I’m pleased to let you all know I’ve arrived back in Saint Paul, Minnesota following my extraordinary mission trip to Kingston, Jamaica! I was unable to keep you informed while in Jamaica due to the lack of internet at our compound, so this upcoming week I plan on sending you one update for each day in Kingston (8 total).
It’s a privilege to share this eye-opening experience with everyone who supported me through donations, prayers, and your words of encouragement. This trip will forever change my perspective on the poor and It’s my intention, through these reflections, to invite you all to see the world through the beautiful eyes of Christ.
Day 1: The Journey Begins
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 Saint 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 back 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.
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. Amen.