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. 

In Remembrance of Brook Lahr, PVI

Dear PVIs,

Thursday, April 21st marks the third anniversary of death of Brooke Lahr, PVI Honduras, August 2010 – October 2011, a poignant memory for PVI.  While employed with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos in Cuernavaca, Mexico, Brooke suffered a fatal vehicular accident while on holiday in Acapulco.

 

I’m thinking particularly these days of Mark and Colleen, Brooke’s parents, as well as her PVI Talanga community, Melissa, Chanel, Molly, Rosi and Andrew. They would P1040291_2_2agree that she was an exceptional, outstanding and cherished PVI.  She committed herself totally to accompaniment and service as she walked with the people of Talanga along with those in the surrounding villages like Majada Verde.  She also provided a quality and faithful presence with her housemates, a true PVI team player.

 

One of her housemates described her, “intuitive, innately compassionate and above all else generous with her time, energy and love.   She followed her dream, which was only beginning, but in her passing continues to inspire and motivate others to continue her mission of caring for the marginalized of today.”

 

I share Brooke’s words about a relationship that grew from her days of accompaniment in Talanga.  Befriending 91 year old Doña Manuela made all the difference in Brooke’s PVI year.  It was then that Brooke felt that Talanga was home.  “Even when we couldn’t understand each other, coffee together was the highlight of both our days.  She was my hardest good bye and my most anticipated reunion.”   Not too long after leaving Honduras, Brooke heard of Doña Manuela’s death, and she wrote, “This morning I lost the chance to see her again. I wish more people would have had the privilege to know you. Doña Manuela, Te quiero mucho.  Que duerme con los angelitos! [I love you very much. May you sleep with the angels.]”

 

Brooke Lahr PVI deserves to be remembered and esteemed by PVIs.  I have engaged her in PVI’s on-going life and service by regularly asking her to pray for us.  Having walked the PVI Journey I’m confident she will help us.

 

Te quieremos muchos Brooke.

Que dureme con los angelitos,

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Fr. Lucian CP
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“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.