Mission Teaches What It Means To 'Love Thy Neighbor'
July 03, 2010
by Linda Andrade Rodrigues
Last March, Stonehill College student Molly McCabe (pictured right, photo courtesy of southcoasttoday.com/Molly McCabe) of Freetown joined a construction crew and made a profound difference in the life of a poor, elderly Tennessee man.
As a spring break alternative, Stonehill's Campus Ministry offers H.O.P.E. (Honoring our neighbor, Organizing for justice, Practicing peace, Encountering God), which engages students in service and challenges them to grow in their love of God and neighbor.
Two-hundred and fifty students were involved in the program this year, serving both domestically and abroad.
"They kind of put you where you fit," said McCabe, who was one of 15 students sent to the Great Smoky Mountains.
Sponsored by her home parish, St. Bernard's Church in Assonet, she received donations to fund half the cost of the trip, and her family provided the rest.
The students attended weekly meetings with staff leaders, who helped them prepare for their mission from March 6-13.
"I had never been to Tennessee," said McCabe. "It could snow in the mornings, and in the afternoon be too hot to wear a t-shirt."
McCabe packed a suitcase and duffel bag with two pairs of jeans, work boots, t-shirts, pajamas and heavy rain jacket.
"It was a hard fit," she said.
The trip took 18 hours by van. Halfway, the students spent the night in Maryland, rolling out their sleeping bags on the floor of a children's library in a Catholic school.
Their destination was the Sunset Gap Community Center, a Christian-based organization that unites people of all faiths and offers programs that assist the needy in surrounding counties.
Upon arrival, the Rev. Tom Halkovic of Stonehill's Campus Ministry celebrated Mass for the students.
"It was a nice way to start off," McCabe said.
The sojourners had dinner together, and McCabe moved into her new lodgings, a small trailer with eight bunk beds.
The next morning she awoke around 7 a.m. and discovered that there were only two showers for the staffers and 15 students.
Halkovic cooked a hardy breakfast of eggs, bacon and French toast for the fledgling construction crew, and they embarked on their assignment, the demolition and reconstruction of an addition on an elderly man's home.
Keeping a journal, McCabe captured the images and thoughts that went through her mind as they drove to the work site.
"When we drive through town here, I do not see poverty. I am unsure if this is due to my blindness, or my optimistic view of life down here. I see quaint, small homes. They are not in the best of conditions, and they need a lot of repair. But each house is a home. I have learned down here the importance and vitality of simplicity. I do not see large houses because they are unnecessary. I see neighbors who take care of one another, and communities that work together. I admire the hospitality and character here, and I hope to bring this newfound perspective back home with me."
They arrived at a mobile home perched on a hill. Thirty years ago, the homeowner, now in his 70s, had built an addition with his son-in-law. It was unfit for human habitation.
"Water drained into his home, and the boards couldn't hold up," said McCabe. "I fell into the floor where it was rotted through."
Over the next few days, the students took down all the walls, ceiling and inside supports, as well as pulled up three layers of floor boards. They also put on a new roof and added a drainage system to contain the water.
The homeowner worked alongside them.
"He did just as much construction as we did, putting us to shame," she said.
At lunch time, they ate a sandwich on site. Each day's work ended around 5 p.m., and the tired, hungry workers returned to the community center for dinner, followed by an hour break.
"We were away from computers and cell phones," she said. "It was so much fun to play cards and do very simple things."
She recorded these thoughts in her journal.
"What I do know, is that from living here, we immerse ourselves into service. We 'get lost.' No distractions. If I was close to home, I believe I would be tempted by our material lifestyle. But here, out of my element, I am alone, but I feel at home. Here, 1,000 miles away from 'home' in Cosby, Tenn., I feel home more than ever because of the people I am with, and the bonds we have made. I truly cherish this H.O.P.E. family, and this opportunity I have been given."
From 7-8 p.m. the students shared a time of reflection, reciting prayers and listening to songs and writings by different authors.
At 10 p.m. they went to bed.
Throughout the week, McCabe said she worked on as many projects as she could. Her journal records one of them.
"When tearing out floor boards, we passed them down in an assembly line. As the boards were passed, I noticed many of them were in the shape of a cross. This struck me immediately. Maybe, by recognizing God in His work, He recognizes us in His work as well."
McCabe described the end of the trip as "interesting."
There had been an outbreak of norovirus at Stonehill prior to their departure. McCabe counted 13 ambulances on campus.
Consequently, she commuted from home the week before the trip rather than increase her exposure in the dorm.
She recalled that on the way to Tennessee, one girl was unwell, but on the last day, nine of the students were stricken.
"I ended up in the emergency room," said McCabe.
She was the only student who needed hospitalization. Treatment was nausea medication on an I.V. drip.
Hereafter, the mission was named 'The Disease Trip'.
Despite the bout of flu, McCabe said that the mission was a great experience.
"It is our individual and communal responsibility to bring what we have learned from Tennessee back to our homes," she wrote in her last journal entry. "It is crucially important to continue the journey. It never really ends."
McCabe is a rising sophomore at Stonehill.
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