On Saturday, June 1, just one day after the hectic last week of school at Holy Spirit Prep came to a close, a team of 11 Upper School girls departed Atlanta for the sandy shores of Kingston, Jamaica. Their destination wasn’t the beach, and they didn’t have relaxing in mind; these 11 girls and their chaperones – HSP parent Liz Merrick, teacher Michael Rondeau, and campus minister Beth Van de Voorde – flew to Jamaica to work with Mustard Seed Communities, a Catholic nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the world’s most vulnerable people, particularly children with serious physical and mental disabilities.
Liz Merrick, who describes herself as a passionate MSC volunteer, leads several mission trips a year to the Mustard Seed Community in Kingston. Ms. Merrick led the girls on an intense, week-long mission to serve the residents of Mustard Seed’s Kingston community. Some of their work was the kind of tedious labor that organizations urgently need help with: setting up 1,800 chairs for a concert fundraiser, painting. The bulk of their week, though, was spent visiting and caring for the residents at Mustard Seed Communities across Kingston. The missionaries met residents who suffer from various physical and mental disabilities and some who suffered from past abuse or neglect. Ms. Van de Voorde reports, “we also visited 2 houses – one for boys, the other for girls – who suffer from HIV/AIDS, and another home for teenage mothers and their babies. We fed them their meals, played soccer with them, blew bubbles with them and counted how many we could pop, laughed, joked, told stories, danced, sang, and prayed with them.” The team also delivered the clothes and supplies the whole HSP community had donated during a drive this past school year.
Ms. Merrick's daughter, Susie, a rising senior at Holy Spirit Prep, was an invaluable student leader to the team. Susie founded the Mustard Seed apostolate at HSP, and her passion for the ministry is clear: this trip marked her seventh mission trip to Jamaica. "She was a constant motivator throughout the entire trip," Ms. Van de Voorde extolled, "her responsibility and encouragement helped keep her friends on track and raised up everyone's spirits when they were getting low or tired."
Though their week of service was intense, the team did get a brief respite, taking to the beach for a picnic one afternoon, and visiting the cathedral in the heart of downtown Kingston.
Ms. Van de Voorde described their week with the people of Mustard Seed as “deeply transforming,” and several girls called the experience “life-changing.” The work, like so much service, was humbling, and they had to endure the hardships that service sometimes demands: long hours, early mornings, exhaustion, oppressive heat, cold showers, no showers. The rewards of the trip, though, diminished any difficulties. In caring for people, and in some cases, attending to their most basic needs, the girls experienced and came to understand deeply that the dignity of people is not rooted in what they can do, but in who they are, children of God. It is an experience that has stayed with them since their return, and which they’ll carry with them into this next school year.