A disciple is someone who learns. An apostle is one who is sent. These two words are used interchangeably when we speak of Jesus’ reign on earth—Jesus chose and sent out his Twelve to do His work. Passionist Volunteers International chose and sent me and my community mates out to be disciples of sorts—to try to do God’s work in whatever ways we can. However, the best example of discipleship in Jamaica comes in the faith that I witness on Sundays.
My Sundays begin at 8:30 in the morning at Immaculate Conception Church; it is like any mass that one might encounter in the United States. It is a well-attended mass in a big, pretty church, there’s a very gifted choir accompanied by guitars and an organ, and people donate generously to the collection basket. But my easy, American-style Sundays at ICC end at around 10:30 when we take off to the missions.
Mass out in Mount Friendship is rustic: there is no electricity or plumbing in the church, and often, it’s is merely a communion service because they only see a priest once per month. But somehow, services there place me directly in the presence of God.
I walk in and I greet the twenty to thirty people who have gathered in their Sunday best. The church must be swept, there is a cloth to be spread on the altar, there are hymn numbers to be scribbled on a piece of slate, and there are candles to be lit. I sit on the left, and soon, a cluster of beautiful children have gathered around me. I am the unofficial “kids section,” and I love that they scramble to sit by me and to share my hymnal. Many of these children come alone—their earnest faith inspires me.
Here, there are no instruments, let alone a formal choir. Instead, the sounds of Jamaican Christian choruses fill the building. The prayer of the faithful response of “Hear us, O Lord,” is always spoken passionately. The collection basket is a plastic flower pot, and people offer whatever Jamaican currency they are able to give. The pot fills slowly with shiny ten-dollar coins and creased fifty-dollar bills.
After mass, no one hurries away. People recline in the pews; they’ve walked miles to be here, they might as well stay awhile. And the children remind me of my work here: “Miss, you keeping the Sunday School, miss?”
Sunday School is always bustling. My tiny pupils scurry into the back room where we read a story about Jesus’ love for us and then head out to play little games in the church yard. This past week, we made Disciple Puppets. My students became Thaddeus, James, Simon, and Judas. They jostled to show off their work, they held their little crayon-colored pictures taped to cardboard high in the air as we talked about how we can become Jesus’ disciples in the here and now. Their answers were pure: Obey God. Visit sick people. Share my food with my friend. Love each other.
It brought me to tears.
I came to Jamaica to be an apostle. I wanted to “take nothing for the journey;” and I wanted to “take up the cross.” I’ve been sent, and I’m learning. But my people out in Mount Friendship are the true disciples; they have shown me what it means to follow God. Their natural faith is what gets them to church and allows them to sing loudly and prayerfully.
The simple nature of the mass on the mountain reminds me of something crucial: God is here. He is the warm church filled with people who struggle over hills and through gullies to be there, He is the heartfelt singing that resounds in the air, and He is the weight of a toddler on my lap.
So, thanks, Mount Friendship. Thanks for teaching me my Sunday School lesson. Like I said, I’ve been sent, and I’m learning. Boy, am I learning.