Day 6: Jacob’s Well
I began to see why the Missionaries of the Poor loved their work. They woke up each morning before sunrise to say their daily prayers. The brothers would then dedicate their entire day to serving the poorest of the poor, the abandoned, the disfigured, and the lonely; only to return and pray again before ending their day. Prayer is powerfully potent, and the brothers spent every waking minute in the spirit of prayer. The brothers showed me that prayer is not merely the fuel for performing acts of charity. Prayer is the personal dialogue between us and God, between creator and creation, between Father and child. I could now see the simplicity of prayer staring me in the face. Their happiness came from interacting with God in the poor! However, on day 6 of the mission trip, I could sense myself beginning to trivialize service to the poor. “This isn’t so bad!” I thought. All I had to do was feed the residents, change a diaper or two, and clean some mattresses. I had already seen Kingston’s worst. Everything else would be a breeze. “Bring on the dirty diapers!” I filled myself with false courage as I left for the last center, Jacob’s Well.
Jacob’s Well was a home for women; young and old. When we walked through the gates, the entire center sprang out to greet us! Women came from all over to give us gigantic hugs. They held our hands and led us around in circles. Some were so happy, they even began to dance! Perfect. We’d probably spend the day singing songs or dancing in circles. The woman’s center would be a walk in the park! Suddenly, a brother came up and handed me a straw broom. “We need you to sweep the eating area, if that’s ok?” I confidently grasped the broom and made my way over to the dining hall. After leisurely swiping up some food scraps, I heard a croaky Jamaican voice calling from behind, “The Lord is my Shepherd!” I spun around to see an ancient Jamaican woman hunched over in a chair. Her grey hair hung like moss over her skeleton frame. She was missing an eye, and I could see the eyelid had sunk into her empty socket. The woman darted her head around the room, searching for the man sweeping the dining hall. I collected myself from the initial shock of seeing her and responded, “I’m right here Ma’am! How can I….” I froze. My eyes had wandered down to a black mass swarming around her leg. I leaned in closer to get a better look… I suddenly became nauseous. A colony of black ants was swarming over this woman’s foot. They were traveling in and out of the cracks in her toes and up her leg. I felt like passing out. “The Lord is my Shepherd!” The woman’s cry shook me from my paralysis. I didn’t know what to do. Should I go call a brother? Should I yell for help? I panicked. “God, I can’t do this.” I could feel my arms guiding the broom toward the woman’s foot. I felt a hotness racing from my heart into my hands. My eyes remained open as I swept away every last ant. The woman looked up to me and smiled brightly. “Thank ya good sir, for sweeping away the ants from my foot! I’ll pray for ya every night!” I couldn’t speak, so I returned her gratitude with a queasy smile. I finished sweeping the room in silence.
After cleaning the dining hall, a brother from India led me and another seminarian back to a water cooler. It was a hot day, so he asked us to fill up cups for the women to drink. I grabbed some cups and made my way through the center. When I reached the dormitories, I noticed a sad looking teenager sitting on her bed. She looked like she could use a cup of water so I offered her a drink. She stared at the cup and shook her head. “What’s wrong?” I asked “It’s a hot day, some water would be really nice!” Like the rest of the women, I anticipated a jumbled response of groans and mumbles, but surprisingly, she answered me in clear English. “I don’t want to be here.” I searched her face for a sign of mental disability, but I couldn’t find any. Aside from a lazy eye and tattered clothes, she appeared to be a normal teenage girl. “Do you live here?” I asked. I could see tears in her eyes as she nodded her head yes, “I live here, and my daughter lives in the next center.” Whoa! Not only was this girl a resident, but she had a daughter as well! She looked tired. “I want to leave here,” she mourned. I spoke with the girl and tried to console her sorrow. Tears started gliding down her cheeks. I tried telling her everything would be ok. But as talked to her, I could hear the deafening screams echoing from outside. I looked around the room at all the filthy mattresses and I could smell the sourness of waste. I tried to imagine sleeping on one of those grimy beds... All I could do was stare back at the girl and pray silently, “God, be with her.” I remained by her side until lunch.
While at Jacob’s Well, we had time to dance and sing with the patients. Although I participated in the dances, my thoughts wandered elsewhere. I couldn’t forget the old women in the dining hall, nor could I forget the young lonely girl sitting on her bed. It seemed almost haunting. These thoughts remained with me until later that night during group reflections. As a seminary, we’d occasionally meet up and share what we encountered during the trip. I knew I was going to talk about the two women, but I couldn’t see any beauty in it. I felt empty. Just then, my seminarian brother spoke up from the circle. We all listened. “I’ve seen a lot of problems on this trip, and I can’t fix them.” His words caught my attention. “At first, this bothered me. I mean, these residents will be living in these centers for the rest of their lives, and I can’t change that!” He paused to let that sink in, and then continued; “But I’m not here to fix these problems… I’m here to love. That’s it.” The group became silent.
Love? Was I forgetting to love? I examined the past day and remembered all the ignorant thoughts I had going into Jacob’s Well. I wanted to serve, but I was missing love, the most vital component to service. Instead of talking with God in prayer, I talked to myself in pride. Without love, I failed to see the beauty at Jacob’s Well. I only saw suffering and loneliness. I could only see the Cross. I prayed to God, asking him to restore the love into my heart. Instantly, the image of the lonely girl came to mind. I could picture her tears as she pleaded to escape from the center. It was like a prison. She only wished to cradle her child, to hold her baby in her arms, to offer her a mother’s tender love. Her child was taken from her. My eyes began to well up. Another image came to mind. It was an image of the Virgin Mary. Mary was holding her son Jesus in her arms after he had been beaten and hung on the cross to die. I could only imagine how much of a prison this world felt to Mary as she clung to her son’s body. She longed to offer Jesus her tender, motherly love. She longed to hold him one last time before they put in him the ground. Yet, despite all this suffering, Mary never gave up on her son Jesus. She held on to the thought of seeing him again; the thought of holding him once more in her arms. Now I saw the beauty. Although the women at the center were enduring this great suffering, they weren’t suffering in vain. They too, were holding on to Jesus. They’re faith allowed them to endure this temporary imprisonment and pain, and await the beauty of the next life. They were holding on to hope.
As day 6 of the mission trip came to a close, I could still hear the words of the old woman ringing out in my heart, “The Lord Is My Shepherd!” I saw why the brothers loved their work, for on that day I truly came face to face with Christ on the cross.