“Learning to Embrace the Rain” by Amy Byrne

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being in Jamaica thus far, it’s that nobody goes out when it rains. Rain is to blame for most all sicknesses here. You have a cold? You must have gotten yourself wet outside…

unnamedDespite the warnings, I find something sacred about Jamaican rain.

It comes on most afternoons in the heat of the day, and when it comes, it comes down hard. White clouds roll in and suddenly darken to bold shades of gray. Then the air cools and the sky opens up. People pause under doorways and in taxis. Children run home early from school in colored uniforms. Market vendors shelter under big blue tarps.

 As quickly as the storm comes, it stops again. The world calms.

People return to streets and go about their business and plants radiate a green energy, nourished when the Earth needs it most. Sunshine, storm, calm. This cycle never ceases to amaze me.

The same way rain feeds the Earth, people nourish people. I experience it in small ways every day. I experience it in my morning commute, those who greet one another in jam-packed taxis. I see it at my mission sites, in children who walk younger siblings to classrooms, in teachers who lead morning prayers, in nurses who sing to patients.

Oftentimes I feel powerless to help residents of Mustard Seed, a home for disabled children and adults I serve. I can’t heal a beautiful six year old named Joy, bound to a wheelchair by cerebral palsy. But I can care for her, braid her hair, hold her hand, sing to her. Joy heals me in a similar way with her infectious smile, her easygoing and undeniably sweet nature.

Pictured are Amy and Joy, a resident at Gift of Hope Mustard Seed Community.

Pictured are Amy and Joy, a resident at Gift of Hope Mustard Seed Community.

It’s the little things that bring meaning and hope to people’s lives. Joy and I don’t have to speak. All of my insecurities, worries and concerns wash away when I am present with her, the other Mustard Seed residents and staff. Even on the hottest days I’m learning to have faith that rain will come and restore us again. As I move forward into this year I hope to resonate more with the rain, recognizing all the ways I can nourish and be nourished by those around me.

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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Learning to “Love One Another” by Emma Hagenauer

Sr. Hellen is my friend and mentor. She is an Assumption Sister of Nairobi and moved from Kenya several years ago to work in Jamaica. She is a nurse and runs a clinic as well as an HIV/Aids outreach ministry.  She is one of my heroes and has some lovely catch phrases that I repeat often. My favorite?

Love one another.

Love, our favorite notion. We humans talk about love all the time it seems. The idea of love can consume our thoughts, conversations, and goals so easily. It often is the focal point of our art and undeniably the most common subject matter of music. A few musical geniuses in particular captured the simplicity of love: Bob Marley’s “One Love” and the Beatles’ “All you need is love.”

Sr. Hellen’s modest phrase, love one another, reminds me in the same way of loves simplicity; keeping in mind that simple does not equal easy, and love is not a warm fuzzy feeling. By being around her I have learned what unconditional love is. She loves her friends in Jamaica and her family back in Kenya. She loves those who take advantage of her. She loves those who let her down. She loves those she knows so well, and those she only knows from seeing them occasionally in town. She loves every person who walks into the Santa Cruz Clinic and every person who comes to the HIV support group. I know its love because it is straight out of the word of the Lord:emma 2

“Love is patient, love is kind. Its does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered…”

This popular passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 is what we hear at weddings when everyone is supposed to be perfectly in love, right? Imagine trying to love everyone, strangers and spouses alike, so carefully.

Last week on Easter, we celebrate someone with a love so intense that He gave His life for us, for those he loved, even those who did not know or love him back. In small beautiful ways the Brothers, Sisters, Priests and many site mentors the volunteers work with show us how to share this same love through the work they do for the people of Jamaica. They work tirelessly in clinics, schools, and communities and show us that what we are doing holds merit, and no matter how weak we find ourselves, we can find strength to come back and love tomorrow.

“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. 

“Latest Happenings in the Diocese of Mandeville” : Featuring PVI!

PVI has recently been featured in Latest Happenings in the Diocese of Mandeville, a publication of the Diocese of Mandeville that provides regular updates to parishes, clergy and laity throughout Manchester, St. Elizabeth and Clarendon.

The article outlines the Passionist Volunteers program, the service that our Volunteers provide, reflections from former PVI’s, and the exciting new phase that PVI is launching to recruit volunteers locally from Jamaican University’s.

Read More!

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“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′