"The more we are afflicted in this world, the greater is our assurance in the next; the more sorrow in the present, the greater will be our joy in the future." — Saint Isidore of Seville
I am heading to Jamaica this summer with our daughter, who will have just graduated from high school. I take my older children to Jamaica when they are about nineteen years old because it is a wonderful age for them to experience the life of the brothers of the Missionaries of the Poor (MOP).
Actually, it is also for selfish reasons that I go. I go for the spiritual renewal that I always receive when I am with the Brothers, serving the poor.
The following is an excerpt from something I wrote after returning from Jamaica a few years ago:
The first center in Jamaica that I worked at was Lord’s Place (the MOP center for women who are elderly or physically and mentally disabled, and HIV/AIDs patients). While there, one of the brothers took us to see two women in a room who were lying on their cots. They were both severely physically and mentally handicapped, and in their mid-twenties. Because of the severity of their disabilities they will spend most of their lives in those beds.
As I rubbed lotion onto their bony bodies, I was struck by how different their lives are from mine. I wake up every morning and stretch out my body before I get out of bed to go for an early morning run. They wake up in the same position in which they went to bed, arms tightly gathered and clenched in a sort of permanent contraction. They will not rise up and greet the morning with a stretch or a run, instead they will remain there…where they were yesterday, and the day before that, and the weeks and months before that. While we sat there with the brother, he bent down very close to one of their faces and smiled and kidded with her, and she smiled back.
Remarkable…that smile, I thought. Amidst all of her sufferings, she still managed to smile at the brother. How often do I get up and begin my day with such a smile? Perhaps I am worried about one of the kids, or dreading the laundry, the bills, or the rest of the day that I must soon face. Or maybe it’s just a moodiness that I give into that keeps a smile from meeting those I see in the morning. We all have sorrows, we all have concerns, we all have crosses. But most of us see more than the same wall everyday. Most of us get to move a little.
In this room with these two women and this brother I couldn’t help but think about the mystery that is life. I wanted to change things for these two women. To give them just one day to go for a run like I do…to let them know what that feels like. The brother must have sensed this longing of mine, because he kindly turned to me and said, “We do the best we can.” I realized the profound meaning of those words. Sometimes all we can do is make someone smile.
Like so many who return after a mission trip or from doing an act of service, I realized that it is often those we think we will serve who serve us instead. They give us something we couldn’t possibly give them. To see this woman smile in the midst of her world was amazing. With that simple smile I saw courage, hope, even joy.
I know there will be days when I won’t recall these two women. When I will forget their faces and their small bony, frames. But I hope that I can remember them often. That thinking of them, I will be reminded to do my best…and to smile.
There will always be pain and suffering in this world. Maybe that is one reason I was so struck by an intense game of racquetball I witnessed on my second day in Jamaica. Father Ho Lung was playing with three of the MOP brothers. Those men see poverty and suffering everyday, yet it does not paralyze them. On the contrary, they seem to gain strength from their work, and to recognize a need to be strong themselves, physically as well as spiritually. They enjoy the friendly, competitive games of football (our soccer) or volleyball that they play once or twice a week. And whenever they find a chance to face off with some of the volunteers who visit, they do.
The brothers are role models because they strive to do the best they can in all things…in their work with the poor, in their daily prayer life, and even in their fitness. Their life in Christ is an integrated one, as it should be for all of us. I don’t have to go to the ghettos of Kingston to recognize this … the best I can do is still required of me, wherever I am.
It became clear to me that the brothers draw their strength from their daily life of prayer. Following their schedule everyday, we awoke at 5:30 for morning prayer, Mass, and adoration. The brothers don't go anywhere without praying first, and when they get to their destination, they take time out before they begin their work to pray again. The rosary, evening prayer, and vespers are all incorporated into their daily routine, and they never miss an opportunity to praise and give thanks to God.
When we left the ghettos of Kingston on the way to the airport, we saw a huge billboard with a picture of Usain Bolt, an Olympian and one of the fastest men in history. While there is no doubt that the Jamaicans look at Bolt as their hero, I imagine they also see Father Ho Lung and the brothers of the Missionaries of the Poor as their heroes as well. They certainly are mine.
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Have you ever been on a mission trip that changed your life?
Have you experienced receiving something when you thought that you were the one doing the giving?