Holding Hands by Erin Brown

“Christ has no hands or feet on earth but mine”

At the beginning of this week, we went on a spiritual retreat as a way to refresh and re-energize ourselves as we continue our year of accompaniment. We drove to Mount Tabor, a retreat house in the mountains north of Kingston. Mount Tabor is beautiful, it is on top of a mountain. We were truly immersed in nature, surrounded by beautiful landscapes and greenery. Also on this mountain top is a home called the Beatitude House. It is a home for men who are disabled. When we visited there, I immediately found a friend. I don’t know his name, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is his heart, he has the most beautiful soul. He was in awe of his hands, he would just stare at them in fascination. And my hands. We held hands the whole time we were together. And we looked at each others hands in wonder. I moved my hands and fingers in front of him and watched his face radiate pure joy. I traced the lines on his hands. Our hands are awesome. Our hands are true treasures from God. What would we do without our hands? I would argue our hands are the most underrated and underappreciated parts of our bodies! I think that we should all think about all the beautiful things our hands do for us. They write, pray, cook, feed, build, work, share, create, and most importantly, our hands are vessels of love.

I’ve been here for two and a half months and I can confidently say I have held more hands in the past two and a half months than I have in my entire life. Holding so many hands has strengthened my interaction with the world, enhanced my ability to love and connected me with people in a way I have never experienced before.

Holding hands is a physical sign of connection. It says “I am with you” without opening one’s mouth.

Holding hands is a physical sign that we are not alone. Holding the hand of a person who is lonely is more powerful than you can imagine. It absolves their loneliness, if only for an instant. The fulfillment of connection I have received by holding peoples’ hands here has been so beautiful. When I hold people’s hands at the infirmary or at Mustard Seed, I feel like it is more than a physical connection, it is a spiritual connection. I feel a surge of peaceful energy, a source of togetherness. When I hold a person’s hand, I feel my soul saying “I care about you. I desire to journey with you through all your sorrows and joys, person to person.”

In a world where people are feeling more and more disconnected, maybe we should hold each other’s hands more. When is the last time you held someone’s hand?

We should hold each others hands more often. And we should all take more time to appreciate the service our hands do for us. This year, I have the honor of rooming with the wonderful Katherine Lemanski. Among many blessings, Katherine has introduced “treatments” to me. Treatments are when you give your friend a hand massage while sitting across from each other using aromatherapy, lotions and calming music. It cultivates intimate friendship and appreciation for the service each other’s hands.

So my challenge to you is to pay more attention to your hands and the work they do for others. Notice and appreciate your friends’ and families’ hands and the work they do. You learn a lot about a person from their hands. Our hands tell our individual stories of love and pain. They reveal both the sensitivity and strength of human nature. Take the time to connect with your loved ones and hold their hand, they might need it more than you think.

The Power of Thank You by Nicki Mlakar

I know I am in Santa Cruz when I feel the sun beating down just THAT much hotter. 

My Tuesdays are spent with the men and women at the Infirmary. In full transparency, I was so nervous to be assigned to an infirmary. To my surprise, it could not be a bigger blessing.

I simply love my Tuesdays. 

So let me introduce you to some of my friends! 

Ms. Nora

Ms. Nora is a little, old woman who has these big eyes that are beginning to turn blue from the cataracts that are forming. She has the world’s biggest and warmest smile. She tells me every week how upset she is because she dropped her dentures and they broke. Nonetheless, she smiles away. Ms. Nora does this thing when she gets really excited- she pulls my hand to her forehead and does this squil of a little girl. The innocence within her is simply precious. When greeted by Ms. Nora, I am reminded that this is how I want others to feel when I see them- delighted and overjoyed to be amongst their presence.

Ms. Debbie and Mr. David

I can always count on these two to be at the same table and seats in the lunchroom each time I visit. They are two peas in a pod. 

Ms. Debbie is a middle aged woman who has burn marks all over her body which results in skin discoloration and hair loss in patches. Ms. Debbie does NOT hold back when playing Dominos. I usually always lose. 

Next is Mr. David. He is a well spoken man who used to be a deacon for a Pentacostal church. 

I read the bible to them. Following a passage, Mr. David always asks me, “What does that mean to you?”. I share my reflection, and he listens intently. In return, I ask him the same. I am continuously blown away by his eloquent responses that are so full of wisdom and experience.  

Next Michael

Michael loves to watch tv and wearing his Miami hat. He told me he wants to pray with me. I love praying with the people here. They hang onto every word and truly feel the spirit moving within the space that they make holy. 

The infirmary is set up that men are in one building and women are in another. Along the walls are dozens of beds for those that stay there. There are close to 100 people in total. 

Next, I want you all to know Mr. Williams. 

Mr. Williams is a little, old man who is paralyzed so he is always in his bed. 

Our conversations typically go a little something like this:

“Hi Mr. Williams! How are you today?”

“Not as good as you.”

“How are you feeling today?”

“In pain.”


“All over.”

“I can’t move. My back hurts.”

And then Mr. Williams will proceed to talk about whatever he wants to share that day. 

One day in particular while feeding him, I had the most beautiful, yet humbling experience. It made me think of this African proverb that says, “A person becomes a person through other people”. Feeding Mr. Williams helped me derive this new self understanding. 

We didn’t speak, and he never broke eye contact. His eyes were filled with pain. His eyes were filled with shame of not being able to move. But his eyes were filled with gratitude. 

He had to humble himself enough to allow me to feed him. 

He saw me, and I saw him. 

Person to person. 

Renne Brown tells us, “In order for connection to happen we have to be seen. Really seen”. 

After taking his last sip of water, he grabbed my arms and said these two simple words to me with more intent and conviction than I have ever heard them have, “thank you”. 

Thank. You. 

Two words we hear so frequently throughout our days quite literally sent shivers down my spine and called a change within my own perspective. Those two words challenged me to see with a new lense and to recognize the beauty amongst me regardless of the harsh realities and challenges I am learning about each and everyday here. 

Mr. Williams reminded me of the power of thank you, the meaning behind it, and the conviction that can and should be felt by those that touch you. 

“What happens outside of us is not nearly as important as what happens inside of us.” -St. Paul of the Cross 

Today, on September 14, 2019: 

I am thankful for the breakfast I ate. 

I am thankful for the running water and toothpaste I have to brush my teeth. 

I am thankful for rain. 

I am thankful for the food on my plate. 

I am thankful for my health. 

I am thankful for the opportunity to be here everyday and learn. 

I am thankful for the many men and women here who have called me their daughter. 

I am thankful for my community who has created a space where vulnerability is welcomed and a space to laugh. 

I am thankful for the unwavering love and encouragement I have received from all of you. 

I am thankful for the gift of today. 

May we see with the eyes of our heart and be thankful.

Glass Half Full by Jessica Villatoro

Half way through the year and the bittersweet feeling of leaving begins to hit. People back home are starting to wonder what you’ll be doing when you get back and the people who have become family are starting to say that you don’t have as much time left. Our first six months flew and we all know the second half of the year means it will fly just as fast. Now is  the time to do the things we want to do if it hasn’t been done yet. As any PVI knows this is the time when you truly feel just how close you have become with those you have been serving. Though with all that said its important to keep what we’ve learned in mind as well. You live with a “take each day a day at a time” here. Jamaicans truly believe in not worrying about a thing or as little as possible. They all know that every thing will work out in the end regardless of what you may have wanted or expected. Each day is a blessing so treat as one.  

Thinking of what I would like to take back would be this sort of mentality. Over foreign, its easy to get worked up over the little things and not seeing the best of every situation. Worrying about the schedule that you must keep, juggling more than five things a day at a time and that is definitely a mentality that you soon realize doesn’t exist here. You meet so many people that despite their circumstances they feel beyond blessed with just living. This will for sure be one thing that I would like to take with me. With a glass half full now it is expected that the glass will be full by the end of the year with all the people, places and experiences that we have experienced here. Living in paradise with so much love. One love, One Heart. 

Food For Thought by Maggie Sceski

Among the many questions my parents ask me when I call home, one of the most common ones is; “Are you getting enough to eat?”  Luckily, this is one thing that they do not need to worry about.  If there is one thing Jamaicans make sure of, it is that I am well fed.   

I have always loved to cook food with and for other people – and, of course, to eat it with them too.  I believe food has a unique way of bringing people together, and I have noticed this even more since coming to Jamaica.  Everyone has to eat, so obviously it is something we immediately have in common, even with people we don’t know at all.  Talking about food, comparing the different foods we eat, and trading recipes and cooking tips has been a great way to start conversations and get to know the people and culture.  The open, welcoming culture of Jamaica is always evident when it comes to food.  No matter where I go, without fail, I am offered food – whether it is chicken, rice and peas, or fruit right off a tree – and trust me, Jamaicans do not take “no” for an answer.   

Just a few weeks into my missions, I was at one of my sites a little later than usual.  Realizing that I had not packed a lunch, the girl I work with, who I had only recently met, held out half of her lunch, a single bun, to me.  “Oh no, I’m not really hungry,” I responded, to which she wordlessly nudged the bread a little closer.  I shook my head. “Really, I’m okay.”  Her hand remained where it was.  After waiting a few more seconds to see if she would withdraw her offer, I took it, she smiled, and we ate our lunch together.  Little moments like this have occurred to me countless times in the few short months I have lived here, and honestly, they are some of the most powerful. I am consistently amazed and humbled by the generosity shown to me by the Jamaican people. 

In addition to bringing me closer to the Jamaican people, food has brought my community closer as well.  Whether we are adventuring out to find neat places to eat, or staying home and devouring half of the brownie batter together before it even reaches the oven, food has been a key player in many of the awesome memories that we have already made in these few short months we have been a together.  We also have community nights twice a week where we all come together to eat dinner.  This is actually so important when it comes to living in an intentional community. We all have different sites where we work and different schedules, so having that time to check in, catch up, and just be with each other makes all the difference in the world.  And what better place to come together than around the dinner table? It’s a way to come back to reality, relax, and be present – all very important things, I have found, when living in a foreign country. 

It has also been fun going back and forth with family and friends from home, talking about food.  “What is that you’re eating?” “Describe how that tastes,” and “Wow, that’s the biggest avocado I’ve ever seen!” are some of the remarks I usually get from them, and they love to tantalize me with foods from home that I love like apple pie, Cheez-Its, or berries that we don’t have in Jamaica (like blueberries).  They love to hear about learning to cook jerk chicken or me scouring every grocery store in Mandeville (like, seriously, every one) to find pickles.  We have had a lot of laughs over such conversations. 

 Basically, the long and short of it is that food has this amazing power to bring people together and my experience so far in Jamaica has been greatly enriched because of it.  I feel more in touch with the culture and with the people I encounter every day whether they are Jamaican, my community members, or family and friends from home. 

“A Glimpse into HIV/AIDS Ministry” by Erin Curtin