In September 2012 the Mobile Loaves & Fishes team embarked on a journey of a lifetime: all of our full-time employees visited the Missionaries of the Poor in Kingston, Jamaica to learn more about the work they are doing for chronically ill, disabled and abandoned humans. Several members of the staff wrote short reflections upon our return and we wanted to share them with everyone:
I walked away feeling that the human touch is the most important aspect of working with the severely disabled. That is something that the brothers/sisters and the volunteers “get” at the centers of the Missionaries of the Poor. That is also something that many times is completely overlooked here in the States, regardless of one’s financial background or medical insurance.
I have personally witnessed the care of my elder father who had a massive stroke during an operation and could not feed himself. He was fully insured, yet without a family member to feed him or one in particular nurse Angel, he would go without any nourishment as they put his food tray at the end of his bed where he had no chance of reaching it much less trying to feed himself. I was always horrified to return to Dallas after 2-3 days of being in Austin to find that he had not even been bathed or barely been fed. His fingernails had crusted blood caked in them, yet no one made any effort to treat him with the basic human dignity. What happens to those patients that fall between the cracks? To those without any family to help or watch over them?
I’ve seen it over again at nursing homes for those with no money. The smell is something to turn your stomach. There is little to no human interaction because there is no family or they are far away or no one cares enough to be there. The minimum wage workers are strictly there for the job and do as little as possible to fulfill their duty. By the same token, you could not pay me any amount to do that job except for those that I love, my parents, spouse, children, close friends.
That is what stands out at the Missionaries of the Poor. The Brothers/Sisters have great love for each and every one of the residents/patients. It shows in the care given to each one. The smiles, the touches, the hugs, the affirmation. This is huge and maybe the singularly most important aspect of their treatment. It is obvious that the love of God and for his request to care for the least of them is truly present in their hearts. It is also obvious that the time spent in prayer is integral in finding the love and the strength to carry on 24/7.
My time with the Brothers and Sisters at the Missionaries of the Poor will forever be etched in my mind. Love is an action and it starts with a smile and pure joy in your heart.
The Brothers in Kingston, Jamaica with Missionaries of the Poor (MOP) provide such an example of living the gospel and following a scriptural message about Love. Jesus teaches us that the greatest commandment is:
Despite surroundings of mental and physical challenges, the residents at The Lord’s Place and Bethlehem centers are constantly showered in love from the brothers and volunteers; the resident’s genuinely returned this love as well. This environment of love radiates a sense of peace – to the volunteer it is somewhat infectious, that is, you are drawn to this sense of peace and comfort. Why is that? Reflecting on John’s gospel, we can see that Jesus is teaching us that ‘love’ is an activity (re: ‘Love … with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’). Futher, when loving God, it allows God to love others through us. When we are in Him (that is, when we are actively loving Him), his love flows through us and we actively love others.
It’s hard for me to say what is the number one memory or moment from this brief trip. A recurring thought however, is my having an appreciation for how consistently prayer was an activity included multiple times each day. This activity was indeed a part of the MOPs culture and practice regardless if at one of the care centers or at the residence for the Brothers and Sisters. I found the dedicated focus on this element of living to be uplifting.
My best experience on the trip to Missionaries of the Poor was having the opportunity to work with the mentally disabled residents of The Lord’s Place. It made me realize that the cost of helping another human being is really not big. So much human suffering could be relieved if we all let down our guard, stopped hiding behind policies and procedures, rolled up our sleeves and got down into it with the people who need our help.
I was surprised by how quickly I acclimated to the environment. I thought I’d be a lot more stressed and tired, but instead I felt right at home after the first day. I found that I was really relaxed even though we were in another country, in a place where crime was high and were working with folks with a lot of disabilities that I wasn’t really sure how to manage.
The greatest personal impact that this trip had for me was helping me to realize just how valuable individual human lives are. The care and love given to each and every soul in the MOP community is astounding. When we view each person as a unique reflection of God, suddenly we are surrounded by infinite beauty. Humanity isn’t just an idea—it’s all around us in living, breathing beings waiting to be embraced.
Peel back the tropical vacation mask, tune down the reggae music of Bob Marley, look past the “no problem man” words of Jamaica and there is a startling odor. An unmistakeable, un-replicateable odor lingering over the poor, lame, and abandoned; the sick, incapable and forgotten men, women and children that the brothers and sisters of Missionaries of the Poor pour their lives into in Kingston, Jamaica. A scent of dirt, of drying drool, hungered breath, stained pants and fresh tears.
I follow a tireless brother down a quiet hall and step into a faded blue room, echoing with distress and cries, laid with rows of cribs occupied by stranded and deformed infants and children. The smell breaches my nose with offense and my flesh’s response beckons me to back away. Then I see their eyes. The life pounding from the inside out against the windows of their eyes screaming silently, “be strong enough, come closer!..please.”
My eyes swell with the fear of the unknown and it is then that I recognize this un-mistakeable odor as the stench of Christ hovering over the Church’s sacred treasures as a shield to guard off the calloused and selfish-hearted, yet an invitation for the stumbling but striding soldiers of Christ to come forward with love. I slowly step forward, towards the life pounding out of the eyes of a crippled and distorted boy looking at me. He breathes slowly as the survivor of an abortion, my arms extend and my hands meet his forehead as my voice strangely finds the words, “Good morning”. The relentless life finally breaks from furiously banging and his lips spread across his face to reveal though broken, missing and crooked teeth the most beautiful smile yet to be seen, as a light transcended only by the Holy Spirit beams out through his now lighthouse eyes and the air smells of fermenting roses.
My time in Jamaica was a journey through a deep crack strewn with silent souls loved and cared for by the smiling brothers and sisters of Missionaries of the Poor, who inspiringly and sacrificially served what seemed to be un-ending need. One brother said, “you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” which echoed in the halls, through the foot steps, the wiping hands, the comforting voices, and the laughter found behind the walls of Missionaries of the Poor where the weary find sleep in peace and comfort. Beware for the invitation, the call, wherever and onto whomever it may be, and when the abrasive odor breaches your nose and attacks your eyes– step forward.
Onward, with fearless courage.
For days I have struggled to articulate what I want/need to say about my Jamaica experience. I think it’s because I’ve had so many thoughts and
emotions running through my mind. Emotions like joy, guilt, sadness, peace, confusion and frustration. But, I love how God knows just what we need when AND what amount of discomfort will cause growth and change to occur in our lives. He knows what will shake us up, what will awaken us and what will spur us on to love and good deeds…
On this trip, I feel like I got a much clearer picture of what Jesus looked like, how He served and better yet, how He calls us to serve. He showed me that through the Brothers and Sisters, like Brother Vincent, Brother Jimmy, Brother Daniel, Sister Emily and Sister Joanne. And, He showed me how Jesus really loved– reminding me that getting down and literally touching the least of these is one of the most important ways we can love and serve anyone. It’s not like serving from behind a desk, over the phone or by giving a monetary donation (none of which are bad, but they are just simply not going to be as powerful to the one serving). And, it’s funny how the tasks I was assigned all involved physical touch. I wasn’t asked to sweep or mop, like some of my friends. I was asked to cut fingernails/toenails, wipe the faces of the special needs adults, change diapers, brush teeth and help bathe crippled children. All involved kneeling down, humbling myself and showing compassion like Jesus did in a way that no words or other acts could. The physical touch may have been what the residents in the homes needed, but God knew it was also what I needed. I think I had been removed from serving in this capacity for a while and had gotten complacent and even almost numb to some of the needs in this world. I think holding the sweating, ill three year old through the duration of mass was just as important for me, as it was for her. I think bathing the children and brushing their teeth was just as beneficial for me, as it was for them. Hosing the poop off of one little boy, Floyd, was just as important to cleanse me as it was to cleanse him. By just diving in, God blessed me by allowing me to be His hands, literally. And, in those blessed moments, I felt the contentment of being purposed. It was as if that was God’s design for me from the beginning;). And, what a privilege and honor it was too. Hopefully, those acts of service and love touched each of us in lasting ways. My hope is that my posture will be forever changed and that I am a little bit more like Christ than I was a week ago.
What does it look like to try and create a dignifying environment for those your society thinks of as not having any worth? This trip helped me to see how the Missionaries of the Poor have created a well oiled machine to begin healing the wounds of several desperately needy groups of people Jamaica. In our effort to join the brothers in their work, I found myself in situations I wouldn’t quickly have volunteered for given the choice back Stateside. But in the doing of this work, which brought me face to face with the spirit of the people, forcing me to see beyond their physical handicaps, was a beautiful gift. I was challenged to slow down and make room for them; amidst my inclination to fix, I found their greater need was for me to simply be there with them. The whole trip in fact, full of slow motion movements to the various centers and activities of each day, was a pretty difficult thing for me to handle. Seeing our team work together and fill in where needed was wonderful.