Editor’s note: Missioner Hannah Hagarty currently serving in Kingston, Jamaica reflects on 5 words that have become the foundation for her time on mission so far and the ways these words are exemplified in her friend Peter, a 15 year old boy from Jamaica living in a home for boys born HIV positive.
These 5 words are the heart, the foundation, the purpose of my time on mission in Jamaica. In the last year have I learned the true meaning and importance of these words through time spent with a 15 year old boy.
He lives in an inner city Kingston boys home for those born HIV positive. Because of the stigma HIV has here in Jamaica, taking photos of these boys is prohibited. For his privacy I have changed his name to Peter for this blog. I have some “selfie” photos that Peter shared with me. I have blurred out his face in order to conceal his identity.
Peter has no brothers, sisters, parents, aunts or uncles. The boys home is a simple structure with concrete floors and walls. He has few possessions, and must guard them closely, fearing his housemates will steal his belongings during the night.
On Mother’s Day 2019, my co-missioner Tim and I headed downtown, collected Peter and the other boys at their home, and walked them across the street to the cathedral for mass, as we did every Sunday. When it was time to bless the mothers at the end of mass, I leaned over to Peter and asked what his mother’s name was so that we could pray for her.
He was silent for a while, then he said, “I don’t know.” More silence. “I don’t remember.” Longer silence. “I’m going to pray for you. You pray for you too. Pray for Hannah, you are like my mother.”
I had not even known this boy for 2 months.
The ministry of PRESENCE is powerful. I showed up every Sunday, consistently, and showed him care, love, compassion, and presence, and it made an impact.
Fast forward 5 or 6 months, Peter is like my little brother. He runs to greet me with a big hug. He tugs at my arm hair, massages my hands, braids my hair, or holds onto my arms as he leads me through dances. He can’t help himself. It becomes obvious that his main love language is physical touch. He is aching to share his love, so he shares it with me. Fortunately, I don’t mind at all.
One Sunday morning Peter was nowhere to be found. Long after the other boys were ready for mass, Peter walked out of the house, passed by me without any greeting, and found a place to sit quietly by himself. After a little while I walked over to check on him and he couldn’t even look at me. I finally got him to talk and he told me a story.
On Wednesday he was walking home with an older boy from school. As it turns out this “friend” set up Peter to be jumped and mugged by three older boys and the guy he was walking with. One of them got out a knife and slashed Peter’s backpack, cutting it off his shoulders. They pushed him to the ground and stole his money. He brushed himself off, picked up his torn backpack, and walked all the way home alone because he didn’t have any bus fare. Peter said that he didn’t tell anyone. He had been keeping this to himself for 4 days, believing no one cared. He was not physically injured very badly, but he was destroyed emotionally. I sat with him. I listened to him and showed him LOVE.
A few weeks later I was with Peter again at mass on a hot Jamaican Sunday morning. I was wearing my Franciscan Tau cross that I rarely take off. A recent sunburn left my neck tender so I took off the twine necklace and gave it to Peter to put in my bag. Instead he put it on his own neck. I smiled, then simply forgot about it. Later that night when I went to shower, I remembered Peter still was wearing my Tau. I was quite irritated with myself for forgetting it. I was given that Tau by FMS as I was commissioned to go on Mission. I had taken it off only twice since that day. It is so special to me.
The following Sunday Peter excitedly ran to greet me. He could hardly contain himself. He had on the necklace. My Tau. Once away from the other boys, Peter told me he had not taken off the Tau all week. He went on to explain that when he felt it on his chest it reminded him of me and God, making him feel more safe, and less lonely.
I immediately got tears in my eyes and gave him a warm hug. I told him the story of my special necklace and its meaning. He understood and promised he would never take it off. He hasn’t. This shows the importance of deep trusting loving RELATIONSHIPS.
After mass each Sunday, we take Peter and his housemates back to the boys home and head over to another children’s home called Bethlehem. These children have profound disabilities. About a month ago, Peter asked me why we leave so quickly every week. I explained to him that there are a lot of kids who need help and not very many caregivers. I explained how we help feed the children at Bethlehem so the kids don’t have to wait so long to get their food.
I explained how these children cannot feed themselves, that their brains, arms, and legs don’t work the same way ours do. He was very interested and asked if he could come and help feed them. I excitedly worked with the boys home administration to get permission for Peter to walk with us after church and feed the children. Without hesitation, Peter found a hungry little person, scooped him up, gave him a big hug, and started bottle feeding him. For over two hours he was focused on loving the children. It was such a beautiful experience to witness. He, who is marginalized and oppressed, gave his time and love as a 15-year-old boy to other oppressed and marginalized children. He has been back five times with me, and he has started building relationships with some of the kids. It’s so sweet. He now feels like he has a purpose, something to look forward to. He cherishes the opportunity to ACCOMPANY these kids and they love him in return.
My work in Jamaica through FMS allows me to ignite the EMPOWERMENT of so many marginalized people like Peter, who, in turn, share their gifts with others. I am blessed to live out the Franciscan ministries of true Presence, Love, Relationship, Accompaniment, and Empowerment.
Reflection: Where do you see these 5 words reflected in your life?