This past Christmas break, Franciscan’s student outreach program, Missions of Peace, made its way to a warmer climate for the holidays. Each year, over 400 students participate in Missions of Peace, traveling all over the Western Hemisphere spreading the Gospel from Honduras, Belize and New Mexico to Jamaica, Nicaragua and Ecuador. This year, a smaller group traveled to Jamaica over winter break.
A student of Franciscan University of Steubenville shares her experience of working on mission in Jamaica over break as one of peace and unity.
“Going during winter break was awesome because we got time to prepare individually before the mission,” said senior Jenn Judge, who attended the Jamaican mission for the first time.
The Jamaican mission is the only mission that takes place during Christmas break, allowing the students to bond with each other and the people they meet over a ten-day period.
Judge said she chose Jamaica because although she knew some Spanish, she wanted to go somewhere she could communicate easily with the people she met.
“We just got to know the people of Jamaica and we talked a lot about peace because there’s a lot of violence in these towns,” said Judge. “It was so fun being with the people but also being able to talk about God.”
A group of 30 missionaries, including the Rev. Rick Martignetti T.O.R., the Rev. Shawn Roberson T.O.R. and Sister Mary Teresa, were sent to the diocese of Montego Bay, Jamaica, where they were split into four groups, each sent to different towns throughout the diocese.
The focus of the mission was street ministry which encompasses walking throughout the towns spreading the Gospel with those the groups met along the way. The groups focused on forgiveness, peace, evangelization and simply getting to know the people, said Judge.
Judge said some mornings were spent at local schools where they did morning devotions with the kids, allowing the missionaries to develop personal bonds with the children.
The groups also held programs each night which consisted of talks, testimonies and worship, in addition to playing with the kids and learning Jamaican songs, said Judge.
Judge said her group was assisted by Father Luke, a Polish priest who had been assigned to administer to the people of Montego Bay for the past four years. While some groups held their night programs in churches or schools, Judge said her group hosted them throughout the town in unusual places like the back of Father Luke’s truck.
Judge said Father Luke wanted to reach the people who wouldn’t go to churches, so he decided to meet the people where they lived, such as at a gas station, another at a shop on a street corner and one even at a pond by the road.
Judge said these programs were a bit of challenge.
“It was so incredible and really humbling because sometimes people weren’t listening so it was just pushing us out of our comfort zone,” said Judge.
Judge said the people of Montego Bay had been starving for the sacraments because there hadn’t been a priest in the area for 14 years before Father Luke arrived.
“He’s a saint,” said Judge. “I would tear up at the thought of him becoming a saint.”
Judge said, “It was so cool to be in his presence; I’ve never seen someone encompass the Lord’s love and mercy so much.”
Judge said the experience was extremely gratifying and humbling especially in the small, intimate moments she shared with the Jamaican people. Her hardest experience was on her last night with Jessie, a little boy she had met who had slowly opened up to her, Judge said.
“I just started sobbing,” said Judge.
Judge said powerful healing and forgiveness took place over the course of the mission, especially as she described one night where Father Luke spoke about the need for unity, love and even asked forgiveness for the way the Jamaican people had been treated in the past.
“I had never seen such great humility and courage to say that in front of so many people,” said Judge.
Judge said that night both groups stood together in a circle, asked each other for forgiveness and sang a Jamaican song called “Bind Us Together.”
Judge said one of the most beautiful experiences was when an elderly woman went up to each of them, held their hands and kissed their cheeks with so much love.
“There’s no fear in love,” said Judge. “This is a mission where you just need to completely surrender yourself to the Holy Spirit because you don’t have any say in what’s going to happen.”