This past Holy Week, I was blessed to be part of the St. Thomas More Mission trip to the Mustard Seeds Communities in Jamaica. One of the great lessons I had to relearn once again is that I need to trust God completely in his plan for our mission trip.
No matter how much we organized and planned out our trip, in the end, God’s plan would turn out much better than we could have imagined. It takes eyes of faith to see God’s plans unfold before us and one thing is for certain: “There are no coincidences with God.”
We left for Jamaica on Saturday, April 13, and spent over seven hours in the Rapid City airport waiting for the thunderstorms in the Dallas area to subside. We finally made it to Dallas that evening but missed our flight to Montego Bay, Jamaica. The earliest they could re-book us was Monday morning. We prayed as a group in the Dallas airport asking that Jesus and Our Lady would provide for a way out of the predicament in which we found ourselves.
We ended up staying at a hotel and renting four vans for our unplanned “layover” in Dallas. Mary Casey, one of the adult leaders, received a text message from a friend of hers encouraging us to go to the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas for Mass, and we decided to go to the Abbey for Palm Sunday Mass after viewing beautiful pictures on their website, even though it meant driving past a parish only minutes from our hotel.
When we reached the Abbey, Abbott Peter happened to catch sight of us as we were coming in. He made sure to officially welcome us at the opening of the Mass and then had Father Anthony give us a tour of the Abbey afterward. Father Anthony’s parents, who happened to be at Mass as well, went and bought donuts for us while we were taking a tour of the Abbey.
As an extra bonus to our time at the Abbey with the monks, we were treated to three amazing vocational testimonies by Father Anthony, Brother Christopher and Abbott Peter. It was truly a grace-filled time at the Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas and so unexpected. Thank you, Lord!
St. Thomas More High School has been sending students on mission trips to the Mustard Seed Communities for the last six years. Mustard Seed Communities began in 1978 as a home for a handful of children with disabilities who had been abandoned to the streets of Jamaica.
Today, MSC provides loving and lifelong care to over 600 children and adults with disabilities, children affected by HIV/AIDS, and young mothers in crisis across Jamaica, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
As we started the trip, I asked our students and adult leaders to name a desire of their hearts, to ask from Jesus a grace that they wanted him to do for them while on this mission trip. Alissa Stephens, a junior, shared this desire of her heart:
“I began to pray about what it was that God wanted me to get from this trip. Eventually, I realized what I desired was a deeper appreciation for the dignity that exists in every human being that I encounter.
“Throughout this trip, I spent numerous hours with the mentally and physically handicapped residents of the Mustard Seed Communities, and it was through doing this that I was able to see God’s love constantly at work in them and in all the members of the mission team.
Stephens continued, “Prior to the trip, I struggled with being able to look at a certain people around me and see God in them, but now it is much easier for me to recognize God’s presence in almost every person that I encounter.
“This trip was an amazing opportunity for me to serve others and at the same time, grow in my own spiritual life. I can’t wait to continue spreading this newfound love that I acquired while in Jamaica.”
Spreading this newfound love is at the heart of a missionary disciple who has encountered the person of Jesus. Pope Francis writes in his encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel”:
At the end of the mission trip, we presented each of our young missionary disciples with the Mustard Seed Cross as a reminder to them to proclaim and live Jesus Christ and to see Christ in one another. The Mustard Seed Cross is indispensable to its mission and graces each of their community chapels. They describe it in this way:
“The transparent figure of Jesus represents the risen Christ and the barbed wire cross stands for the sufferings of the world. This unique work symbolizes the hope the resurrected Christ brings to those who may feel trapped by the barbed wires of fear, poverty, injustice, illness, or despair. It is particularly vivid when viewed as dawn breaks during early morning prayer in the Chapel. In the darkness, the cross is the only part that is visible, but as the light grows the body of Jesus becomes more apparent, reinforcing Christ as the light amidst the darkness of our lives and as Light of the world.”
When we returned from our mission trip, I noticed that several of our students were wearing their Mustard Seed Crosses to school, among them Joe Hanson and Michael Eastmo. I asked Joe, who will be entering the seminary this fall for our diocese, about the wearing of the Mustard Seed Cross. Joe responded, “I haven’t taken it off. It serves as a constant reminder to me of our trip and why I went on it.”
I pressed Joe a little bit and asked, “Why did you go?” He replied, “I went on this trip to have the opportunity to serve the most vulnerable in Jamaica, but also to help open my eyes to the presence of Christ in those that I am able to serve. This trip really taught me to see Christ in the people that I am gifted with the opportunity to serve.”
Besides hanging out with the residents, we also engaged in several work projects: painting some residents’ homes, building a sidewalk, hanging doors, putting screens on windows and purchased and built two personal energy transportation hand carts.
In visiting with Mary Casey, who has coordinated several of the St. Thomas More mission trips and helped this past year, she said she would be willing to be the contact person and help to coordinate any groups looking for a mission trip experience. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the words of Pope Francis: “So what are we waiting for?”