The Barrington High School junior couldn’t help but well up with tears as the small boys, many hampered with physical disabilities and some confined to wheelchairs, approached her with their arms outstretched.
“They jumped on you,” she said. “They wanted to hug you.”
Cara was not ready for that welcome. For months she had prepared for the St. Luke Church week-long trip to the Blessed Assurance orphanage outside of Montego Bay, Jamaica. She had spoken with people who had taken the trip in prior years. But all the preparation failed to ready her for the emotional response the small children shared with the approaching missionaries.
“They just wanted to be hugged.”
The youngsters — most of them had been abandoned by their families and burdened with crippled bodies — smiled endlessly at the teenagers from Barrington. The orphans clung to the teenagers’ legs, unwilling to let go. They fought to keep their attention.
That’s often the case, said Father Luke Willenberg, the St. Luke’s priest who leads the mission trip each year. He said there is no way for people to prepare themselves for the experience, and that he has been moved during each and every trip to Jamaica.
More than a week after returning from the mission trip, Father Luke said he was still consumed by the journey.
“Our heads and our hearts are still over there,” he said.
Preparation for the trip started in August with a meeting inviting any interested teenager to attend. A large group of people turned out, recalled Father Luke, which is often the case. He said he would have loved to take all of the students who were interested, but there are only about two dozen bunks for the volunteers at the orphanage.
Over time, some of the teenagers dropped out of the process, and those who remained, focused on raising about $2,000 per person to go on the trip; much of the money is raised through bake sales and raking leaves and other benefit events.
The group of 17 student missionaries and five chaperones left for Jamaica on Feb. 16 and, shortly after arriving, got to work. Some spent time with the orphans, feeding them and playing with them. Other missionaries began building concrete walkways inside the orphanage compound.
It did not take long for the missionaries to build relationships with the boys and girls at the orphanage. Olivia Lucas, like all of the other teens on the trip, can recall the boys’ and girls’ first names, the cute things they would do, how they loved to be held and how much they would appreciate a kiss on the cheek.
“Every kid just wanted to be held,” said Russell Allen, a junior at LaSalle Academy.
“These kids don’t have anything, but they’re still happy,” said Mary Correia, a senior at Barrington High School.
“You get to know them all,” said Patrick Mahoney, a junior at Barrington High School.
Patrick said there was often competition among the orphans to attract the attention of the missionaries. He said there was one moment where one boy kicked another in the head, and another when a child flipped another’s wheelchair.
“They want all your attention,” he said.
A day at the orphanage
A typical day started with a 5:30 wake-up. Then it was on to cook breakfast, eat, and prepare for an 8 a.m. prayer devotion. The missionaries then fed the orphans or went to work on the construction project. That continued until a lunch break, more work or time with the orphans, a cold shower, dinner and then nightly reflection.
Father Luke said he would often share stories with the teenage missionaries during nightly reflection and then highlight an important message: “I would tell them that they are here for a reason. They need to figure out the why God brought them here…”
The schedule soon became routine for the group, although they did take one day to go to a beach and another day they went to morning Mass at a church in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
For Father Luke, the trip becomes an opportunity to refresh his soul. He said it is very difficult to say good-bye when it is time to leave the orphanage … he knows there is still work to be done there, work that seems more pressing the needs in Barrington.
“It is bittersweet. I love being there, but you know you can’t stay,” he said. “It is a chance to recharge myself… I need it to be reminded of what’s important in life.
“No way can you go there and come back and be the same person.”
Missionaries’ fish fry is Friday
Mark your calendars — the 2013 St. Luke’s Jamaica missionaries are hosting their annual Lenten Fish Fry on Friday, March 15, from 5 to 8 p.m. in the school gym on 10 Waldron Ave. A fish dinner with all the fixings will be served — grilled cheese is available also. There will be water, soda, coffee and pastry. The price is $10 adult, $7 children under 10 for fish; $7adult $5 children under 10 for grilled cheese/fries. Families of four or more for fish dinners will be $25 and for grilled cheese $20. The missionaries will also have their famous “Penny Social” raffle. Beer and wine will be provided by the Knights of Columbus Bishop Hickey Council No. 3623. Money raised will help off-set costs for future mission trips.
Witnessing is in early April
As has become tradition, the missionaries will share stories from their trip during Masses on the weekend of April 6 and 7.
Following is a list of the students and adult chaperones who participated in the recent mission trip to Jamaica:
Father Luke Willenberg