Serving God's People in Jamaica

The vocation office for the Divine Word Missionaries sponsored a service trip to Jamaica held from May 27 to June 3, 2024. Four young individuals from three SVD parishes across the U.S., accompanied by Fr. Jorge Zetino, SVD, traveled to the island to provide their support. Here are some reflections they shared regarding their time there:

Felipe Cervantes
Going to Jamaica was a little scary, especially since it was also my first time flying on a plane. However, that scary feeling vanished almost instantly. Not only did God’s grace calm me, but the people I met on the trip were very reassuring. We all grew close as the week went on.

When we arrived in Jamaica, we were greeted by Bro. Bernie Spitzley, SVD, who was very welcoming and gave us a few pointers about Jamaica. We all carpooled to St. Patrick Church in Kingston where Bro. Bernie lives. I have to admit, the climate definitely took some getting used to. It was probably the hottest I’ve ever felt, but was indeed very humbling. Bro. Bernie explained why missions are important in countries like Jamaica. It was crazy to find out that only 1% of the population in Jamaica is Catholic. Since Fr. Jorge in our group is a priest, we were blessed to have Mass daily.

We presented the kids at St. Patrick School with an activity about Jesus and even taught them some short stories from the Bible. I really enjoyed teaching the kids with my group for the next few days. We also visited priests in other parts of Jamaica. They invited us for lunch and took us around to explore other Catholic parishes on the island. One church in particular was very unique, it was a Catholic parish paired with an Anglican church, so that was definitely a surprise to see. As the group and I communicated with the priests, we started learning a lot about how much really goes into running a parish and a school beside it. They told us about the community side, as well as the financial aspects. These parishes really do a lot for the communities and it's their strength and faith in the Lord that keeps them going. Lastly, we went to a parish called St. Pius, where we celebrated Mass on Sunday. I had the pleasure of taking the gifts up to the altar, along with another member of our group. 

Those of us who took the trip together bonded really well. We went to delicious local restaurants and all had a good time. My favorite activity with them was definitely playing the card game UNO. We acted like siblings toward one another and we had many laughs. It really felt like I’ve known them my whole life. It was pretty sad when we had to say goodbye to Bro. Bernie and St. Patrick’s, but saying goodbye to my fellow group members was definitely the saddest. 

Overall, this experience was a blessing and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to help others in need and meet a group of people who ended up feeling like family. I am really blessed to have the chance to go to Jamaica and experience a mission trip for the first time. I’m thankful that God gave me this opportunity of a lifetime.

Kien Vu
This mission trip was one of the most eye-opening and humbling experiences of my life. The things that we don’t think twice about in the United States are not always available in Jamaica. Conveniences like air conditioning, a flush toilet, clean tap water and electricity are things that we take for granted. I knew there would be challenges during this trip, but what I was not expecting was how much it would change my life.

When we passed out food and visited the shut-ins with some of the parishioners, our group was quickly humbled. Some of these people were living in tiny houses that were extremely hot and some of them had their legs amputated. When I first saw them, I felt sad for their living situation, but once we started talking, they shared their stories and it really hit me. They were smiling and telling us how they thanked God every morning for being able to wake up and live another day. One lady even taught us how to do a dance move and told us that the best thing we can do in life is to love one another. I realize now that the people I met in Jamaica are richer than most of the people in the United States. Not rich in the sense of wealth, but rich in the soul and heart.

Many Americans would not be able to survive here for even a week, but these people have lived their entire lives here and yet they are grateful and full of life. This made me extremely thankful for everything that we have back home and taught me important lessons to bring back to my youth group. As a youth leader of the Vietnamese Eucharist Youth Movement (VEYM), we have four mottos that we live by: prayer, communion, sacrifice, and apostolic works. Going on this trip was a test of all four mottos, especially sacrifice and apostolic works. Not only did I sacrifice the luxuries from the quality of life back at home, but I sacrificed time away from my family and the youth group. The class that I taught for the whole year was receiving their First Communion, but I had to miss it to attend this trip. But I realized that this is what it took to be a youth leader. Even though I had to sacrifice a bit of my time away from home, it was so that I could help the community in Jamaica and spread the love of God through the volunteer work we did.

Even though I’m back in the U.S. now, my mission doesn’t end here. One of the parishes/schools that we visited, St. Thomas, was struggling to pay their teachers and keep their doors open due to a lack of funding. When I heard about this, I knew that there was more that the group and I could do to help. When I returned home, I immediately started telling my family and youth group about the situation. I’m currently working to get our parish involved to help send funds to the school so the kids can continue to receive their educations. This mission trip has shown me that this is what God’s plan is for me. To help serve not just my youth group, but as many people around the world as possible. I don’t know what’s next in store for me, but I know that God will be here to guide and protect me. 

Iliana Cenobio and Izzy Ibarra 
During our time in Jamaica, we had the opportunity to engage with the wonderful community at St. Patrick Parish. Everyone was welcoming! One of the most heartfelt experiences was helping at the food pantry. Going to each individual’s home and giving them a meal really impacted us. Hand delivering the meals was a nice personal experience and we had a chance to see just how appreciative the families were. It really touched our hearts and it’s something we won’t forget. Engaging with the students was another touching experience. We did fun activities with them, like Bible pictures, which had the kids smiling from cheek to cheek. We also played with them during after-school hours. Three girls shared their dreams with us. One wanted to be a dancer, another a doctor, and the other an actor. The joy in their eyes filled our hearts. It’s these special moments that I will cherish. 

In addition to the wonderful people of Jamaica who we met, we also felt that the group we traveled with became like family. Our group Bible sharing brought a lot of insight and also tears—happy tears of course. Overall, this experience was humbling in the best way possible. It’s not often you get to live a mission experience. We are grateful to Divine word Missionaries for this opportunity. We also want to thank Bro. Bernie for his wonderful hospitality. Without him this trip wouldn’t have been possible. We hope that this mission trip continues to grow for more individuals to encounter a beautiful experience in the future like we did.

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