Santa Rosa, Guyana
My experience on the Guyana mission trip with the religious order of the IVE was a tremendous and wonderful experience. It all started when I was about 17 years old. I was talking to my dad about how I wanted to go and travel around the world. I had previously gone to World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain in 2011. With this thought, my dad suggested instead of traveling to visit places, I should go on a mission trip, to make it worthwhile. With this, I decided to go with the IVE Religious Family to Guyana.
When the day to fly out to South America came I was extremely nervous, totally excited, and anxious about the uncertainties. This was my first trip to South America, and my first mission trip. So there were many thoughts going through my head at the beginning of this trip. I am one who likes to be comfortable and in going on this mission trip, I knew I would have to go way outside my comfort zone in order for me to have a great experience. I just did not know how far out of my comfort zone I would be going.
So, when our plane landed in Guyana, I was ready; at least I was hoping I was ready. Fr. Alex, the IVE priest in charge of the Novitiate in the city of Georgetown, a city that we had to go through in order to get to the mission, came to pick us up. I and three other brothers were traveling together. Once we walked out of the airport, I saw the van we were to be taking, and I realized this was going to be a tremendous experience. So the three brothers and I traveled from Georgetown to a province called Charity and then from Charity to the mission church, Santa Rosa. Once we got to Santa Rosa we were welcomed by some of the people that went to the church. They were very kind and generous. Looking around I knew this was going to test me, as I wanted it to, but I knew that after a few days of getting used to the whole environment, I would begin to enjoy it more.
There were other brothers and sisters from the IVE who were there as well, plus some other volunteers. We were all there for the 10 day mission which consisted of going to the surrounding villages in the mornings. We had to go door-to-door asking the families that live in the villages if they were Catholic. If so, we were to ask if they received the sacraments, and if not, explain to them why and how they could. If the people were not Catholic we explained and taught them about the Catholic faith. Then, during the afternoons some of the missionaries and mission volunteers went out again and some also stayed at the church because there were programs for the youth and the kids that came. Near the evening time, all would assemble in the Church and we would have a rosary procession. The adults would have a talk while the kids played outside. To bring the evening to an end, the brothers would put on a little show and the sisters would sing some songs. This was the basic schedule each day of the mission.
I was paired up with Brother Juan Pablo to go out in the mornings into the different villages and evangelize those who needed to be evangelized. This part of the mission I dearly and absolutely loved!!! To go out and preach the Gospel door-to-door was beyond great. At first I thought it was too “Jehovah's Witness” to go door-to-door, but, I realized it was the total opposite. It is one of the most Catholic things you can do. For example, one day Brother and I were on our way to a village; we were with a guide. We were making our way to the village in a small canoe when it started to pour down rain. Thankfully we had brought our ponchos, but that didn’t stop the rain from getting everything else wet. However, it was in that moment that I realized that I was an apostle from the New Testament. I felt like a Saint Isaac Jogues or one of the twelve apostles. These apostles, these saints, went out into the wilderness or to places that needed to be evangelized no matter what the conditions were. They went out to save souls. And here I am doing the same thing. This realization hit me hard and it kept returning. Another time, Brother and I had to travel for miles on foot to go to different houses in the middle of nowhere. Again, I understood that I was an Isaac Jogues or Saint Paul of today. And still, yet another experience was on market day when everyone was in town. Two brothers and I, plus some volunteers and sisters went to the town. The sisters and the other female volunteers went into the crowds and started talking to people while the other two brothers and I stood in the middle of the street, with a megaphone in hand and preached the Gospel. It was unbelievable!!! Here I was once again doing the exact same thing that all the missionaries, saints, apostles and even Jesus himself did. I was doing that right then! The realization of doing the exact same thing as many saints did in the past will never leave me and, God willing, it will motivate me in my own vocation. I learned many things through these experiences, in so many ways. During the long walks Brother and I would discuss many things, including the call of our vocation. Another time when I was talking about my faith to those in the villages in their homes, I realized that I too have a voice. I realized how much I actually do cherish my Catholic faith.
The second half of the mission was truly great as well. Working with the kids and the youth is something that I’m very comfortable with and enjoy doing, so this was nothing new to me. First, the kids that were there were truly great. They had big smiles on their faces, and they were so very happy to be participating with the activities we had for them. Many days in the afternoons I was appointed to work with the boys. It was wonderful to experience their joy. I really enjoyed my time with them. The sport that they played the most was soccer and thankfully I am blessed with the gift of playing soccer myself. So soccer became a big part of our time together. Many of them would call me Brother Jake or just Brother - a name that did not belong to me since I was not a seminarian at that time. But, with me being a diocesan seminarian now, they were not far off. But all that aside, they knew I was there for them; for I was there as a missionary to teach about the faith and also, of course, to learn more about my faith.
Working some with the youth was a tremendous blessing as well. Again I was comfortable being with them since I too am a youth, although they were a lot more shy, which was totally understandable. One of the reasons why I liked being with them was that it gave me the opportunity to express my love for my faith in my own words. In those moments I realized it wasn’t my parents, or my family, or my pastor or the sisters and brothers of the IVE that were talking, but it was me, Jacob, talking about the faith that I truly love. In those experiences I grew a little more.
As I said before, it took a couple of days to get used to the environment and tricks and trades of how to live in a place such as Santa Rosa, but once I was settled in, I began to enjoy it more. Of course, there were many curve balls that came or just some things you just had to except. One of those incidents was when one of the brothers told me to look up on to the ceiling in our cabin; in doing so I saw a big scary looking spider. I am not one for creepy, crawly things, but I realized that I can’t do anything about the spider being up on the ceiling… just as long as it stayed there. After I went out and came back in later that day I looked up to make sure the spider was still there; unfortunately it was gone, and I had no idea where it went. Another part of the trip that I had to learn to be flexible with was one day when I got sick. One or two other brothers weren’t feeling as well either that day. So we went to the walk-in clinic, got the medicine we needed, came back to Santa Rosa, and then I slept the whole day. Thankfully by the next morning, I was well and back on my feet ready to go.
My experience with the other volunteers and religious was truly great! I really enjoyed my time with them, working with them, and living our faith together. I was deeply blessed that in fact my oldest sister came on this trip as well, as one of the volunteers. Of course I knew that she was coming, but the reason that each of us came on this mission was completely separate from each other. She came with some of the sisters and I came with the brothers. It was extra special to have experienced the joy of this mission with her.
In conclusion, I would have to say that my experience on the mission trip to Guyana was one of greatest and an absolute joy; one of the greatest sacrifices and an experience of God’s amazing grace!!! There were many life lessons learned on that trip. One of them being, that in order to have great joy you will have to suffer and sacrifice. Second, the lesson of who I am and what we are all called to do, that we are the apostles of today, we are the missionaries of today, in our own cities, in our own towns, within our own families, and we need to go out and evangelize, door-to-door, person-to-person, soul-to-soul. Thirdly, the lesson of community and friendship; that you need good friendships in order to make it through life. And lastly, this trip has helped me in my own discernment to the possibility of becoming a priest in my own diocese. One more example of this was when I got back home from the trip I felt even more called to the diocesan priesthood, not because I didn’t like being a missionary, which is farthest from the truth, and not because I couldn’t handle it, which I definitely did and grew a bit in those experiences, but because I realized that we need missionaries in our own families, parishes, and towns. There are many souls to be saved just around the block. There are many pews that need to be filled and God is calling many of us men and women to do something about it, to save souls.
If I had to say what my experience was in three words, it would be this: God’s merciful love. And how tremendous and amazing His love is!!!