High School Students Find Spiritual Experience on Mission Trip to Jamaica

(L to R) Chris Sperry and
Mike Ryan

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Feb. 4, 2011) –Students and faculty from St. Joseph Academy Catholic High School in St. Augustine, Fla., traveled to Jamaica, January 17-21 on a house-building mission trip with the international relief and development organization Food For The Poor.

“Our building project was simply amazing,” said St. Joseph Academy Campus Minister, Deacon Bryan Ott. “What started as a concrete slab in the morning became a two-bedroom house by lunchtime – complete with a kitchen, bathroom, loft, front porch, windows, doors and a roof.”

The ominous clouds and eventual rains did not distract the group from their mission to build and paint a house in one day. The housing recipient’s children were at school the day of construction. When the key was presented to the single father, members of the group imagined his children’s joyful faces as they returned from school to a house ready for them to call home.

“The most meaningful project was building a house for Mr. Facey and his family,” said Rosie Chryssaidis, a student at St. Joseph Academy. “That day we worked as a team to change lives.”

Rosie Chryssaidis gave the gift of presence to a mentally and physically challenged child.

There is no substitution for the firsthand experience of traveling on a mission trip. The experience required group members to use all of their senses – sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing – and their hearts.

“The experience has taught me to cherish all that I have. It also taught me that being positive is very important,” said Chryssaidis.

“I have left a piece of my heart in Kingston and would love to return to finish the work I started,” said chaperone, Tom Reed. “With God’s blessings I will be back to continue His work and make a small difference in the lives of so many. Any amount of difference helps.”

In addition to building a home in a day, the 15 students saw and heard firsthand accounts about the harsh realities of life in developing countries. A fisherman at the Bull Bay Fishing Village shared his heartfelt gratitude for Food For The Poor’s donors, saying he is thankful for the opportunity to have a job that would not be possible without their support. His personal story impacted many in the group, and motivated them to send supplies to assist those living in the fishing village.

Henning Ander and students at Alpha Boys Home concentrate as they play Jenga.

Group members also played checkers, dominoes and Jenga at the Alpha Boys Home; hosted an impromptu soccer match and braided hair with the visually impaired children at Salvation Army School for the Blind; spoon-fed porridge to handicapped children; and played with AIDS infected children at a playground.

Food For The Poor’s Golden Age Home in Kingston, Jamaica, is home to approximately 360 elderly and handicapped residents. The students were surprised to learn that without the charity’s assistance to feed, clothe and care for the abandoned mentally and physically challenged children and adults, they would be forced to live on the streets. In the shade of a tree at Golden Age Home the group gathered to hear how a gunshot victim became constrained to a wheelchair as a youth.

“At a homeless shelter [in Jamaica], the students didn’t just serve a meal, they sat down and talked, sang, and even shared hugs with the homeless,” said Deacon Ott. “In a situation that would have intimidated most adults, the students jumped right in and gave a powerful affirmation of the dignity of those they served, sending the message that someone cares and wants to hear what they have to say.”

Bryant Loftis and the other students serve breakfast at a Food For The Poor-sponsored homeless shelter in Kingston, Jamaica.

“I realized the realities of poverty in Jamaica and how tough it really is for all of the disabled poor and homeless, as well as the parentless,” said Henning Ander, a student at St. Joseph Academy. “I loved the trip.”

“All the visits brought me to Christ,” said chaperone, Cathy Windish. “He lives in each one of us healthy or disabled, rich or poor.”

An important part of mission trips is the daily group reflection time, which provides students the opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings and life-changing experiences.

“The students opened their hearts to those in need, and really wrestled with how difficult some people have it in life,” said Deacon Ott. “The trip provided many lessons in love, and returning the love given so freely by the Jamaican children.”

Rosie Chryssaidis and Holly Linville were selected by their peers to receive the “Spirit of Mission” award. The criteria included spirituality, work ethic, leadership and community-building. There were many close runners-up.

Holly Linville shares some giggles with elementary school child in Jamaica.

Another group of St. Joseph Academy students will travel to Jamaica, March 21-25 on a similar house- building mission trip with Food For The Poor.

You can learn more about Food For The Poor’s mission trips by viewing the YouTube video, calling 1-800-427-9104 ext. 6216 or by e-mailing missions@foodforthepoor.com. You can also involve your school in Food For The Poor’s mission by calling 1-877-654-2960, ext. 6988 or e-mailing churchschool@foodforthepoor.org.

“There are real people behind the faces we may see on brochures, billboards, and TV. Those people are beautiful in their simplicity and genuineness,” said Windish.

Food For The Poor, the third-largest international relief and development organization in the nation, does much more than feed millions of hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian agency provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 96 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor.

For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.

After building a house in a day, the group presented the new homeowner with the key.

Jennifer Leigh Oates
Food For The Poor
954-427-2222 x 6054

Diane M. Albano
Director of Development
St. Joseph Academy
155 State Road 207, St. Augustine, FL 32084
(904)824-0431 ext. 307 Fax: (904)826-4477