When my wife mentioned going to Jamaica on a mission trip, it perked my interest. “What?” I asked. “They give you room and board and take you out daily on guided tours?! You get to meet and have fun with the locals and eat local food?!”
It sounded just like going on a cruise or flying into one of Montego Bay’s all-inclusive resorts. Thoughts of “Adventure Travel” and “Ecotourism” filled my head. I was ready for our summer vacation.
So I have to admit one thing. I came here for a selfish reason: I wanted a vacation.
Of course, the reality hits you when you first step into a MOP center. You are hit with the smell of humanity at the most basic and humble level. You all know what I mean.
The good part is that soon enough you forget the smell because the residents and the Brothers are so welcoming and happy. You also quickly get to work.
Needless to say, it is hard work, especially for a vacationer like me.
To be honest, though, the hard part was not in the cleaning, the feeding, the clothing, or the grooming of the residents. It really was not the heat either.
The physical hardship and discomforts are wiped away by the happiness of the residents and Brothers. Their smiles give you the energy and power to work so that boredom and tiredness don’t have a chance to sprout.
You do your best and soon enough, it is time to say goodbye, go back to the dorm, have a cold shower, wash your clothes, back to prayers, have dinner, share fellowship, and get ready for the next day.
“Then what’s so hard about it?” you ask.
HEALING OF ONE’S SOUL
The hard work my friends and Brothers is the healing of my soul.
It’s not the souls of the residents because they are already pure. Neither is it the souls of the Brothers because I am sure their souls and intentions are pure too. No, it was my soul that needed repairing.
Father Hayden said in his homily: “You are not here of your own choosing. You are here because God chose you to be here.” I think God sent me here, not so much to help others but to heal my soul.
Remember that Brothers.
We volunteers may come from the richest country in the world, the United States of America. We may look carefree and happy. But our spirits are spoiled. Our souls are hurting. Sometimes our souls have become deformed. We need your help as much as the residents.
Remember that Brothers.
As for me, I have always been afflicted with a restless mind and heart. And while I have the comforts of middle-class American life, it is not without a good deal of spiritual emptiness, an emptiness all too common where I come from.
There is so much waste, so much hurt, and so much materialism – all of which deny your spiritual freedom and fullness. You think you made it. But more wants and desires await you “to achieve” and to be “congratulated for” until yet another product or service meets as yet unforeseen “challenge.” You cannot escape your bondage to the rat race, the consumption race – so chained to the wheels of impersonal commerce and materialism.
Though America has many fine qualities, as Pope Francis says, it is also a “throw away society.” We discard into landfills and oceans countless manufactured objects. Often that society also throws away people it considers useless onto the streets, into the jails, or back to the birth countries when all they know is the USA. What good is it if we throw away Mother Earth? What good is it if we throw away our humanity?
Anyway, while I came here spiritually hungry, I go home spiritually full. The reason is that during the time here, God fed me the most vital of nutrients to heal my soul.
He fed me joy. He fed me happiness. He fed me good food. He fed me, good fellowship. He fed me good guidance. He fed me the good friendship with you all and with all the Jamaicans I met. And so on.
He fed me most, however, by the presence of Jesus Christ in each resident.
When I clothed and shaved the men and boys, I clothed and shaved Jesus.
When I served food, sometimes over a bed, sometimes over wheelchairs, and sometimes between seizures, I fed Jesus.
When I massaged and tickled the residents, local staff, and Brothers, I touched and tickled Jesus. Believe it or not, I actually heard him laugh.
When I was playing and kidding around with the children, I became Jesus’s child and the Child Jesus.
When I reclined next to an AIDS patient and heard his biography and played dominoes and cards with them, my friend was Jesus.
I lived cleanly and righteously. I worked hard. I followed a routine. I ate healthily. I did not drink wine or beer. I did not watch TV. I hardly had red meat, at least until tonight. I prayed, meditated, and sang daily at least three times a day. I shared a positive attitude and good words with everyone. I was happy.
Through these simple acts of mercy and simple living, I prayed and meditated. I did so less on my knees, though there was plenty of that, but more by sweating, doing, and going – while my worldly concerns and bad habits dissolved away. Step by step, I became spiritually filled and my soul became fortified.
So, for me, this was no ordinary cruise or vacation. Coming to Missionaries of the Poor in downtown Kingston is much more valuable than any Carnival Cruise or all-inclusive resort at Montego Bay. Indeed there is no comparison. Actually, it is beyond comparison.
Over there the commodity is money and cheap thrills like zipline, safari boating, kayaking, or being cocooned in private beaches.
Over here, the commodity is faith, love, and service.
Over there you are surrounded by your fellow travelers and the panhandlers and hustlers.
Over here you meet real Jamaicans and experience the real Jamaica.
Over there the name of the game is the hustle, the hassle, and the profit motive. The currency is “dollars and sense.”
Over here the name of the game is saving souls. The currency is service, mercy, and forgiveness – my forgiveness.
Over there you stare at the vanity. In other words, you think you are living but you are really not alive. You only see a mirror image of what you think who you are or should be.
Over here you meet Jesus Christ and you live the foundation of righteous living, which is again love and service, through and being Him.
Lord, thank you for this gift.
I also wish to thank our Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters of the Missionaries of the Poor.
I thank our group and our Father Eugene for permitting me to join them and for accepting me as one of their own.
Most of all, I thank the beautiful residents of the Missionaries of the Poor for showing me, Jesus.
This essay was read at the last dinner of the mission stay. It was first published in August 2018 by the Missionaries of the Poor newsletter and website. It is reprinted here with some grammatical corrections.