As we continue our Women on a Mission series, this week we’re going to be SO blessed reading our own, Rene’ Summers’ story about her trip this past spring to Jamaica to spend time with children in an orphanage who had severe physical and mental challenges. Her beautiful story brought tears to my eyes about the brokenness yet joy they experience daily in this orphanage. Thanks for sharing this with us Rene’!
Does your head spin from your busy life? Do you ever want to just slow down for a week and catch your breath? As an employee of Elon University, I had the opportunity to travel with Fr. Gerry Waterman and students with Catholic Campus Ministry on a spring break trip to Adelphi, Jamaica. I’m an adviser to a service organization on campus and have volunteered alongside of students for years. I’ve chaperoned several spiritual retreats with the Catholic students, but I had not had the opportunity to combine my two loves – faith and service. I was excited to finally be volunteering with a faith-based group of students!
We served for a week at Blessed Assurance, an appropriately named orphanage, for severely physically and mentally challenged children, 5-16 years of age. The mountainside orphanage, approximately 30 miles south of Montego Bay, was founded six years ago by Mustard Seed Communities, Inc. and is a sanctuary and refuge for thirty-five children, their caregivers and staff. Mustard Seed Communities has five other homes scattered throughout Jamaica for children and young adults in dire need. The area is extremely impoverished yet the children we served were well taken care of. There were no internet or phone service, no TV, no Facebook or Instagram – we were unplugged for seven days.
One of the first opportunities on our trip to interact with the children was to help feed those who were physically unable to feed themselves. To my amazement, it was the few children who could hold a spoon who showed us how to feed their friends while the caretakers were close by. I quickly saw the strong nurturing instincts the children had for each other as I watched them lovingly wipe the mouths of the younger children they were feeding. Most of the children were not able to communicate with words, but they clearly made themselves understood with grunts and nudges so that I understood their needs.
I loved watching one young lady, Moya, who helped care for the other children and had fed three children by the time I had fed one their lunch! She was deaf, mute and unable to walk, but it was beautiful watching her “mother” the other children. She was giving back to the community she was part of – she had a purpose and was serving others in a very practical way. It reminded me that serving others is often simple and quiet.
Then I met Tracy. One day a caretaker handed me a bowl of rice, beans and tiny bits of meat and asked me to feed this young woman, who couldn’t walk or speak and didn’t have control of her arms and hands, yet she had the most beautiful smile.
She was so grateful for my help even though I made more of a mess than some of the children who I watched feeding the toddlers. I quickly noticed that her legs were tied to the frame of the wheelchair and that she was doing her best to wiggle out of the restraints. My first thought was that it was cruel to tie her legs to the chair. I helped untangle one foot from the straps and her leg was free which she immediately pulled in toward her body. I asked the caretaker why she was restrained, and she explained that it was necessary for her muscle development to pull Tracy’s legs back down and straighten them during the day since she remained curled at night while sleeping. Tracy laughed as I fumbled with her feet. She giggled as I struggled to tie the restraints. Clearly she was having fun as I was learning how to help her. I no longer noticed the wheelchair or her twisted limbs. I saw her smile, heard her laughter and felt her joy while I rubbed her feet.
OK. I have to pause here to tell you I don’t like feet – they’re just not my thing. I don’t like to touch other people’s feet. That day I cried knowing that I couldn’t straighten or fix her twisted limbs and I cried because God had helped me see past her curled toes and deformed feet.
Tracy taught me to just enjoy the moment. To see her through the eyes of one serving in the name of Jesus was very powerful for me and I was thankful as a volunteer on a service trip to have the freedom to tell her “Jesus loves you.” When reading about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet I’d always thought I couldn’t do that. With God’s help rubbing Tracy’s feet was a blessing to both of us.
Because Blessed Assurance is a Catholic orphanage, mass is held each day. The caretakers led the children in scripture, songs and prayer. It was amazing that most of the children couldn’t speak, but you could see them swaying to the music and grunting in unison at the traditional responses. God was being honored and it was beautiful to be part of their worship.
Each Thursday is celebrated as “Thankful Thursday” and Fr. Gerry led the mass in the chapel for the children and staff. At the end of mass, many of the staff and volunteers offered words of thanksgiving to God for the children and for having a place like Blessed Assurance as their home. We learned that most of the children were abandoned by their parents, rescued by police and brought to Blessed Assurance, or delivered by their parents in desperation. Their severe physical and mental challenges made it too difficult and expensive to care for them in homes that were already impoverished. They still thanked God.
Do I intentionally make time to thank God for the abundant gifts I’m given?
Rene’s story will continue this Thursday, so make plans to come back and hear the rest of her story!
Mustard Seed Communities have five other homes scattered throughout Jamaica for children and young adults in dire need.
Come back this Thursday to hear the rest of my mission experience!