March 15, 2016

Senior English major Michaela Shea, who spent her spring break on Catholic University’s mission trip to Jamaica, shares a reflection on the experience.

The Riverton Centre in Kingston, Jamaica, is in the middle of a neighborhood built on top of a landfill. The smell is horrendous. The flies are relentless. The heat is unyielding. Despite my initial impressions of the neighborhood and the center — a school that serves 120 children — my experience there taught me lessons that I’ll never forget.

As our bus drove through the shanty town, the heat visibly radiated off the roofs of the haphazardly built shacks, intensifying the smell of waste. I initially thought we were just passing through, so when we stopped in front of the cinderblock building covered in fading cartoon characters, I was floored. Apprehensive, I got off the bus trying not to be visibly repulsed by the smell or irritated by the dense cloud of flies. 

When we walked into the school, several minutes of mayhem ensued as a swarm of small, beaming children in bright yellow uniforms pulled at our clothing, climbed up our legs, and fought to hold our hands. This set the tone for the rest of our day at the Riverton Centre. 
I quickly discovered that, although the children were monetarily poor, they were certainly not poor in spirit. They trusted us unquestioningly and loved us unconditionally. My day at Riverton was exhausting, but it was the most rewarding experience of the trip. 

The Riverton Centre was one of seven sites my mission team of 22 visited over spring break. While serving at these sites I was challenged to practice patience, fortitude, perseverance, and humility. At every location the people taught me something different about myself, my peers, or my faith.

On University mission trips we serve through a ministry of presence. It is our love and the relationships that we develop that enrich the community. It is a way of serving that reflects God’s presence, love, joy, and spiritual care for the residents of that community. Central to the philosophy of ministry of presence is serving even when it makes us feel uncomfortable and even in the midst of anxiety and fear. These tenets of the ministry were tested on our last day in Jamaica. 

That day our team traveled to the Missionaries of Charity convent and nursing home in Kingston. When we arrived we were informed that the previous day four sisters and 15 volunteers at an identical facility in Aden, Yemen, had been killed because of their faith. Despite the news, my team followed the sisters into the nursing home to minister to the sick. I was in awe of the sisters’ resiliency and perseverance in the wake of injustice and did my best to follow their example. 

 Missionaries of Charity  
 Missionaries of Charity  


I couldn’t have asked for a better day. We prayed and sang with the residents, cooked and distributed meals to the homeless, heard the Gospel, and witnessed Father Justin Ross perform the sacraments of baptism, Communion, confirmation, confession, and anointing of the sick.

The whole trip had been a journey toward community, but on the final day I experienced true solidarity. In that one day, a week’s worth of corporal and spiritual works of mercy were performed. My mission team — now my second family — fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, visited the sick, ministered to the homeless, and prayed for the living and the dead.

Every day I spent in Kingston I was pushed farther out of my comfort zone as I strove to live mercy and seek justice for those whom I served. It was emotional and challenging, enlightening and joyful, and I will carry every second of the journey with me for the rest of my life.