The Diocese of Des Moines
April 23, 2014
Written By: Reed Flood

How are you continuing your faith journey during this Easter season? Seminarian Reed Flood recently traveled on a mission trip to Kingston, Jamaica and what he experienced has changed his perspective. We're posting his journal entries in a series each day this week to help us pray and reflect on how we can be Christ's light to others.

 

At 5:45 a.m., we were stirred from our sleep by the high-pitched ringing of small church bells. After untangling myself from the obnoxious mosquito netting, I rolled out of my bunk and began to dress myself for morning prayer.

 

Our seminarian trip leader divided us into our service groups. My first assignment was Bethlehem; the children’s center.

 

A truck pulled into the compound and blared its horn. It was time. We anxiously piled into the back of a gated truck bed.

 

As the truck driver pulled up to the last center, he shouted, “Bethlehem!” I made the sign of the cross and entered through the rusty gates with my group.

 

The very first thing I noticed was the smell. The place reeked. It had a bitter stench which reminded me of a petting zoo.

 

Secondly, I could hear wailing and high-pitched shrills resonating throughout the whole center.

 

A kind-faced brother from Africa welcomed us and ushered us into a room. My fear and anxiety from the frightful arrival began to melt away.

 

“There’s a difference between pretty and beautiful,” he said. He motioned toward the door. “Pretty does not live here. You will not find it.”

 

He turned back to us, “But beauty, true beauty thrives here.”

 

He went on to explain how it was the job of the Missionaries of the Poor to live as Christ for the children at the Bethlehem center.

 

“We are Christ to the children, but we also encounter Christ in the children. This is where our happiness comes from,” he said. After hearing this wisdom, I was ready to see Christ.

 

Within minutes of walking into the boys’ room, I was handed a diaper and directed to a bed where a naked, deformed teenager was sitting. They had just rinsed him off in the showers and he was shivering from the cold. I had never put on a diaper before, but I could feel Christ within me reaching out to help this struggling boy.

 

I did my best putting on the diaper and then clothed him with a tattered shirt and old swim trunks. I continued this procedure for the next 30 minutes, clothing disfigured children and young adults, anywhere from 8 to 26 years old. Their arms were like toothpicks, frozen in a bent shape which made dressing them a challenge.

While helping one boy, I noticed his eyes glance up to my old favorite fishing hat I was wearing. He strained to reach the camouflage ball-cap with his twisted fingers. Noticing his effort, I took off the hat and placed it on the boys head.

 

His face sprung to life! His big brown eyes opened wide and an enormous smile spread across his face. He peered into my eyes and began to clap his little hands wildly.

 

He reached up, grasped the hat off his head, and pulled it in close to his chest. He moved jaws in a speaking motion, but no words came out. Yet, I could understand him clearly.

 

The boy’s external display of joy mirrored my internal gratification for seeing his delight.

 

I stepped back and thanked God for letting me see pure joy in this child. The warm feeling in my heart flooded through my entire body. It felt like God was giving me a big warm hug.

 

After serving all the children, we played with them. Each reaction was the same as the boy with the hat. No matter how disabled they were, no matter how much they drooled, and no matter how much they flailed, each child’s face lit up with joy!

 

I felt like a parent watching their newborn son playing for the first time. The warmth from my heart rose to my eyes and I had to blink away the joyful tears.

 

The brother was right. True beauty lives here.

 

After a couple hours we left the center. As I walked out, I could no longer detect the harsh smells from before. I now realized the loud screams were really just boisterous laughter coming from the children.

 

When I first entered the center, I thought I was descending into the pit of hell. Yet after witnessing the innocent joy in the children and experiencing God’s encompassing love, I now realized I had just received a very real taste of heaven.

 

I left my hat behind. 

 




April 23, 2014
Written By: Reed Flood, Seminarian of the Des Moines Diocese

Day 7

 

Sorting through supplies at center.What a trip! These seven days felt like a month. My arms and legs were tan from working long hours in the sun. Our regular diet of rice and beans had chiseled away my excess body weight. In seven days I had lost 10 pounds from the food, labor, and lack of sleep! A scraggly beard had grew along my hollowed cheeks. I looked like a different person. What’s more, I felt different. The Missionaries of the Poor had transformed my outlook on life. It felt like the mud had been removed from eyes and I could see the world clearly.

 

During mass, the priest (who was also a brother) informed us what life was like for the Missionaries. Each brother owned only three outfits. The priest pointed to a brother in the first row, “Brother Elijah! How many pairs of socks do you own?” Brother Elijah tentatively raised three fingers in the air. The priest then turned to us and blatantly stated, “We don’t need material possessions to be happy.” Additionally, the brothers only ate the poorest food. I remembered the mushy rice and beans we ate at every meal. At times, the vegetables were bitter and the beans were cold. When I felt like gagging, the brothers ate the gooey food without complaining. The brothers also slept in a community dorm every night. I thought of my stiff mattress and pesky mosquito netting. I’d often wake up tangled in that annoying net like some big awkward mosquito. Still, the brothers never grumbled about sleep. Although food, sleep, and possessions are enjoyable; the Missionaries of the Poor never relied on any of them as their basis for happiness. Instead, these joyful brothers chose to build their happiness on the solid foundation of love.Typical Jamaican meal of rice, beans, and veggies.

 

While eating lunch at the Faith Center (I chose to go back there on day 7), I remember hearing one of the Missionaries speak about their poverty. He told us, “When all you have is Christ… all you need is Christ.” Wow. I reflected on my experience so far in the trip. I saw happiness in the brothers despite their tremendous poverty. I also saw happiness in the patients. Before dining with the brothers, I was assigned to go out and apply lotion to the patients’ skin (a first for me). Jamaicans don’t get sunburnt. Instead, their skin dries up and forms little cracks all over. I grabbed a bottle of Lubriderm and made my way around the center rubbing lotion on the patients’ arms, legs, and feet. Some residents would make cheerful conversation with me as I applied the lotion. They would say things like, “How’re ya liking Jamaican man? What state are ya from man?” Each simple greeting eased my nerves and brought a warm delight to my heart, it also distracted me the fact I was rubbing a grown man’s foot with Lubriderm. Each resident loved talking. They didn’t complain about their poverty or disabilities. They just wanted to love us! Where did their happiness come from? I finished applying the lotion and pondered this question for a while. I was able to ask a man working at the center why he thought Jamaicans were always so happy (He himself was Jamaican, so I figured he must have some answer). He just smiled and said Jamaicans were very religious people. I asked the man about atheism in Jamaica, and a puzzled look came across his face. He didn’t even seem to be familiar with the concept.

 

This trip was forcing to me to see the world in a new light. These Jamaicans, these brothers, and these patients had nothing. Yet, they were the happiest people I had ever met. This made me think of my possessions in America. Compared to the Jamaicans, I had everything! I owned countless possessions, I was going to college, I ate tasty food, and slept in a comfy bed. Yet, at times, I would base my happiness off these material possessions. I’m not the only one. How many of us college students focus too much on our image and social life? We fall into the trap of basing our self-worth on Facebook and Twitter while living life for the weekends. How often do I fall into the temptation of basing my happiness on wealth? My happiness won’t reside in the paper of dollar bills or the wood and nails of a big house. No. My happiness depends entirely on the everlasting, unmovable, and beautiful bonds of love. These Jamaicans were so happy because they loved God and they loved each other. They lacked the resources to fill the emptiness in their lives with temporary material possessions.  So instead, their emptiness was filled with the overflowing love and generosity of God. What a blessing!

 

Indeed, the mud had been removed from eyes. I could see past the Jamaicans’ material poverty and admire their wealth of spiritual happiness. I saw how we Americans possess everything materially, yet we allow ourselves to slip into severe spiritual poverty. Above all, I could see God clearly. God is love, and I could see love everywhere in Kingston, Jamaica. Love wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t always pleasurable, but it warmed my heart and spoke to me through service. It shouted in my ear, “The Lord is my Shepherd!” It whispered its assurance and guided my hands when I felt like failing. Finally, Love worked its way into my heart and removed my shallow, worldly visions so I could now begin to see the world through the beautiful eyes of Christ.

 

Prayer: Father, help me to see the world through your eyes. Chisel away the impurities from my heart, so I may better receive your blessings. I want to be happy Lord. Show me the way I should walk, so I may enter into your abundance of joy. Amen.

 




April 22, 2014
Written By: Reed Flood

How are you continuing your faith journey during this Easter season? Seminarian Reed Flood recently traveled on a mission trip to Kingston, Jamaica and what he experienced has changed his perspective. We're posting his journal entries in a series each day this week to help us pray and reflect on Reed with a coconuthow we can be Christ's light to others.

 

After spending the whole night jamming my backpack full of clothes, sunscreen, and bars of soap (requested by the Missionaries of the Poor), we seminarians departed from St. John Vianney Seminary at 4:00 in the morning. We reached the airport and succeeded to board our flight to Miami, Florida. Upon arrival, we were met with a two hour layover. We seminarians filled this break with typical seminarian activities; playing cards and hacky sack. Finally, the time had come to board our flight to Kingston. We eagerly filed into our narrow seats and patiently waited for the hour-long flight to bring us to our destination.

 

Finally, we arrived in Kingston! As we stepped outside the Kingston airport, we were welcomed by a humid wall of sunny, 80 degree weather. Following the subzero temperatures and artic-like conditions of St. Paul, Minnesota, I felt quite comfortable in Jamaica! While waiting for the bus to take us to the Missionaries of the Poor, we played more hacky sack and drank from fresh coconuts we purchased from a friendly Jamaican vendor across the street. I could hardly understand the thick Jamaican dialect of the joyful woman who sold it to us, but the coconuts cost a mere $2! I wasn’t complaining. Additionally, a gorgeous view of the towering mountains caught everyone’s attention and took our breath away. It was paradise! After an hour in Kingston, I determined this trip was going to be just like a vacation. It had sunny weather, beautiful views, friendly Jamaicans, and cheap coconuts! However, my brief assumption of a week in paradise would soon be turned upside down. 

 

The brothers arrived at the airport and packed us into a large Toyota van. I clenched the seat cushion in front of me as we sailed down the left side of the road. I determined traffic laws in Jamaica were replaced by car honks, as opposing drivers carelessly careened by us while blaring their horns. The roads became filthier and riddled with litter as we approached the city. We spotted goats wandering aimlessly through the streets as well as several Jamaican men taking uncomfortable naps on the concrete sidewalk. The houses we passed by began to appear less and less structured, until the “buildings” were nothing more than plywood and sheet metal hammered together. I wondered how any human being could ever inhabit one of these rusty shanties. Just then, a half-naked and sad-looking toddler wandered out from one of the shacks. It took our breath away.

 

After an eye-opening journey into the city, we reached the Missionaries of the Poor compound. Massive concrete walls surrounded the building, protecting it from the dangerous outside slums. We pulled up to the gate and blared our car horn (car honking is the secondary language in Jamaica). Sure enough, a brother dressed in a white robe with a blue sash opened the large gate and we entered the compound. Strangely, the inside of the compound appeared to be a stark contrast to the rundown city. It was quite beautiful! The brightly painted building stood out against the grey streets, while various flowered shrubs brought life to our safe-haven within the walls. It was an oasis in the desert.

 

It wasn’t long before we joined the brothers for evening prayer, Stations of the Cross, and a rosary. After leaving prayer, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, they pray a lot!” Yet as I laid down in the upper bunk of my mosquito netted bed, while listening to the blaring car horns, dog barks, and miscellaneous screams coming from the city, I couldn’t help but reflect on the necessity of prayer in this environment. I didn’t know what to expect for tomorrow, our first day of service, but I knew prayer was essential. As it turns out, our prayer would prove more vital than I could ever imagine in the days to come.

 

Prayer Reflection:

Father, help me to see through the masks which hide the suffering around us. Protect me from ignorance, so I may better recognize the poor and needy. Fill my heart with love, so I may share it with those who need it most. You are my refuge and my oasis in this world of death. Let me seek you out Lord, and walk with you in this journey of life. Am




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