It was during a mission trip to Egypt in 2006 that Vanessa Puleo heard a clear call from God to get more involved in serving others in her community. When she returned, she volunteered locally and worked on her church staff mobilizing people to serve. ‘It was during that time,’ she recalls, ‘that I really felt called to get involved with starting a nonprofit that takes the ministry and missions side of mobilizing people into communities that need and want support and to be served, and then take those people throughout the U.S.’ From that calling, Led2Serve was born.
The mission of Led2Serve is matching teams of people that wish to serve with mission partners and projects in communities with need. ‘Everyone is led to serve in a different way,’ Vanessa explains. ‘While someone might have a job as a painter, they may be led to volunteer with children that week, or pack meals. Maybe they have a heart for the hungry or helping the homeless. We try to create a week around each member of the team and support how they are led to serve.’ Since its founding in 2009, Led2Serve has grown to 10 cities across the U.S. and five communities in Costa Rica.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, St. John the Divine mobilized to respond. ‘After taking care of the parish, we went to our partners,’ explains the Rev. Matt Marino, associate rector and head of SJD’s Go Ministry. ‘We invested in relationships in the hardest hit, most economically challenged parts of Houston.’
St. John’s put together a task force to coordinate relief and recovery efforts. Fortunately, the Rev. Charlie Holt, SJD’s newest associate rector, had just arrived from Florida where he lived through relief and recovery from three hurricanes. Charlie was the logical choice to head the task force, and he happened to have a friend in the business of working with mission teams: Vanessa Puleo.
‘When I saw what was happening in Houston I reached out to Charlie’, Vanessa recalls. ‘I told him that I would get to Houston as soon as there was a possibility and do whatever I could in supporting whatever might be needed here. He put Matt and me together so we could talk about how to support St. John’s with mission teams. We made a partnership with the idea that Led2Serve would go out and find, encourage, and equip teams to come in and serve. St. John’s got the space set up and ready to go.’
Led2Serve scheduled the first mission team to come to Houston in early January. Under the auspices of Mission Discovery, 30 students and chaperones from Little Rock Christian Academy served with a variety of SJD mission partners in an area of Northeast Houston that was especially hard hit by Harvey. St. John the Divine was their ‘home base’ during their stay.
‘The video guy with Mission Discovery told me that in most other places they serve they have to go to a second site to take a shower,’ Matt explains. ‘We have good space in our basement where there’s room for beds. There’s room to feed them, room to shower them, room for them to worship and to play together.’
‘We were the catalyst, with Vanessa, to get a team from Little Rock to end up here, to connect one Northeast Houston person with another Northeast Houston person that they could start a relationship with Jesus Christ and a church community with. We're really interested in creating a relational safety net for people in places where they don't have what we take for granted as people with a faith community around us. We'd like to give them a better tomorrow, and a better next year, and a better eternity.’