The Commissioning Ceremony for the St. John's team leaving for Belize was held at the 5pm Mass on March 4, 2018. This effort was dedicated to building the Monsignor Harris House. The volunteers were joined by Angela Hicks, SCN, who has a personal history with St. John's Parish and School, as she taught at St. John's School from 1979-1988. The team was excited to have her share in their experience.
The ten volunteers included a mix of returning missionaries and new volunteers. When Jerry was asked why he chose to return, he attributed it to a stirring in his heart to serve God and others. Dan also enjoyed the experience, laughter, fellowship, and hard work, which was part of his reason for returning. Although they will gladly step aside on future trips to give others a chance to serve, they remain on standby and have a grateful heart for good health to enjoy these opportunities.
The recipients of the Monsignor Harris House were Judith Fuentes and her 6-year-old son, Jarvan. Judith is a single mother who loves her son very much and was so happy for the opportunity to provide him a home. She loved hearing about Monsignor Harris and promised she "would hold him close to her heart." It brought such joy to watch Jarvan working with the gloves and apron Ron and Lorie had given him.
The volunteers worked together to load the materials and supplies daily from the warehouse, lay block, build walls, and paint the house. It truly is a breathtaking experience to witness HIHM supervisors precisely measuring and directing the efforts. The volunteers worked in unison to raise each wall, one at a time, onto the house foundation until all four walls were securely hammered together. Before long the four walls were secured, the roof built, the windows and doors installed, the steps constructed and attached, and the trim work completed. The structure almost miraculously became a house, and the smiles became bigger, especially those of Judith and Jarvan. Judith worked alongside the team to see her dream become a reality.
As with each of the St. John's builds, each day the team worked, smiled, joked around, and prayed in thanksgiving for the day's blessings. Building a house is not just about the physical act of building and the painting and hammering walls together: it is developing relationships with the recipients and the other volunteers as you become a family. The sentiment shared time and time again by many volunteers is that you receive so much more than you give.
The St. John's Belize family continued to grow on this mission. Nene (the cook) became like a sister to Kristen, who says Belize is her home away from home. "I really don't want to leave; I am so glad the church I call home in the States has given me the opportunity to be part of this amazing experience." Her husband, Chris, felt blessed to be able to join her on this mission so he could see and experience the joy. And the bonds the volunteers formed with Judith continued even after they returned to the States, as many continue to exchange pictures and chat on how things are going. The friendships know no geographical boundaries.
Ron and Lorie were touched by the love shown to them by James the driver, Nene the cook, the night guard, and Beto and Lewis, the worksite supervisors who trained with patience. Mary shared that the experience made her feel fulfilled. She was a part of changing someone's life and, at the same time, got to know her fellow St. John's parishioners better. She said she did not realize as part of the volunteering effort how much happiness she would receive in helping others and how she would treasure the lifelong friendships she had formed.
Once construction was completed, the Blessing of the House took place and included much joy, singing, and the presentation of gifts: a welcome mat, plant, table lamp, key/keychain, Bible, crucifix, and plaque that read "Monsignor Harris House."
The team also helped lay blockwork one day at the Fowler Center, which will be the new HIHM facility. Wayne's expert masonry skills in laying block were awesome to behold.
The team visited Las Flores and St. Michael's School to see its progress on the construction of new buildings and to continue fostering the relationship with our sister school-to-be. They arrived in time to hear and witness the children reenacting the Stations of the Cross. Fr. Ray met with the local bishop to foster written approval between the Archdiocese of Washington in the US and the Archdiocese of Belize so St. John's and St. Michael's can officially become sister schools.
A trip to Belize is never complete without a visit to the SCN House for fellowship.
The team concluded their wonderful experience by having their picture taken at the Belize sign on the way to the airport and home!