Witnessing a Transformative Vision Through the Eyes of a MSC Volunteer

Last week, as my team from the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Atlanta, Georgia drove into the mountains of Saint Ann Parish toward Moneague and the Jacob’s Ladder apostolate — the entry portal to my sixteenth trip with Mustard Seed Communities — I was filled with expectations of reacquiring the things I had come to know in past trips, imagining them very much like I had left them. Nothing in my communications with friends who work for Mustard Seed (Jamaica & U.S.A.) or the various building crew representatives and supervisors who had previewed the work projects we were to perform this year suggested otherwise. Bouncing along the dirt road leading to the compound at a pace that would render your GrubHub burger and fries cold, we approached the gate to Jacob’s Ladder. As we entered, all seemed much as it was; the spartan mission lodging and basic needs resources including cold water showers and bunk beds were easing me into my mission trip “comfort zone.”

Jacob’s Ladder serves as the next and, as Fr. Garvin puts it, the last stop for the aging residents of Sophie’s Place, Jerusalem!, Gift of Hope, My Father’s House, Widow’s Mite, and other Mustard Seed apostolates in Jamaica. These poorest of the poor have a loving, wonderful home for the remainder of their lives at Jacob’s Ladder, be it for three or seventy more years.

This year, by the end of workday one, the veteran sojourners and I knew something was different about Jacob’s Ladder. This first trip into the mountains after three years away would reveal Jacob’s Ladder as a grove planted, tended, and nurtured anew to yield a bountiful harvest of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. 

Jacob’s Ladder of 2023 is a place where most every resident performs helpful tasks: either doing work for the operation of Jacob’s Ladder or providing direct physical tasks and life assistance to other residents. In my opinion, we observed exponentially more self-reliance among the residents this year than ever before. How did this change happen?  

We theorized that COVID played a role or at least created the unique environment in which this transformation occurred. During COVID, many residents of other homes were moved to Jacob’s Ladder. Over these three years, Mustard Seed had put their valuable skill sets to use in the community!

Additionally, many staff and caregivers actually moved into apostolate space usually used for missionaries or for purposes other than living quarters. (Jamaica had many long and often sustained periods of travel lockdown, even inside the country). Here, too, this collateral adjustment due to COVID benefitted residents by having more and intensive resource availability. In a way, these realities filled in the gaps of the strands of Mustard Seed Communities DNA and have allowed a more complete system to thrive.  

The Jacob’s Ladder family nurtures and uplifts every one of its members, making it a truly mutualistic and accessible community. Compare this to how our communities in the United States look after COVID. Are we as a culture closer? Or have we become more distant, disconnected, self-absorbed? Joanie Gross, our IHM mission leader, made a comment one night that this rustic, self-sustaining apostolate of Jacob’s Ladder with its meager resources and highly valued residents otherwise destined for discard “looks a lot like the community God intended us to build.” 

On the eve of the final work day of our trip, some of us were assigned to recondition a room into an adoration chapel with a monstrance. The transformation of the room and the acquisition and implementation of resources allowed the creative power of the week to shine forth. Any of my doubt as to whether we had completed the mission was assuaged as a resident spoke with me outside the adoration chapel. He took my hand and gestured toward the new addition and said: “Looks good.” His reassurance and approval mean the world to me!

The Adoration chapel’s updates were approved!

Jacob’s Ladder is Monsignor Gregory and Father Garvin’s transformative vision made real. We went up the mountain and there, in March of 2023, saw these challenged people transfigured before us – their faces shone like the sun. Over the course of this week, again and again, we heard the voice of God:

“[These are my beloved people], with whom I am well pleased;
listen to [them].” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.”

We went up into the mountains, into this community rooted in love. I truly feel it is imbued with the fruits of the Holy Spirit and shines with the joy of a truly Christian home. We went up into the mountains and were immersed in this community that looks very different from the world “below” these mountains; unlike the world we left in the United States, Jacob’s Ladder looks very like the world God wants us to build. It is a tall order to bring some of that world back to where I call home. But we need not be afraid, for this week we were lifted up; we looked around us and saw only Christ.

God Bless,

Tim Buckley
IHM mission team ‘23

1.  “I Forgot That Love Existed” by Van Morrison
2. “Do Everything” by Steven Curtis Chapman
3. “Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam
4. “Love is the Only Way” by Robert Randolph and the Family Band
5. “Hard Sun” by Eddie Vedder 
6. “Come Along with Me” by Vicci Martinez and CeeLo Green
7. “Gravity” by John Mayer
8. “Bright Side of the Road” by Van Morrision
9. “Mysterious Ways” by U2 
10. “The Mystery” by Van Morrison
11. “Jump Nyabinghi” by Bob Marley 
12. “Me and God” by Josh Turner