“I thought I was going to serve the mentally and physically challenged children, men and women, the abandoned and most rejected by society, in the ghettoes of Kingston, Jamaica. I was ready to give my all.
“Instead, it was I who received love in abundance, my appreciation of the value of life increased a hundredfold, my cup refilled, my batteries were recharged.
“In my daily apostolate work I was greeted with enormous smiles and hugs of welcome. These residents had nothing, they asked for nothing, yet their spirits shone. In the deformed and disfigured bodies of the children, I encountered the face of Jesus radiating joy. Here was the wounded body of Christ, His presence among the poor, His presence amidst rejection by society.
“Alongside the brothers and sisters we joked, danced, sang, ate and shared in their daily prayer life which sustained us.
“Hence their motto, ‘Joyful service with Christ on the Cross’ Why not come, see, and experience it yourself?”
“During our time in Kingston, we pursued the daily routine structure of the MOP Brothers’ way of living, which began with morning prayer at 5.45am, followed by Mass and Eucharistic adoration. I realised prayer is an important aspect of their lives, as it was the central source from which they drew their strength to serve the poorest of the poor. We shared everything with the other volunteers from sleeping arrangements to eating the same meal together.
“This experience was definitely both satisfying and rewarding. We spent our time serving the residents at five different apostolates namely Faith Centre, Jacob’s Well, Lord’s place, Bethlehem and Good Shepherd. In the apostolates, we helped out with some basic chores such as cleaning dormitories, mopping floors, feeding the residents, cleaning and cutting their nails, applying lotion, shaving men’s beard, applying nail polish to women, preparing medication boxes and dressing wounds.
“Most of the residents were either physically disabled or mentally challenged and I found it difficult to take the first step and engage with them initially. It was not only their appearance, but also the atmosphere which I was struggling to get used to. However, all hesitation vanished the moment I said a prayer to God asking Him to let me see His face in the faces of these residents. Instantly, I felt a little courageous to move forward and began speaking to them.
“Spending time with the residents helped me realise that they are equally able to give and receive love the same way we give and receive love from our dear ones. They are just like our family. Having built a relationship with them over the two weeks, I began to understand the joy of selfless love; they never expected anything from us, instead all they wanted was for us to spend time with them.
“It certainly taught me a few lessons. Usually I see people worrying about job, mortgage, marriage etc, but through this experience, I learnt that life cannot be lived freely if we are going to worry every day about the things that are passing. For the residents, life was about living each day to the full.
“This has indeed been a spiritual retreat for me, where we hear the word of God during Mass every morning and are then encouraged to go out and live the Gospel; to serve the poor, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to hear the resident’s painful stories and spend time with them. This is how I see a follower of Christ; to love and serve Christ by offering service to those most in need. I realised donating money and clothing is very easy but spending time amidst those who are afflicted is more difficult. No doubt, this is also what provides us with utmost joy; the joy of giving is greater when we are physically present and give ourselves completely to serving them. What left a huge impact in my life is seeing the Brothers work day and night tirelessly without expecting a salary at the end of the week. The work they do is not easy at all but when I asked them what motivated them to leave their family behind and give up their time, talents and life for such a mission they replied, “it is only the love for Christ and nothing else”.
“This mission experience has provided me with a new perspective to life. I don’t think anyone who goes through such an experience can return to their normal lives and not feel the difference.
“I will always treasure the words of Fr Richard Ho Lung, founder of the MOP mission in my heart. He said, “Less is more; the less of materialistic things you have in this world, the more of Christ you will have in your life”. Since that day onwards, I have taken it a challenge to live a simple life; to know the difference between what I want and what I need.”
“How often have you holidayed abroad and witnessed deprivation? Surely you considered how lucky you were and suffered a twinge of conscience as to what could be done to alleviate such conditions?
“Well, this year I addressed this personal situation by volunteering, for two weeks, to help the Missionaries of the Poor (MOP) in downtown Kingston, Jamaica, in their care homes. They tend to the crippled both mentally and physically, and only ask that you cover your costs, seeing as they have no income and rely entirely on donations to survive.
“It was most enjoyable to be totally involved with the Brothers in their daily lives while helping in any way possible in these homes. This could involve the cleaning of floors and making of beds, feeding people, shaving them or whatever may be needed.
“It is not a “walk in the park” but you get to meet the most interesting people, including the Brothers and other volunteers. This could be the best and most rewarding fortnight you have spent in long time.”
The Diocese of East Anglia group also included: Caroline Peel and Tony Chapman (St George, Norwich), Peter Ho (Sawston), Mary Desburuslais (Ignite team), Myles O’Hanlon (All Souls Peterborough) and Tom Mason (Cathedral, Norwich).
If you would like to find out more about future visits to Jamaica, please contact Fr Michael Johnstone at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01603 664118 (evenings best).
For more information about the Missionaries of the Poor visit: www.missionariesofthepoor.org
Pictured top is the East Anglia group and some others from the USA with Fr Richard Ho Lung, the founder of MOP mission.