The final semester of my senior year has begun! But there will be plenty of time to talk about that in later posts.
Even before this semester started, the New Year began in a radically new way – I went on mission to Jamaica! My experience in Jamaica truly cannot be summed up in words, but I will try to do my best. I believe the only way to do justice to this experience would be to explain the mark that has been left on my heart and, hopefully, the exterior change that it will bring . . . hopefully. I’m still processing the experience, trying to articulate what I got out of it and how I can put what I learned into practice, but I will at least give you all the facts. (Hopefully writing this all down will give some insight into to what I’ve experienced!)
Fact: At 6am New Year’s Day, while others where recovering from celebrations of the night before (or even still celebrating) I made my way from warm, sunny Miami, Florida, to cold, snowy Steubenville, Ohio. And, forgetting my winter coat, I truly experienced the contrast in weather.
Another Fact: At 3am the next morning, myself and the rest of my mission team left from cold, dreary Steubenville, Ohio, to warm, sunny Jamaica. (I was really sending my body mixed signals.)
Final Fact: When I arrived in Jamaica I had no idea how daunting, exhausting, totally rewarding, and life-changing the task ahead of me would be – all I knew was that I was glad to be out of the cold.
After a day of getting settled in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the large group of 30-something split up into four groups and headed off to their separate towns. I was so blessed to be grouped with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around, and even though the mission trip is over, we still get together to hangout, share laughs, and pray. One of these people in our group of seven was the one and only Fr. Denny, who is lovable, personable, and funny as much as he is holy. Not only was our group amazing, but we also went to Seaford Town, which was one of the most incredible places containing some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. One of them was Fr. Luke, a Polish missionary priest who, in two years, has done so much for the community and has one of the most humble and caring hearts I’ve ever encountered. The first night in Seaford set the tone for the rest of the trip as we happened to arrive on the one night during the year in which they were having a Jerk Chicken Cookout. Almost the whole community showed up, and we were welcomed with opened arms and smiles. We were able to form bonds with people within a few hours and even receive nicknames. By the end of the night, we were all talking, laughing, and even dancing. The next day, we drove 30 minutes away on pot-hole filled, winding roads while sitting in the back of a pick-up (this is how we always traveled, and it always toed the line between thrilling and horrifying) to Darlstown where Fr. Luke and the bishop said Mass. Then we drove back to Seaford Town where they said Mass again. It was crazy to think that Fr. Luke was in charge of two parishes. We soon learned that there was a shortage of priests in Jamaica and most parishes were lucky to have Mass said by visiting priests, let alone have one living there who would minister to the people everyday. How lucky we are in the United States to have multiple priests per parish who have the time to not only celebrate Mass but to minister to their community as well!
Another astonishing thing I experienced was the extreme poverty. Every morning we would split up into groups and walk from house to house talking to people, praying with people, and inviting them to a praise and worship meeting that we helped with every evening. The people we encountered were so poor, but they were so willing to share with us everything they had. Every house we visited was open to us, and we were invited into living rooms, backyards, kitchens, and porches without a second thought. I realized something amazing: most of the people we encountered were so poor, and yet they were so happy. It was infectious. It was so easy to love these people because they loved us so well. On top of all of this, everyday for lunch Fr. Luke took us to a new parishioner’s home, where we were rained down with every sort of wonderful food, including meats, rice and beans and every kind of fruit imaginable. I felt as if I was giving so little and was receiving so much. Not just in food but in love. We were constantly surrounded by children who wanted to laugh and play, and at the core, really just wanted to be loved. I think that could apply to many adults we met too.
As incredible as the experience was, it was also exhausting, and at the end of each day we returned to the old rectory we were staying at and collapsed contentedly. There are so many more experiences that I wish I could describe, but to talk about them all would take too long to read.
The people I met and encountered will forever have a special place in my heart, and I will always keep them in my prayers. With this experience to fuel me, I look forward to this final semester refreshed and ready!