Harmony at work

MU student missionaries make a difference in Jamaica.
Sunday, June 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:57 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

In March, 50 MU students from Campus Crusade for Christ traveled to Harmons, Jamaica, to try to improve the lives of residents there. By helping others, the students learned valuable lessons about themselves and about the hardships and beauty found on the island.

The trip was organized by Won by One, a Christian mission group begun in 1988. Henry and Linda Shaffer started the group after Hurricane Gilbert decimated Jamaica. The owners of a construction company, the Schaffers went to Jamaica with hurricane relief.

Instead of making a small difference in many communities, they decided to focus their mission and make a large difference by helping to rebuild just one — Harmons. That resulted in construction of the Harmony House, a place where mission groups come throughout the year to continue helping out the local residents.

“Not only do they provide a place for groups to come stay, but the Harmony House also provides jobs for the people living in Harmons,” said 24-year-old Kurt Loosenort, who just graduated from MU and whose trip this year was his third.

On his first trip, Loosenort met fellow MU students Ryan O’Leary and Jared Byrne. The three have been close friends ever since.

“I keep going back because each time I go with some people I’ve never met and we build great friendships working together for a week,” O’Leary said.

This year, Loosenort led the trip with junior Polly Drover. During MU’s spring break, they led the largest mission group the Harmony House has ever had.

To prepare for the trip, students had to learn not only organizational skills but also how to raise money — $1,200, to cover expenses.

Additionally, the students collected as many donated supplies as they could fit in two hard-case suitcases. Between the two suitcases, they packed about 140 pounds of clothing and supplies such as towels, sheets, school supplies, tools, medical supplies, backpacks, sewing machines and pots and pans. Once the supplies have been distributed, the suitcases themselves are later used by the locals for storage and shelves. Upon the students’ arrival, they learned first-hand about conserving resources. Harmony House has a limited water supply provided by rainwater or brought in by truck for the groups that stay there. The workers were allowed only a two-minute shower each day.

The students worked every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a 30-minute lunch break of either tuna or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

“The team would build homes, dig water collection systems or pits, build foundations for homes, work in the schools or help paint the houses,” Loosenort said.

One of O’Leary’s jobs was to dig a pit 6 feet by 17 feet by 6 feet that would be topped by a platform. This was for Shark, a mechanic, so he could stand in the pit and work on cars instead of sliding under them.

“The land is dry and rocky, with bright red dirt,” O’Leary said. “It took four guys with a pickax and a shovel a week to dig that pit.”

At night, the group ate dinner and hung out with the locals in an area they call the courtyard. Children from surrounding areas walked through the dark to dance and sing with the people who had come to help them.

“It’s a relational ministry,” Loosenort said. “Everything that is done isn’t just to address physical needs but to build relationships and add to the spiritual need. That is the first priority.”

Part of the relationship-building was the practical jokes the students played on each other to ease the sometimes serious nature of their work.

“Some of the guys who had been before had always joked about putting a goat in the girls’ room,” Loosenort said. Sure enough, the girls on this year’s trip found a goat in their room.

So they one-upped the boys.

“They found the fattest, ugliest pig that couldn’t control its bladder and couldn’t stand up on a tile floor,” Loosenort said. “It took three guys to get it out of the room, and it left some presents for us on the floor.”

Loosenort said that because of his experiences on the mission trips, he has developed a hunger for world missions. In fact, he plans to work in overseas missions full time.

O’Leary, who just graduated with a degree in journalism, would like to work in public relations for a nonprofit organization. He said Jamaica opened his eyes to doing mission work seriously.

“I want to do missions for God’s kingdom,” he said.

Right now, O’Leary wants to serve in Columbia, starting with Young Life — a nondenominational Christian organization reaching out to local junior high and high school students.

His trips to Jamaica changed the way he thinks about people all over the world.

“It is a healthy reminder that God wants us to realize that there are less privileged people in the world,” O’Leary said. “As we do our day-to-day life in America, we should recognize that there are people in the world more needy than we are.”

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