God truly does work through us!

Caleb Hanke, a participant in the 2010 mission trip to Jamaica, reflects on the experience

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The Divine Word College Vocation Office sponsored the 2010 Mission Trip to Jamaica for nine days in May. A team of four women and two men were led by Fr. Tony Romo, SVD, as they embarked on a journey that was enlightening, eye opening, and spiritually fulfilling. 

The journey started for James and me at Wayne State College, where we met Fr. Tony Romo, SVD, for the first time. Fr. Tony was a guest speaker at the Newman Center and gave a presentation about his vocation as a missionary priest.  His talk also covered his first trip to Jamaica and the experiences he encountered while doing the work of God. His talk ignited something in James and me, and before the end of the week; we were in contact with Fr. Tony and Mr. Len Uhal, National Vocation Director for the Divine Word Missionaries to sign up for the mission trip to Jamaica. Cathy was introduced to the trip through a friend who is a Divine Word Missionary priest as an excellent follow-up to her parish social justice program she had recently participated in. Jenny and Skyler learned about the mission trip from an article posted on their campus website at Briar Cliff University. And Cuqui, our final member of the team, works at Divine Word College Seminary. This was her second trip to Jamaica. 

Epworth, Iowa is where the six of us met Fr. Tony for supper and started building our friendships. The next day, the seven of us traveled to the Techny, Illinois, the headquarters of Chicago Province for the Divine Word Missionaries. We witnessed, for some of us, our first ordination to the priesthood. Chicago is where we met Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD, a fulltime missionary in Jamaica for over ten years. Bro. Bernie was the groups’ main host and led us in an orientation session before we departed for Jamaica.

While in Chicago, we went downtown and visited Navy Pier and Millennium Park. This was just the beginning of God’s journey for us. The next morning our mission officially began with our flight to Jamaica. If the thought of going to Jamaica was not enough to make us happy the beautiful weather and smooth plane ride was, more proof that God wanted us to share in this wonderful gift of giving. 

Once we arrived in Jamaica, we were greeted by Alex, a seminarian, and a new culture. For those of us who have never left the United States, culture shock does not even begin to describe what we went through as soon as we left the Kingston Airport. One of the biggest things to get used to was driving on the opposite side of the road. Thank goodness, we did not have to drive ourselves!

The trip was full of fun and hard work. On the day that we arrived, we went to the beautiful Golden Shore beach and were able to soak up the rays. We started the next morning with daily prayers and Eucharist where we met some of our neighbors. Two beautiful elderly women who, upon our first encounter, set the tone for a majority of the other encounters we would have while in Jamaica. They treated us wonderfully and welcomed us with open arms and hearts.    

After breakfast, we went to our job site to begin work on a new home. The recipient was picked by Bro. Bernie and a committee who decides on the neediest families. That week’s recipient of a new 16’ by 20’ home was Mr. Wallace and his son Chris. His new home was situated on a very steep hill surrounded by lush vegetation. The site location and rain made our work very challenging. The foundation was in the beginning stages when we arrived and that is where it remained for the majority of the week.

Our job site experience, even though difficult, was very enlightening. One of the greatest times we had was when the students had the day off from school and we were able to work together with the kids. They brought energy, happiness, a special curiosity for the cameras, and brightened our whole day. Mr. Wallace and other Jamaicans worked with us, as we were there to help our brothers and sisters while they shared their culture and standards of living with us. One of the best parts of this enculturation process for me was lunch. Every day we had a traditional Jamaican dish made by a native. The best way to share culture in my eyes. 

We also had the incredible opportunity to meet with several of the shut-ins; these individuals are unable to go to mass due to age, illness, and/or mobility. This experience was very powerful for us. Accompanying the lay people from the parish and Fr. Frank Powers, SVD (another Divine Word Missionary missioned to Jamaica) was a very amazing experience for us. They visit these homes every month and share the gospel, the gift of the Eucharist and song with the homebound. It was a special experience to join them during our visit. 

Another gift we were given was the ability to participate in a discussion with the local youth group, where we were able to share our views on marriage, and the youth in our own country as well as hear their points of view.

This trip was miraculous in so many ways, and was better than I or any of us could have ever expected. It was great motivation to continue to share the gifts God has given us in our own personal communities.