Driving through the mist covered mountains each morning brought me joy. This simple pleasure was a surprise to me, and I looked forward to it every morning. To be honest with you, I didn’t expect to find God in the little things on this Mission. I was expecting a great revelation to occur; I was expecting a great sign from Him. I was expecting an answer. Instead, I was consumed by moments of Joy that were brought about through small actions of great love.
Now that we’ve been home for almost a week, I’ve had a little bit of time to reflect. Our week was filled with laughter, and productive work. But on our last day at the worksite, I had the pleasure of being paired with a Nurses Aid who worked for CAP full time. We talked about her life, her daughter, her job, and ultimately about faith. The first thing she asked me was whether or not I was Catholic. I was taken by surprise, and wasn’t sure if she was going to react positively or negatively to my Yes. Just the night before, the CAP volunteers had been told about Father Beiting and the struggles he endured as a Catholic priest in Southern Appalachia. And so I responded, and she exclaimed, “I find y’all fascinating!”
And in this moment, I encountered true Joy.
I later found out that my new friend was a Baptist, but had a great love for Mother Teresa and Father Beiting. We talked about how she wanted to be Nun when she was a small child, and how later on in life she found Mother Teresa’s books. She loves to read. This was yet another way that we connected. We talked about how religious sisters exude Joy, and how you can tell that they love God with all of their hearts. She told me that loving God is so important, and that’s all that matters. We were able to have a real conversation about things that mattered to both of us. We were able to share in God’s great Love.
There’s a famous quote by Mother Teresa that keeps coming up for me in prayer, “Do small things with great Love.” I think we’ve all heard it before. Mother Teresa was known for her way of loving others like Christ, and I think this quote sums up my Mission experience in a neat little package. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39). This golden rule is something that CAP tries to live out each day. I’m grateful for that. Finding Joy in the little aspects of the day allowed me to see God in greater ways. Although I didn’t have a great revelation about my life, I was reminded of how important loving one another is. And love doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can be small, and it can do great things.
-Mary Mullan, Senior
Before going to Mexico, my faith was suffering and I wanted that to change. I was very excited to help the people of General Cepeda, but I was nervous to talk about my faith and open up to people I had never met before. I was not sure if I was emotionally ready to experience eight days of spiritual activities.
I will be honest and say that I was a bit overwhelmed the first two days. I knew that I was going to be taken out of my comfort zone in Mexico and I was a little worried, but this trip was exactly what I needed to fall back in love with my faith.
One morning I was assigned to go on home visits. I loved visiting the people of General Cepeda and little did I know that, on a Wednesday morning, my faith would be changed.
Doña Alvarida was a ninety-year old woman who lived alone. Even though she lived by herself, she said that she never felt alone because God was always with her. Sometimes when we struggle with our faith we feel very lost and alone, but Doña reminded me of all the wonderful people God has put in my life.
This trip opened my eyes and heart to the beauty of the Catholic faith. I learned so much by listening to other missionaries and the people from Mexico. In the beginning of the week I was nervous about sharing my thoughts, but by the end of the week I felt more comfortable and experienced so much joy by speaking to others.
Going to General Cepeda inspired me. This mission trip has challenged me to live out my faith more. It taught me that God is always there for me even when I don’t realize it. Serving others and spreading the word of God was an honor and I hope to do more mission work in the future.
- Amanda Moncada, Sophomore
The most significant impact that the DR mission trip had on me was just seeing the absolute, abject poverty that some of the people of El Cercado were living in. Throughout schooling we learn about third world countries, and on TV or the internet, we often see humanitarian advertisements. However, while we’re in the comfort of our homes, they mean little to nothing to us. When you actually immerse yourself in that sort of culture, it becomes real not only in a material sense, but in a human sense.
In America, we become desensitized to poverty, and even suspicious of it. When we see a man begging on the street, a number of thoughts run through our heads. We don’t know if he genuinely needs help; if we give him money, we don’t know that he will spend it responsibly; we don’t want to spend our own money on food for him; and after all, how do we know he’s not just begging because he is lazy? I think that I’m not alone in jumping to these conclusions sometimes, and it leads to a less sensitive society.
What the Dominican people were lacking in material possession, they more than made up for with faith. I’ve never witnessed such a strong faith community. Sure, the groups I’m involved in at home are made up of truly good and faithful people, and I’m proud to be a part of them; Newman Club is why I was in the DR in the first place. But, for me, it just seemed different because we can all return to our everyday comforts outside of our faith lives, but these people’s comforts were their faith lives. They don’t all necessarily have warm beds, television, or even families to turn to throughout the day. However, they know that they always have God, and that is enough for them. It’s an example that we should emulate in our own lives.
This all culminated for me on a day when we went to visit a Haitian market in a town called Elias Pina. We visited a bakery being run by a mission out of Green Bay, WI and got some bread (which was delicious, for what it’s worth). As a few of us waited in the back of the truck, a man walked up to our truck and asked for some of my bread. My American mindset made me suspicious of him, and I slowly lowered the bread in my hand. Understanding that I wasn’t giving him any, his face dropped and he walked away. Then, guilt poured into me, and I remembered a passage from Matthew’s Gospel (25:40), “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” I turning away someone who was less fortunate than me, and the fact that I was holding food and blatantly refused to give him any filled me with shame. New questions dawned on me: what if he was starving? What if he was working all day to feed his family, and he only sought something as small as a piece of bread for himself? Who was I to deny him that? As we pulled away, we were driving past him. I yelled out “Mi hermano (my brother),” and tried tossing him a piece of bread, but unfortunately it flew past him because he was surprised by it. Then, after we got the truck to stop, I handed him a few pieces and wished him well. The look in his eyes as he received it showed me that he needed that bread, and an intense feeling of love dawned on me. The next day, we worked with local agriculture projects in the village, and I continued handing bread to people throughout the day. Elderly adults and small children alike took it graciously and thanked me. I constantly asked people “Tu quiere pan? (Do you want bread?)” in my broken Spanish and horrible accent, but they took it with a smile and a “gracias.” In such a small act, I felt real solidarity and shared an experience in a very basic, human way with them. And all through it, I felt the intercession of God. I’ll carry those moments with me wherever I go in life, and I’ll try to remind myself and others that helping the least of our brothers is a service to God Himself.
-Sean Grealy, Sophomore at Hofstra
As I write this, almost one month ago – January 5, 2014 – I was sitting on a plane waiting to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Between not knowing what was in store for me over the next 10 days and getting roughly one hour of sleep, I was anxious to go. However, the trip started in a way that I could not have imagined: a cancelled flight, and not just any cancelled flight. Our group sat on the plane for eight hours and nearly took off twice before the flight was cancelled. It was not how I wanted to start the trip but, as usual, God had other plans. For whatever reason, He did not want us to go to the Dominican Republic that day. The whole ordeal was definitely a unique bonding experience for our little group and the trip would not have been the same without that hectic start. For me, personally, this start to the trip really tested my patience. Living in a world where we feel we need to know everything as soon as it happens, I’ve never had high levels of tolerance or patience. That being said, the delays taught me that good things do in fact happen to those who wait, because sometimes God wants us to slow down and think about what we’re doing. The delay allowed me to better mentally prepare myself for the upcoming trip. Two days later we boarded another flight and, after a delay of only three hours, started a journey that I won’t soon forget.
Through the trip I learned how much I really take for granted: such simple things like a good house, clean clothing, food, and clean water. These things are a part of my everyday life that I don’t think about, and yet in El Cercado these things are a struggle for many people. Some people there live in shacks with no electricity and a fire pit for a kitchen. This made me really appreciate my own home with four solid walls, heat, electricity, air conditioning, clean running water, and other things that these people could probably only dream of.
One of the many things I learned to appreciate on this trip was a good hot shower. Showers annoy me just because they’re usually early in the morning when I don’t want to be awake or even move. At the retreat house where we were in the Dominican there was no hot water. For a week I took freezing cold showers. After I got back from the trip, one of the first things that I immediately wanted to do was take a long hot shower. When I did, it honestly felt like the best shower I had ever taken. It was then I realized how great showers really are. With a turn of a knob, hot, clean water comes out right away. It’s something so simple, yet it is not available in some places. In the Dominican Republic I saw many people going to bathe in the river or walking long distances to reach clean water, only to then carry a heavy, full water bucket back the same distance. Seeing people do that made me realize how truly lucky I am.
Another thing I learned on this trip is tolerance of other languages. Before this trip I had always been one of those “You’re in America, speak English!” people. However, I found myself in a country that didn’t speak English and found myself struggling to speak basic Spanish words and phrases (which I haven’t learned since the eighth grade). This showed me the struggle that some people who don't speak English in America go through. I learned to appreciate how hard it must be for them to communicate. Recently many people have spoken against a Coca-Cola commercial that featured “America the Beautiful” being sung in several languages. The commercial showed me how, as Americans, we may come from different countries, have different backgrounds, and even speak different languages, yet we truly are united in one nation with many of us sharing similar goals in life. The ironic part for me is that if I had not been to a foreign country, I probably wouldn’t have come to this conclusion and would have thought the commercial was terrible.
I will also be honest in saying that I was one of those people who was always doing something on his smart phone. However, since there was no cell phone reception where we were, my phone was basically reduced to just a camera. I found that I didn’t need to be so “connected” to everything and that I didn’t need to see what was on Facebook every five minutes. For a week I was happy to be “off the grid,” so to speak, and I definitely think that without my phone, I had a much better experience. Since getting back, I’ve definitely found that I have been using my phone less and that I don’t go on social networks as often as I used to. When I think about the people there, sometimes I feel jealous. Their way of life is much simpler, it seems. Here it feels like we’re all constantly on our phones or on the computer, seemingly doing something more important than having a face-to-face conversation. I’m not saying that there aren’t people who do this in the Dominican Republic. However I definitely saw this less in El Cercado. Technology is great, but what’s going on in the physical world in front of us is more important than what’s happening on our computer screens. Going to the Dominican Republic taught me that no technology can take the place of going out and doing things in the real world and speaking to and meeting with people face-to-face.
Another cool experience I had when we were there was getting to play a game of volleyball with the local school children. Our group hardly knew Spanish and the children didn’t know English. Yet through playing a simple volleyball game we all had fun and became friends. I myself am not very athletic. However, I still enjoyed just playing and having fun. To me, this really showed how universal sports can be and how even simple games can break barriers and bring people together.
I think that everyone should get to have an experience helping the poor. It really makes you stop and appreciate all that you have. Having the latest and greatest Apple product or other technology no longer seems important. What does become important are the simple pleasures in life. An organized trip with a group is truly the best way to go. It helps to make the work fun and is a great way to build strong friendships. The lessons that can be learned on a trip like this can last a lifetime. I do hope that I will be able to get back to El Cercado sometime soon. However, I feel that nothing will ever compare to having my eyes truly opened to the world for the first time and the unique experience that was this trip.
-Nick Hintz, Sophomore at Hofstra
The trip that 8 members of Hofstra's Catholic life took to Kentucky was an incredible experience for everyone involved. We departed on Palm Sunday and didn't return to the Northeast until Good Friday. Each student gave up his or her Spring Break and Holy Week to trek down to Kentucky's Appalachian region, but honestly, I can't think of a way I'd rather have spent it. We were there for the 3rd week of what was called WorkFest, so we were able to put the finishing touches on the houses we were rebuilding.
Most of the Hofstra students were split up into groups with students from 4 other colleges. My group was working on a house that was built into the side of a small cliff. It had no insulation, very obsolete siding, and a deck made up of stacked, unstable cinder-blocks. The residents of the house were an elderly woman who was suffering form Alzheimer's and her middle-aged son, Doyle, who was difficult to understand with his deep Southern accent and his surgically-replaced jaw.
During the first 2 weeks of WorkFest, most of the front porch, almost the whole roof, and one side of the house's siding were completed, but there was still much to be done. Since the side and back of the house were inaccessible from the ground, I spent most of my week climbing on scaffolding and nailing insulation and siding onto the house. If I gained nothing else from that week, at least I got very comfortable on small platforms 30 feet off the ground. By the end of the week, we finished all of the siding (which Doyle praised and said the house was already feeling warmer), we built a ramp for the front porch so his mother could get in and out easier, and we built an entirely new back deck that didn't risk falling every time Doyle took a step on it.
Getting to know the family was worth much more than the work was to me, though. Doyle himself was very interesting, and I learned all about the family hardships he had with his siblings, his parents, and what led to him being the only one taking care of his mother. His mother, though often disoriented, would watch us from the windows, and on the third day, actually came out and gave all of us hugs. It was so obvious that they needed this kind of help and were grateful just to have some attention paid to them. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the resident pit bulls, named "Big Guy" and "Little Guy," that kept us company and entertained us all week.
Throughout the week, it was obvious that we were doing amazing work. I know there are other humanitarian groups (e.g. Habitat for Humanity) that do the same work and provide the same tangible results that we did, but I keep the service that we did on a higher tier; this isn't because it was done by me, but because it was done for God. The shared fellowship of Christianity that the volunteers kept throughout the week fueled our positive attitudes. One of the leaders of the groups gave a talk about reaching new heights and breaking out of comfort zones, which every single person there was able to do. That's what God intends for us. He doesn't want us to be sedentary in our lives and our habits, but instead he wants us to explore, try new things, and spread his love everywhere we go.
Mission work has become my favorite thing to do with my time. Getting a group together and helping people in Christ's name is one of the most noble activities I can think of, and I plan to participate in as much as I can for the rest of my life. I encourage others to do the same if given the opportunity, especially young people. High school and college students have so much to offer, and many people are surprised to see younger kids helping the ways we did. Don't be afraid to break out of your shell; don't be afraid to go somewhere you aren't used to; don't be afraid to branch out. Whether it's another country or a soup kitchen down the road, mission work is amazing and helps people realize that as Christians, we believe in love and brotherhood above all things. It has changed my life. I'm thankful for the chances I've already had to help, and I'm incredibly excited to take advantage of more of them in the future.
-Sean Grealy, Freshman at Hofstra
"Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel" - Mark 16:15
I came into this mission to Long Beach expecting the work projects, expecting the devastation, and expecting the evangelization. I thought I had a pretty solid idea of what this mission would hold for me and I was prepared to give myself over to the work I was going to do. But what would a mission be if I could actually anticipate everything that was going to happen? God had a bit of a different plan and decided to take me by surprise.
Never in a million years could I have anticipated what I would get from the missionary team I worked with. It sounds a little silly, but on this mission, I got more from the missionaries surrounding me than from any of the work projects or evangelization or actual missionary work. Don't get me wrong, it's always very humbling and rewarding to act as the hands and feet of Christ doing physical work in His name, but I was already expecting that; I had experienced that and been moved by that on missions in the past. I wasn't expecting to be moved by my mission team.
For this mission, we joined with Adelphi, so I didn't really know about half of the mission team, but that didn't last for long. I quickly developed an amazing relationship with every missionary. There is something so moving about seeing such a deep love for Christ and His Church in the eyes of so many people. To live with about 25 people who are so devoted to Christ for 10 days revived my heart in an unexpected way. I led music for the group during prayer and adoration during the mission, so I was often sitting a little bit away from the rest of the group. This provided me with a vantage point that I wouldn't trade for anything. I watched each person, day after day, as they gazed upon our Lord lovingly in Adoration or Mass, or as they prayed with incredible humility and reverence during morning or night prayer. People so often speak poorly of college students, but what I saw on this mission was college students more on fire with their faith than most people I know.
I came into this mission expecting missionary work. I went through this mission and experienced more joy, laughter, love, community, and faith on fire than I have in a very long time. I came out of this mission a different person: renewed, hopeful, and joyful beyond description.
-Elizabeth Woods, Sophomore at Hofstra
Before the mission trip, I honestly wasn't even going to sign up. As a freshman who wanted to enjoy his winter break at home, I couldn't be bothered to spend another week and a half away. However, after learning about some of the needs of the Long Beach, NY community, and a little encouragement from friends, I decided to sign up. I'm so incredibly happy that I was chosen and was able to join the mission team. The experience was one of the most fulfilling that I've had in my life.
During the very first workday, I was assigned to a family whose entire basement was flooded with water and sand. Literally everything aside from the house's supports and framework had to be removed. All of the drywall ripped off, and all of the electric work torn out. It was a lot of hard work for the entire day, but we cleared out all of the moldy material and all of the sand. Seeing how overcome with joy the family was, I immediately realized that I made the right choice to come on the trip. Bringing God's light into the lives of the afflicted beats out hanging out at home any day of the week.
This day was so incredible that I didn't think any other day would measure up to it, but day after day I was proven wrong. One of the greatest parts of mission work is spending time with the people you're helping. Whether you're helping them drill sheet rock or having a conversation about where they grew up, eventually you realize that you're doing God's work. It's what He intended for all of us; to help those less fortunate than ourselves. I'm so glad I was able to experience this so early in my college career, because I'll never hesitate to volunteer my time for this type of work now. The joy I get out of it combined with the love spread to those we're helping is so great, I'd feel foolish if I did.
-Sean Grealy, Freshman at Hofstra
Our College Missionaries
This blog is by our student and missionaries so that you can learn a little more about our experience on our mission trips!