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.
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.