“Mentors” by Ross Boyle

 

I’ve never been good at starting blog posts. I have always found it to be a bit awkward. So instead of just getting right to it, allow me to tell a joke instead:

What do you get when you cross a Jamaican and a ginger?

So now that the intro is finished, allow me to just get straight to it. I have been reading the bible more here in Jamaica than I ever have in the past. Which is really saying something considering I took an entire course on scripture and the New and Old Testament in college. Every couple days I find myself with a Bible in hand reading it to someone either at the infirmary, with someone at the Spalding Hospital, or even just in the comfort of our house for spirituality night. And one passage keeps popping up over and over again that has given me the opportunity to more deeply reflect on it. In Proverbs it states,  

“Iron sharpens iron. So one man sharpens another.” (27:17) 

 

I have found this passage to mean more to my life now than ever before. In so many ways, these two sentences have shaped the way I have been encompassing ministry over the last month. And let me tell you, it’s been easier than I thought it would be. But that is of no thanks to myself, and all because of the mentors who surround me. To start, I need to talk about Brother Mike. Br. Mike is a Passionist brother who has been in Jamaica for 50 years. He has dedicated his life to the Manchester Infirmary, where he spends all of his energy visiting, caring and providing for those living at the Infirmary. He is a man whose charm is his honesty, and whose charism is passion, dedication, and loyalty. I have been able to work with Br. Mike at the infirmary and learn what it means to tenderly love as a man of God.

 

The next mentor I want to mention, and the real reason as to why I am writing a blog post on this subject, is Fr Lucian. Fr. Lucian, as I am sure many who are reading this knows, is the director and founder of the Passionist Volunteers International. Just recently, Fr. Lucian has announced that he is stepping back from the leadership role of PVI and letting another fill his big shoes. Although I could write an entire blog on this man and the type of person he is, I will step back and let the professionals do it when he is ready. (I never asked permission to write about him. So if you’re reading this now Fr. Lucian, I’m sorry and I hope it’s okay! I promise I won’t say anything bad about you such as your bad taste in football teams, or tell any embarrassing stories such as the time you presided mass in Jamaica looking like a ghost because you never properly rubbed all the sunscreen in)! But one thing I will say about Fr. Lucian is that he has been a mentor to all of us here in Jamaica. I don’t mean just the PVI’s, but every person he encounters while in this beautiful country. He tagged along one day with me to visit my church community in Morgan Forest and spent the day teaching the kids magic tricks. I still get asked every time I go if the “old white man” is with me. (Sidenote: it took me the longest time to understand who they were asking about. No one would describe Fr. Lucian as old. But alas, my children do.) Fr. Lucian has taught me what it means to love God, embrace your true self, and to never give up on something you are passionate about.

 

The last mentor who ‘sharpens my iron’ daily are the Jamaicans. Every one of them. Jamaicans have such an unbelievable way about themselves. Jamaicans value hard work, integrity, ownership, and protection of family above all else. They are instilling in me values and characteristics that I pray I bring home with me. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings and see how much I continue to grow and learn. I have definitely been sharpened by man and it is because of that sharpening that I have the strength to go out every day.

 

So as I conclude this blog, let me end with this: If you made it this far, you deserve the answer to the joke!

A gingerbreadmon.

Hope it was worth it! God bless.

“Qualifications for a Volunteer: Flexibility and Patience” by Tim Manning

If I were to pick two criteria critical to a volunteer lifestyle, they would be flexibility and patience. A Passionist Volunteer MUST be flexible and patient. In Jamaica, everything happens a little bit slower, from the mail to mass on Sundays, pretty much everything here except the cars on the road are at a slower pace. Waiting is the norm and plans constantly get changed. Even though we have the same schedule each week, no two weeks are the same.  We might change our schedule one week for a funeral and the next week for an event at another community member’s site. We have to be flexible because if we were not willing to change our schedule, we would miss out on a lot of important events happening and it would hinder our experience here in Jamaica.

For those who do not know me, I am a very flexible person when it comes to scheduling. I always think I can do more than I actually can, which leaves me with a full schedule and it’s part of the reason why I am late for everything. The relaxed atmosphere in Jamaica is perfect for me because here I am not judged for being late. One of the most popular sayings in Jamaica is “soon come,” which often does not mean what Americans think of as soon. Here it can mean anything from minutes to hours or even days or weeks.

However, as flexible as I am, I am not a very patient person, and that is something that I am working on this year. When I was invited to come to Jamaica in March by Fr. Lucian, I had to be patient for the next four months until I actually landed in Jamaica and started my year here.

As a PVI, you have to expect the unexpected. Sometimes when you’re in a rush to get somewhere and it’s pouring rain out, you get a flat tire. You have to be able to be flexible when you show up to an infirmary or nursing home and you’re in a great mood, but maybe that day the people you are visiting are depressed or do not want to talk. Flexibility in that situation means accompanying people through their suffering by just being there and holding their hand. I have learned in Jamaica that words do not always work when trying to cheer someone up, sometimes your presence is all you can offer and is the only thing that they really want.

 

“sometimes your presence is all you can offer.”

 

Patience and flexibility are two things that PVIs must learn throughout their year. We do not have office jobs or deadlines; our job is to be with people by accompanying them on their journey. We must be both patient and flexible so we may better accompany the people we encounter.

 

By: Tim Manning PVI 15′-16′

 

“Discovering Christmas In a New Way” by Victoria Ryan

A trait that I see commonly among many Jamaicans I have encountered thus far this year is faithfulness. Throughout this season of Christmas it has been particularly noticeable. Christmas carols replaced choruses at Basic School devotion in the first week of November. Lights adorned every Mandeville shopping center by the first week of December. As a New Englander who went to school in Indiana, it really does not feel like Christmas with palm trees around every corner and 82-degree mornings. Without the dread of finals in the air and anticipating the excitement of re-uniting with family and friends, I really thought the season would come and go without much notice.

“the true meaning of Christmas has never been more apparent.”

Yet as I sit at the kitchen table surrounded by my awkward Jamaican family (our PVI community) listening to our childhood favorite carols, the true meaning of Christmas has never been more apparent. It doesn’t matter who you are with or where you are; if  you are with those who love you and those you love, Christmas still feels magical. Planning and hearing others’ (hushed) plans for our Secret Santa exchanges is more intriguing than the traditional gift exchange my family and friends participate in back home.

 

So many of the people in our mission sites have so little that they do not even think about gift giving and exchanges. Instead they think about whether or not there will be enough food for the whole family that day. The Friday before Christmas I took three boys from the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Maggotty, St. Elizabeth with me to distribute food packages to some such families. Although the families of these boys do not have much more than those we went to, they were eager to help others and spread the Christmas spirit. With the help of those boys, my fellow volunteers, and the rest of the faithful Jamaicans I have encountered, I think I can finally say after twenty-one Christmases, I learned the true meaning of Christmas just in time for twenty-second! A Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for this New Year! 

 

By: Victoria Ryan, PVI 15′-16′

“God With Us” by Courtney Radtkin

While on our community house trip in Negril we went to Mass Sunday morning and I was reminded by the homily of what Emmanuel means—“God with us.”   During this Christmas season it is important to take a step back and see how God has been with us.  During Mass, Jamaica memories over the past five months rushed through my head.  Memories where I felt God had been with me.  While it is important to recognize God’s presence in our lives, it is also important to know how each one of us is God’s light for each other.

When I returned back to life in Mandeville, I decided to interview the people I encounter everyday at my mission sites about how they see God working in their life, and how they show others God’s presence.

Here is what they had to say:

Andrea is a first year student at the Catholic College of Mandeville.  She said, “I cannot walk without holding God’s hand.” Lisa is also a first year student at the Catholic College of Mandeville.  She followed Andrea saying, “God is the host in our life.” Lisa went on to say that God works through Andrea and her teacher, Mrs. Goldberg.  She said, “they let me talk to them and they listen. They push me to be successful.”

Lisa, Meisha, Andrea, and Sheryl (all first years at CCM) said at CCM they show God to others through sharing lunch with people when they do not have the money to eat, and through helping each other understand their school assignments.

The next day I went to the infirmary and was touched by what they had to say about God at work in others and in themselves.

Mr. Tomlinson said God is present in his life when he has a good relationship with everyone.   He said he shows God to others through “singing religious songs” to his fellow residents at the infirmary and through having the heart of a child.  And let me tell you…this is true! He shows a genuine interest in me and tries to build our relationship by asking in depth questions. He also has the playfulness of child.  He knows the God within himself well.

Neville said he sees God in everything that is good. “I get up in the morning and give thanks that I get to bathe. I give thanks for water and breakfast.  I give thanks that God provided a place like this for people who cannot help themselves.”

All Myrtle and Mr. Thompson had to say was that they are thankful for the breath of life, and they give thanks and praise when they see the sun come up another day.  While this may sound cliché or scripted, the beautiful part about it is that they mean that with every part of their being.

The next day, Wednesday, I was doing home visits in Brae’s River and Miss Althea said, “every time I pray, my prayers are answered.” While she struggles financially, she says somehow the Lord always provides.  Miss Althea believes she is God’s presence in Brae’s River by owning her small shop where she sells flour, canned mackerel, laundry soap, juice, water crackers, etc.—all of the Jamaican essentials. She says she enjoys assisting the people who come to her shop.  Besides working in the fields occasionally, the shop is her everyday life and she gives glory to God through that.

Rita in Brae’s River is a strong faithful woman.  She said God keeps and guides her through the night and day.  She sees God in herself through her strength.  Rita believes when she passes people and says hello and shares things with others she is showing God’s love to them.

What I learned from the conversations I had with these people is that their incredible faith is simple yet full of depth. Sharing with others and talking with others is how most of them believe they emulate God’s love. While this is simple, I have witnessed them do this to their greatest capacity.  They live out their true self, and I believe that is the purest way God reveals God’s self to us.  Their everyday practice of giving thanks for life is how they recognize God’s presence in their life. They give thanks to God for water, thanks for food, thanks for good grades, thanks for their breath, thanks for everything everyday.

Over the course of the past five months, I feel myself growing more toward my “true self.”  This growth stems from being inspired by the gratitude of Jamaicans.  Becoming more thankful for every little thing in my life has changed my outlook on myself, others, and my experiences.  It has given me patience, understanding, compassion, and a genuine happiness.  I thought I was a thankful person until I decided to live with the people of Jamaica for a year.  They have taught me so much, and for that I am grateful. As I move forward into the new year I hope to continue learning and growing from the Jamaican faith. A faith rooted in gratitude. God has truly revealed God’s self to me through the Jamaican people.

 

*Pictured above is Courtney with Rita from Brae’s River

Small Moments of Authentic Love by Dan Piaskowski

As a volunteer throughout high school and college I was always looking for ways to maximize the amount of people I helped and the amount of problems I solved. Quantity was the most important aspect of my service because I could point to all of the things I had accomplished and show how “big” my volunteer work was. And we all know that bigger is always better, right? Personally, service was always easier when I had a checklist of tasks that I could point to and show concrete evidence of what I did or what I gave. And I believe a lot of people would see volunteer work in a similar way. We want to know how many service hours, how many people were served, what service was provided, and what items and/or money was donated. The quantity of the work is closely tied to how we evaluate the quality of the work.

But what if the quantity can’t really be measured? What if the service doesn’t consist of building houses, taking care of the sick, giving out food and clothes, or teaching students? As PVIs we sometimes do that type of work, but our number one mission is accompaniment, walking with the crucified of today. A lot of our time is spent in infirmaries, homes and in my case, a hospital just visiting people. We sit and chat, pray, and sing choruses.

But how do you measure the quality of that accompaniment?

With the “bigger is better” mindset that I brought with me to Jamaica, I thought that I had to visit more people to do a better job at accompaniment. So when I first visited Black River Hospital on my own (I had originally done visits with Father Jim Price, the pastor at my mission church), I tried to visit as many people as I could and basically went from bed to bed, introducing myself and saying a prayer with each person. (A note, in Black River the hospital consists of three wards, and each ward is just a giant room with two rows of beds. No one has their own room).

Because it is a hospital, some people are there for weeks or even months, but most people I meet are gone before I get a chance to come back. This means that when I visit, this will most likely be my only interaction with this person. There isn’t time to develop a relationship with anyone. And so, as I made quick visits with everyone on the floor, I didn’t really feel I was accompanying anyone at all. I was doing a good job at seeing everyone in each ward but usually I just learned their names, where they were from and why they were in the hospital.

So the last time I went to the hospital I decided to slow down and try to spend more time with a few individuals. I visited the women’s ward and had really powerful interactions with a few women. I sat, crouched or knelt next to each of these women, holding their hands, listening to their concerns, their hopes and prayers but most of all listening to their witness of faith. Each one of these women were shining examples of trust in God. One of them named Linda was about to go into surgery to remove two tumors from her abdomen and she was completely at peace. She was not worried about it at all, in fact, she was more worried that there are people in the world who do not have faith in God and so they have no way of gaining the peace that she has found in Him. 

Another woman named Ms. Shon was there with asthma. She has had it for 12 years and was visibly having trouble breathing. I sat with her for a while and listened to her talk about her 14 children, her home in New Market, but most of all her faith. We talked about how even though I am Catholic and she is Baptist, we worship the same God and are brother and sister in Christ. She told me how singing brings her closer to God, something that I can relate to, and she sang a Jamaican chorus to me. As she sang her eyes were shining and I felt honored to be there witnessing it. 

  These are just two examples of the women I spoke to but these interactions were my entire relationship with these women. Chances are not very good that I will see them ever again. However, in the short amount of time I spent with each of them, I felt authentic love being shared. I was sharing in their lives, even if it was only a tiny fraction of their entire lifetimes. So how do you measure the quality of accompaniment?

It doesn’t matter how many people you visit or how long you visit with each person. What matters is whether or not you opened yourself to love and share with each person in that moment. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta always talked about doing “small things with great love.”Well my interactions with these women were definitely small but filled with authentic love.

It was accompaniment in its most basic form. And I think that is what being a PVI is really about. It is not about doing a bunch of tasks, but rather opening yourself up to share in the lives of each person you encounter, even if it is only for a few minutes. 

“The Soundtrack to My Year In Jamaica” by Emma

I adore music. Anything with a good beat and I will be dancing in my seat or on my feet. Music is a major part of the culture here and not surprisingly has been a key part of me personally encountering Jamaica. From gospel to reggae to soca to dancehall, I have been exposed to the local music through many facets of my time here. I hear gospel play from a shop I pass on the way to taxi in the morning, I hear reggae play during my shorter ride to Somerset or my lengthier ride to Santa Cruz, depending on the day. We sing a chorus during morning devotion at the primary school; my new friends play the radio as we walk around Mike Town on a Saturday afternoon, correcting my lyrics as I attempt to speak patois like the dancehall stars. I pass men walking with giant speakers on pushcarts that send jams flowing through town as I walk home at the end of the day and tunes play while my roommates and I cook dinner. There has been a soundtrack playing as I begin my new life in Jamaica and here are a few songs that would make the most played list.

I never had a love for gospel until we only had one CD that worked in the car, Hot Gospel. And hot it was. “Take me as I am” plays as I think of my beginning here. It is my first time traveling and living outside of my home county. The first time living out of my home state. The first time driving on the left side of the road, the first time in many years without school as my focus. I began this journey green as could be and hoping for the best. I have trusted in the Lord and it has paid off. This is the most welcoming place I have ever been to; when I am open, honest and friendly to the people I meet, I am accepted as I am.

“Thank you dear Lord for your blessings on me” Barbara Jones sings as I am reminded daily how much I am blessed with. When a Jamaican is asked how they are their initial response is usually a small word of gratitude for their blessings and living to see another day.  Through every encounter here I am shown how to be truly thankful for life. Worrying and fretting about problems is not the Jamaican way. Trusting in God’s providence through prayer and praise, that is the way.

“Why worry when you can pray” plays as I think of times of uncertainty and exhaustion. Why worry when I am driving without a GPS on my phone, there is always someone on the road that will give me directions. There is no need to stress after a long day when I can come home to comrades that will encourage and strengthen me with their words, similar experiences, and often an offering of fried plantains.

I could not speak on Jamaican music without mentioning the legend, the king, Mr. Marley. “Could you be loved” is playing as I remember that I must let myself be open to love to be able to truly love in return. I listen and realize I must be vulnerable with my roommates, my new family here, and share in their joys and troubles. I learn to cherish the ways I have felt love whether it be small but mighty hugs from my first graders, cooking lessons from a warm grandmother, a woman I visit finally opening up about her hardships and her past, time spent simply being with people and the start of many new relationships.

Finally Chronixx sings “I’m pleased to be chilling in the West Indies, I got the sunshine rivers and trees” and I am reminded of what a beautiful country I find myself in. Whether taking time out to relax at the beach or look up to notice the glorious hills as I walk to visit a friend, I am so very pleased.

 

By: Emma Hagenauer 15′-16′

Cortney Celebrates Heroes Day in Jamaica!

In the PVI program, we are allotted one day a week for our day off or our rest day, and after figuring out everyone’s schedules with work and the cars, we then chose which day we wanted to consistently keep as our day off.  Out of the eight of us, I am the only one who has chosen Monday as my rest day for the week.  However, this past Monday (October 19th) my seven roommates, along with 98% of the island joined me on my day off to celebrate National Heroes’ Day.  This holiday was completely foreign to me until just a few weeks ago when I started hearing more and more mention of it – kids were getting excited that they got days off from school, adults were looking forward to get a day off from work, and all Jamaicans were open to explaining what the day truly celebrated.  I learned that Heroes’ Day is a day to celebrate the seven heroes of the country – seven Jamaican people who impacted the country in the most positive ways.  Most were involved in politics or they helped in the process of abolishing slavery, but all left a lasting footprint on this beautiful country – something worth celebrating.  

 

Anyway, I chose to celebrate this holiday with the kids and families in Albion Gully, which is the community (in the gully of a mountain) where I do home visits, an after-school program, and where I hold a weekly youth group.  I rarely get to spend a lot of time with all of the kids together without having a planned agenda so I thought that this holiday would be a great excuse to visit with them and to simply have fun.  Courtney – one of my roommates and close friends – decided to join me too so she could see where and who I was working with so we hopped in our van and needless to say, the adventure began.  The day started off pretty normal – we were happily greeted by the women and kids in the first yard; some of the men proudly explained the different heroes that were being celebrated that day; we shelled some peas and shared laughter with Susan; we did a few more home visits; and then we gathered the kids together to head down to the cave.  The cave is even further into the mountain than the community itself so the kids don’t go there often as it’s a decent walk and could be dangerous if journeyed alone.  However, because there has been so much talk about it the past few weeks, I decided it was time to make a trip there.  It was absolutely wonderful!  It was exciting to see the kids in a new light – they were leading me and I had to put my trust in them.  Needless to say, they tried to trick me and jokingly lead me astray here and there; but they had my back at all times.  At one point, Krissy (one of my favorite little girls) said, “Miss, be careful.  There’s a hole right by your foot and if you step in it, you’ll fall into that cave.  Now I know I’m little and pretty weak, but I would still try to save you and hold on because that’s the right thing to do!”  We didn’t stay too long once the kids realized that the bats were not pleased that we were making their home a little touring ground, but it was still worth the trip.  They then ran back to their homes to get bathed and changed to go on a little outing that I had pre-planned.

 

While everyone was getting ready, I looked at my phone and saw that I had a missed call.  It turned out that Emma – one of my other roommates whom I was planning to meet up with in her community for a holiday party – suddenly got sick and was no longer able to be in her community.  Court and I brainstormed.  There was no way I wasn’t going to take my kids somewhere after all of the build-up for this trip.  Plus, an outing is a celebration in itself to these kids.  After piling people in the van, we decided to take them to a Heroes’ Day party in Courtney’s community, Brae’s River.  It wasn’t ideal in that it was 45 minutes away, but it was a perfect way for me to see who and where she was working and it solved our predicament so it worked.  When we first arrived, not much was happening as it had just finished downpouring and Jamaicans refuse to go out in the rain, even a slight drizzle.  Eventually, though, we had our kids jumping in the bouncy house and riding what was seemingly the most terrifying “ferris wheel” that I have ever seen.  They were snacking on cotton candy and popcorn and simply being kids.  Even the “toughest” boy cracked a smile and waved as he was at the top of the ferris wheel.  That in itself was enough to make my day.  Time passed and we piled back into the van to head back home.  Surprisingly, this was my favorite part.  Not because we were heading home, but because of what ensued on the way home – everyone was full of sugar and high on energy that we all found ourselves singing to the radio.  As we got closer and closer to home, the singing got louder and louder.  At one point, I turned around to see Little Leo (a two-year-old) along with eight others singing Thinking Out Loud at the top of their lungs with the biggest smiles on their faces.  Tears filled my eyes as joy exploded from our van.  The singing then turned into a game – we would sing and Krissy or Tanisha would yell out things like, “If you had the best day ever, scream yes!” or “If you’ve ever been in love, scream yeah!”  Now, joy was literally exploding from our van – our singing and shrieking could be heard from miles away, I’m sure.  Once we made our way down into Albion Gully (with Courtney’s incredible driving skills), we ended the night with a cookie cake.  Many thank you’s, hugs, and laughter were shared before we finally made our way back home.  Heroes’ Day was a success.  It was a day to celebrate Jamaica’s national heroes; but even more so, it was a day to celebrate my little heroes that I have the privilege of getting to be with throughout this entire year.

Learning Matthew Ch. 7, “God Will Provide” by Caitlin Day

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

Matthew 7:7-8

 

God Will Provide

 

           I’ve been living in Jamaica for roughly two and a half months and I often feel like a broken record. Whether it’s telling my friends and family back home how my life in Jamaica is going or simply during my day to day conversations. For example, phrases like “Good Morning” as I walk into town past the constant flow of children walking to school, or saying “mi soon come” as people in my mission sites recognize me and call for me as I arrive. I would have to say my favorite phrase to say is “wah gwan” which is how I greet someone I know, or saying “lata” to say goodbye, just because I think it makes me look cool.  However, there is one phrase that I have found myself often saying that has nothing to do with daily conversation. “God will provide.”

            God will provide. God has provided for me throughout my life in both big and small ways. During orientation, while attempting to make an icebox cake for a birthday with a fellow community member, it appeared as though we wouldn’t have enough cream to make a cake large enough to feed us all. I remember smacking the table and saying God will provide and all of a sudden the half of cream that we had sectioned off for the second layer of the cake seemed to never stop coming out of the bowl. Or the time when I was making jerk sauce for our community meal and it looked like there was no way that it would be enough sauce to season all of the chicken. I said “God will provide don’t worry,” and there was enough sauce leftover to dip our homemade tortillas in. The time I was making icing for a cake for my youth group and it wouldn’t set, yes you guessed it right, “God will provide” and the icing set. There seems to be a “loaves and fishes” theme in my life where God has provided for me in the kitchen. However, He has also provided for me throughout the emotional rollercoaster that has been my first two and a half months in Jamaica.

            When I was nervous about beginning work in my church community or actually getting kids to show up for my youth group, God provided. God provided me with members of the church that welcomed me with open arms and accompanied me to my other mission sites. He also provided me with more youth than I was expecting and youth that I couldn’t imagine not having in my life now.  As I patiently (or not so patiently) waited for my temporary Physical Therapy license to be approved so that I could fully begin at my mission sites, God provided. God provided me with the opportunity to get to know my patients on a more personal level and see what their needs truly are. The day that I cried practically the entire hour taxi ride home, God provided. God provided community members that listened, that cared, that shared God’s love, and that lifted me up. The day that a few of us went to the beach for some much needed R&R and the forecast called for rain, God provided. God provided rain for those in the local communities that very much needed it during this drought and kept the little area of the beach that we were on as dry as could be. God provides the most spectacular views of the whole valley as I travel down Spur Tree road to my mission sites and amazing sunsets from the comfort of the couch every evening. God provides gorgeous smiles and beautiful singing voices as I try to surprise new friends at the Infirmary. God provides laughter and energy as I get to know my youth every week.

Most of all, God provides comfort and joy as I continue on this new journey in life.

The Manchester Infirmary and Bro Mike – A Story 87 Years In The Making

Nine months ago I woke up before the sun and began my journey from the US to Jamaica. Since then, I have worked with many fantastic people in numerous ministries, including teaching, tutoring, youth outreach, hospital, home and infirmary visits. Although I enjoy all my work, I truly cherish my time at the Manchester Infirmary. I will always fondly remember the many hours I have spent at the infirmary, as I listened, laughed, empathized, attempted to advise and formed friendships with the patients. However, I cannot talk about the Manchester Infirmary without mentioning the man who has dedicated years of his life to the people who reside in those wards.

Brother Mike is a man of small stature. So I don’t know where a heart the size of his fits. In his younger years, Brother Mike exercised his artistic side by wood carving. He also partook in scuba diving, and found numerous historical artifacts from shipwrecks, some of which have found their way into museums. Oh, and he flew planes he built with his own hands. However, Brother Mike’s primary interest now rests with the patients at the Manchester Infirmary. Although Brother Mike’s adventure on this earth now spans nearly 87 years, he still manages to journey to the Manchester Infirmary to visit his friends every Sunday and holds a prayer service every other Saturday.

A trip to the infirmary would reveal that virtually every patient (numbering nearly 100), knows Brother Mike (although most call him “father,” or in patois, “fadda,” believing him to be a priest). A conversation with nearly any patient reveals the impact Brother Mike has had on their life. Some happily show a radio he gave them years ago that still picks up Gospel or Reggae tunes, which carries them to a happier time and place. Others will tell you he gave them hope; some say he restored their faith; others say he saved their life. In a place where many struggle to stay optimistic and happy, Brother Mike’s presence lets them know that there is always someone that cares: someone who will listen to their needs and help them; someone that will be at their funeral (even if he is the only one), and pray for their souls after they pass.

In addition to visiting the infirmary, Brother Mike orchestrated a means for a group of men to attend church. Every Sunday, the PVIs use his vehicle to pick up eight or so excited men to bring to St. Paul’s for Mass, a task he used to carry out in his younger days. Since this is typically the only time these men are able and allowed to leave the infirmary (besides rare doctor appointments), they look forward to the chance to get fresh air, hear the Good News, partake in the Eucharist, and socialize with other parishioners. While I sometimes find myself going to Mass grudgingly, these men put me to shame with their consistent enthusiasm for an event which revitalizes them and gives them hope and joy.

Bro Mike pictured with some Jamaican youth who consider him "their hero" for all of the work and care he as provided to the infirmary

Bro Mike pictured with some Jamaican youth who consider him “their hero” for all of the work and care he has provided to the infirmary.

Brother Mike shows the same care for the patients in death as he does in life. The cemetery is situated on a beautiful hilltop overlooking a lush, green valley surrounded by rolling hills. When a patient at the Manchester Infirmary passes, Brother Mike attends the funeral if possible. Sometimes no family members claim the body, leaving the state to absorb the cost of the burial. Consequently, a burial place off the beaten path is selected, and a simple coffin is lowered into an unmarked grave surrounded by tall grass. Sometimes Brother Mike is the only person present to pay final respects, giving a final prayer and blessing to an unmarked grave.

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Bro Mike hiking through the hills of Manchester to find the burial spot for a deceased patient of the infirmary.

Despite the difficult nature of infirmary work, Brother Mike manages to remain upbeat in his own way. Every time he gives me the keys to his car to drive to the infirmary, he says, “Well, have fun.” He also challenges me. After a patient passed whom I had never spoken to, he asked me to try to know every patient, so that no one should pass without us having made an effort to hear their story. While I still have a group of patients I know best, I now say at least a few words to individuals I usually do not talk to, especially those whom I feel most uncomfortable around, such as the man who shouts incoherently to himself all day long.

I find Brother Mike a model for simplicity: he eats inexpensively, dresses humbly, and lives a life void of extravagant material possessions. He is a man of great faith. He lives for others. He often regrets his lack of energy to assist at the infirmary as he used to, and typically makes a remark about passing the torch to “you young people.” And that is yet another great gift he has given the people at the Manchester Infirmary: introducing PVIs to the infirmary. One of my infirmary friends once said, “If it wasn’t for you young people visiting, I would have no reason to keep living.” And while, I may be tempted to take credit for being such an important presence to this man, I know the real credit belongs to the modest Brother who introduced PVI to the infirmary. Each year, he inspires the new volunteers to follow in his simple footsteps, offering a model to accompany the patients, and also a simple path for living out the Christian faith.

mikey infirmaryEditors Note: Pictured above is Mikey, the author of the article and current volunteer at the Manchester Infirmary, alongside his friend Ms. Rachel, a long-term resident of the infirmary. The Manchester Infirmary has been a very special place for PVI over the last five years and has affected volunteers deeply and profoundly in their years of service. PVI attributes this special ministry to Bro Mike and his humble and determined servant heart. Thank you Bro Mike for all that you do!