious Education Department of the Catholic Education Office, then to the Office of Youth Ministry, and is now its own department of the Catholic Youth Apostolate. REAP is financed by retreat fees, private donations, and the support of the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Since its founding in 1989, The REAP Team has grown significantly. It began with one person’s vision, the current director, Paul Masek. Paul has led the REAP team through its growth and development. During its first year of ministry, 19 total team members presented 43 retreats to 1900 participants. For over ten years, Paul relied on generous volunteers to help REAP carry out its mission. In 2000, a generous donor asked Paul if there was anything the REAP team needed, telling him to dream big. Paul said 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. The donor made a financial commitment to REAP, promising to pay the new full-time worker’s salary for four years.
Paul didn’t even advertise the new full-time position because he already had the perfect match for the job. Heather Gallagher (now Vento) had been volunteering for the REAP team for over eight years, as a high school and college student, and had always been especially gifted in promoting the message of chastity - a key focus on many REAP Team retreats.
Chastity is an applicable way to live for people of all lifestyles: single, married, and religious. 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. 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. 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.
The REAP Team has even presented a retreat at a public high school on the topic of abstinence. On February 8, 2001, the retreat at Madison High School, appropriately titled “Let’s Talk About Abstinence,” was REAP’s first completely secular event. The principal of the school explicitly requested that The REAP Team keep “church and state” separate since they were speaking in a public school. REAP planned a retreat focused on the 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.
Over the years, the ministry of The REAP Team has expanded to reach young people of all ages - from second graders preparing for their first sacraments, to middle school students, high school teens, parents, Confirmation sponsors, faculty, and staff, REAP will do their best to meet any needs, in and around the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. Since 1989, The REAP Team has served over 265,000 people through nearly 4,000 ministry events. God willing, REAP will continue to serve the St. Louis area for many years to come.