Before serving with Mission: Possible I had never heard of Jonestown Mississippi, but while spending my Spring Break there, it quickly became my home away from home. Alongside 12 other students and a GU staff advisor, I repaired roofs on houses, fixed a porch and did a much needed re-roofing at a local service station. Throughout the week we stayed in a nearby church, ate simply, and lived, in solidarity with our Jonestown neighbors in order to immerse ourselves into a culture so different from our own.
My initial impression of Jonestown made me uncomfortable: Jonestown is amongst the poorest towns in America, and in this community I was the minority. However, my uneasiness was forgotten as we began to meet the wonderful people who lived in this tight-knit community. Aside from the Gonzaga community, I have never felt so welcomed and accepted by a group of people. The Burnetts, the family who owned the service station where we worked, showed us an incredible amount of kindness.
I spent one early morning sitting in the service station (what we called the local Starbucks) enjoying coffee with Lavorn Burnett, chatting with locals as they came in the store. Lavorn shared with us the dreams she had for her town and how she saw potential everywhere. She told us that our work on the service station roof was a huge step for Jonestown as it is a main hub of activity among the locals. Knowing that our service was truly making a difference to the entire community was the most rewarding part of the entire week.
Serving in Jonestown was a humbling experience as it showed me that there are many forms of service and each makes a difference, even a small act of kindness toward a neighbor. A few times while we were working on the service station, a couple of us would take shifts babysitting Marissa, the Burnett’s granddaughter, or watching the 11 day old puppies that the Burnett’s had just saved from the streets. Marissa constantly wanted to play and chat about our lives and Lavorn would never fail to tell us how appreciative she was of our service there. Mr. Burnett took time out of his day to make us delicious fried chicken. Everyone we met throughout the week showed us an amazing amount of hospitality and respect and that is how I could tell their relationships with others were of the upmost importance. This is definitely something that I will take back with me to Gonzaga.
Although my time in Jonestown has ended I want to return again to this strong and faithful community. Their reliance on God for support and their inner strength has encouraged me to strengthen my faith. Just yesterday I received a message our construction group leader, he had been in contact with Lavorn about the roof and she said, “ ‘Just wanted to call and let you know it's pouring rain here......and I am dry. I am cooking on my stove.....I can use my bathroom......and I am dry." Needless to say my day was made. The people of Jonestown are an inspiration to our group and taught us what it means to love our community, support each other and grow in faith.
Chelsea Hunt, junior