Day 5: Lucky Rice
Each day in Jamaica felt like a week. Every hour ticked by with prayer and service, prayer and service. This isn’t to say all this activity bothered me. In reality, the service was quite fulfilling. Every time I fed a man, clothed a child, or cleaned a grimy mattress, I could sense the same warm tingling arise in my heart. These challenging works of service were teaching me that; the more I served, the happier I felt! Was I stumbling across another paradox? As we began the day, I’d have a great opportunity to see if service really did lead to happiness. We piled into the trucks and left the compound for day 5 of the mission trip.
After a few minutes of driving we pulled up to a very small, two-story building with a hand painted sign which read “Good Shepherd.” A handful of seminarians and I climbed down from the truck and entered through the center doors. A brother from Kenya began leading us back to his office for a briefing, but I had to stop myself and admire the cramped facility. As I surveyed the residents’ living quarters, I couldn’t help but detect a lively energy pulsating throughout the tiny room. All the residents wore tremendous smiles! The brothers sang loudly while clapping their hands. Even the brother who led us into his office gave us all cheerful handshakes and affirming head-nods. I allowed myself to pause and soak in the lively atmosphere before joining the seminarians. When we reached the brother’s office, he sat us down and began informing us of Good Shepherd’s rich history. At one point in time, the building was a convent for the Missionaries of Charity. These were Blessed Mother Theresa’s sisters! Apparently, Mother Theresa had stayed in this building for 2 nights when she visited Kingston. Additionally, Blessed Pope John Paul II had also visited this center. Who would have guessed it? The two had been in the same exact room I was sitting in!
After talking with the brother, we left the room and began folding blankets for the residents, or at least tried folding blankets. All the residents, young and old, swarmed around us! They all wanted to shake our hands, ask us where we were from, and give us big sweaty hugs. I remember one very large man named Anthony who requested a hug, a very huge and painful hug. He surprised me by locking his arms around my body and heaving me in the air! He swung me back and forth like a ragdoll before setting me down and slapping me on the pack. “Thanks friend!” he shouted into my ear. I tried sucking air back into my lungs. “Thank you Anthony,” I coughed. Just as the residents finally began leaving us to our duties, the Missionaries of the Poor pulled in with their truck and blared the car horn. The Kenyan brother approached our group and informed us the Missionaries of the Poor needed our help unloading a supply container at a nearby compound. I glanced over the little joyful room. All the men were playing games and laughing merrily. The brothers were playing the tambourines and singing praise and worship songs. I didn’t want to leave behind all the fun! Then I noticed big Anthony sitting at one of the tables. His elbow was resting on the table with his fist raised in the air. He opened his large mouth and shouted, “ARM WRESTLE!” I bolted toward the trucks and hopped in the back to go unload the containers.
The brothers dropped us off at one of the compounds called Corpus Christi (Body of Christ). I noticed a lengthy semi-truck parked outside numerous storage containers. Each month, a semi-truck would drop off a shipment of supplies donated from churches in USA and Canada. Once all the seminarians had arrived, the brothers pried open the semi-truck doors to reveal a monstrous shipment of supplies. It looked like an entire grocery store had been loaded into the truck! Our task was simple, transfer the supplies in the truck to the nearby containers. The brothers would use a forklift to pick up a pallet of supplies and drop it outside the storage containers. It was then our job to load the supplies into the containers. Easy right? Well each pallet weighed roughly 2000 pounds, and we had to transfer 12 pallets! We faced a daunting task, but we jumped right into it. We formed an assembly line from the pallets to the containers and began passing on hefty bags of rice and beans. The bags of beans only weighed 25 pounds; they weren’t so bad, but I’ll never forget those bags of Lucky Rice. Each Lucky Rice bag weighed a staggering 50 pounds! We all tried different methods for passing on the Lucky Rice; catching it high, swinging it sideways, handing it off. No matter what we tried, the bags still crushed us under their weight.
When I think back to this moment of the mission trip, I can come up with countless reasons for why that work should have been a miserable experience. We labored for hours in the scorching Jamaican sun. We unloaded pallet after pallet of the dreaded Lucky Rice. We even ran out of sunscreen halfway through working! Yet, despite all these challenges, we had a blast! It’s bizarre, but we laughed and joked as we heaved the heavy bags. We cheered when we successfully emptied a pallet of supplies, and we even sang songs while waiting for another 2000 pounds of Lucky Rice. We fed off each other’s enthusiasm. Our joy was contagious!
After 5 hours, we finished unloading the semi-truck and let out a jubilant cheer! I could sense a lively static in the air as the semi-truck departed from the lot. We shook hands and patted each other on the back. Amidst the celebration, I stopped to admire the spirited attitudes of my seminarian brothers. I could see their same delight in the brothers at Good Shepherd. I began to think of my encounter with the residents. I could feel the warm touch of their hands from our earlier greetings. I could feel their arms around me when they swarmed us with affectionate hugs. I could still feel Anthony’s big, sweaty, bone-crushing hug (I’d be feeling it for the next week), from when he threw me around like a ragdoll. The residents brought so much joy to me and my seminarian brothers. Day 5 was not easy. It was not leisure, nor was it pleasurable. Yet Day 5 will be remembered as one of my happiest day in Kingston, Jamaica.
Prayer: Father, teach me to serve you. Protect me from the attachments of shallow happiness. Let me welcome service and willingly accept the crosses I’m given to carry. I pray that you may lead me and guide me to everlasting joy. Amen.