Mission Experience to Jamaica
Group helps the least among us
by Mark Singsank
“Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”
That well known bible passage from Matthew 25 came to life for a group of seven people the week of May 17 to May 25 in and around Morant Bay, St. Thomas, Jamaica.
Our group participated in the fourth annual mission trip to Jamaica organized by the Divine Word
College vocation office. Members of this year’s team included, Joey Risi, whose mom works for the SVD Mission Office at Techny, IL, Helena Stack, Divine Word College seminary students Luis Carmona and Jorge Zetino, Fr. Quy Dang, SVD, Divine Word vocation director, my daughter Jennifer and me.
From the beginning of our trip at the Kingston airport to the rectory in Morant Bay, we all knew that our journey would be filled with new experiences. The primary road from Kingston around the east end of the island, is to say the least, not very good. Our 30-mile trip took one hour and 15 minutes. It takes a seasoned driver and intestinal fortitude to maneuver around the numerous potholes, curves, narrow or nonexistent shoulders and oncoming vehicles. Road construction is not a “season” in St. Thomas as it is here because very few roads are ever fixed.
Regardless of the excitement of our first drive over the Jamaican roads, we were more excited about the tasks we came to Jamaica to accomplish—building houses. Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD, from Westphalia, Michigan, has been working with the organization, Food for the Poor, for the past 11 years, building houses for the least fortunate of the people in the St. Thomas parish. Our group’s goal was to complete the construction of two houses.
As we drove into the neighborhood where we would build our first house, an area called Bamboo River, our eyes were opened as we saw firsthand the living conditions of the residents. Many of the homes are crudely built with remnant pieces of wood, maybe some type of stone or concrete block foundation and corrugated steel for a roof. None have indoor plumbing, but some will have an electrical wire running to them. A few might have a one-inch water pipe near the home, while many of the residents will walk to the “pipe” to gather water. Directions are often given in relationship to where one lives from the “pipe.”
For most of the people, their home is basically a place for them to sleep. Some of our bedrooms here in the States may be as big as their entire home and they may have 6, 7 or even 10 people living there. Much of the day is spent outside, a place for making meals may be added to their home or it may just be outside near the home. The new homes we built are 16’x20’ and are divided into a sitting area, two bedrooms, a bathroom space that is about 4’x4’ and a loft above one of the bedrooms for more sleeping space. They are simply built with a concrete block foundation, two-inch thick concrete floor and 2 x 4 x 8 walls.
As we began our work, many of the area children came to see what was going on—and we were glad they did. One of the things that stood out for all of us on the trip was the children. Smiling, cheerful, inquisitive—the children who have next to nothing in material goods had everything in happiness. They loved to sing, dance, pose for photos or just be nearby watching. I think that many of our group came to a deeper realization that we do not need so many material items to be happy. The children made do with what they had, they didn’t need a new IPod or Nintendo DS.
The other group of people we met, who also helped us realize that material items are not the key to happiness, was the elderly. Mr. Stewart for example, who is blind and has been unable to walk for almost 20 years, still greeted us with a smile and a cheerful countenance. He and many of the other elderly we met are filled with faith and give thanks to God every day for all they have, even though to us, they have nothing.
In addition, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the children at their Bible Sharing class. Breaking open the Scriptures with them and their passion for songs like; God is Good and I am a Promise all speak of the hope for a better future the Divine Word Missionaries team of Fathers Frank Power and Yohanes Lunga Bally and Brothers Bobby Lucas Yeh and Bernie Spitzley bring to the people. We also want to thank Food for the Poor and their crew who work so hard to bring solid shelter to the people of Jamaica.
I think…I hope, all of us on the trip came to a deeper appreciation for the many things we have and take for granted. We enjoyed our time meeting the people of Jamaica and helping make their lives maybe a little better. And I believe we are all better people for what we learned by helping the least of our brothers.