Gladstone church group encounters volcano eruption on mission trip to Guatemala

GLADSTONE, Mo. -- A student group from a Northland Catholic church remains in Guatemala, just a few miles from a natural disaster.

They think of it as a home away from home. That contingent of 14 students from St. Charles Borromeo Parrish in Gladstone is in San Andreas, Iztapa of Guatemala on the church’s annual mission trip to Central America.

The mission trip, which also carries five adult chaperones, never imagined it would contend with an erupting volcano that’s sent that impoverished nation into a tailspin.

Since June 1, the Volcano of Fire has erupted twice, causing two massive explosions that spread volcanic ash and toxic gas across that region of Central America. As of Thursday night, 109 deaths have been confirmed and another 200 people are reported missing.

Katie Rainey, 17, and Josh Revnew, 18, are among the teenagers on the church's mission trip, helping out at the Carmelitas de Nazaret convent. They flew out of KCI Airport on June 1, about the time the volcano started to smoke.

"They told us it was a volcanic eruption. That really made some people pretty scared. It was a new experience to say the least," Revnew told FOX4 on Thursday. "People were laying on their horns, trying to get out of the city. It was kind of chaotic as time kept passing by."

"The sky was just completely black. There was ash all over the cars. It was raining and there was ash at the same time. It was pure chaos. That was making me pretty anxious," Rainey said.

The two students talked with FOX4 via Skype on Thursday morning, saying they'd been given gas masks as protection against the volcano's gas emissions. Rainey and Revnew have made this trip three times, forming friendships with the people they're serving.

"My heart is always here," Rainey said.

Meanwhile, in the Kansas City metro, concern is high with families of those teenagers. Laura Rainey is Katie's mother, and her husband is one of the chaperones on the trip. The family is staying in touch via text message since connectivity and cell service is limited in that region of Guatemala.

"You immediately start thinking, 'Oh my God, oh my God," Laura Rainey told FOX4.

"It's hard to be grateful and happy when you know there's so much devastation there and all those people died," she said. "You do a little dual praying -- for the villages and the people there, as well as gratefulness that all the kids are OK."

Laura Rainey said she’s planning to meet the returning mission group at KCI on Friday night — provided they can get home. The eruption has caused the Guatemala City airport to close once already. She’s hoping it doesn’t happen again.

The group from the church makes the annual Guatemalan trip as a collaborative effort with St. Pius X High School, where many of those students attend. The Rainey family said this is the final mission trip to Central American the church is scheduled to make for the foreseeable future.