Upon arriving at St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Matthew Rosamilia and the Salvation Army’s Hands On mission team noticed the roofs of many houses were missing.
“We looked out to the mountains and saw a row of blue tarps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on top of homes that had been devastated from the previous year’s storms,” said Rosamilia.
Rosamilia, Benjamin Pierce, Thaddeus Stanford, and team leader Nereus Mogaria spent six weeks in St. Thomas. They met the community and helped the local corps (church) members conduct their ministries.
“Hands On is a chance to see if God is calling you for missionary work,” said Mogaria. “How would life be for you if you dropped everything and went to work in a new place, with little notice?”
The trip was the first time Mogaria had traveled so far away from his Brooklyn (Bay Ridge) corps. It was also an opportunity to see some of the Army’s overseas work, as he would soon enter the Salvation Army’s College for Officer Training (CFOT) as a cadet.
Hands On mission trips typically consist of visiting two locations for three weeks each. But this time, the team stayed in St. Thomas for the entire six weeks. This allowed them to develop a deeper relationship with the community. They became familiar with the island, the people, the ministry, and the trials the local Army had faced after 2017’s hurricane season.
“The storms had flooded the corps and damaged the merchandise in the Army store,” recalls Mogaria. “Afterwards, any merchandise that had not been damaged was looted.”
The team visited St. Thomas just as the people were getting back on their feet. A new afterschool program welcomed 50 children, and every day, people came to the corps for food. Donations also arrived daily, which the team happily helped collect and sort.
Less than a week after their arrival, they were asked to host Sunday services by the corps officers (pastors) who had to leave for the United States to attend the CFOT graduation and commissioning exercises.
“We were told when we arrived that this would happen, but leading up to Sunday, we still had no idea what a service in St. Thomas would be like. Would we see the same people we had met? Would it even be full?” Rosamilia had wondered.
“That’s a part of belonging to a corps. If officers have to suddenly leave, someone needs to step up to make sure the ministry isn’t forgotten,” says Mogaria, who had the opportunity to preach that Sunday. “Everyone who came on Sunday was kind and appreciative to these four kids from the United States they had never met before.”
Matthew Rosamilia says that, thanks to Hands On, he saw first–hand the benefit of the Army’s disaster relief work, even on a small island like St. Thomas.
“One of the St. Thomas officers said that if it wasn’t for the Salvation Army’s work after the storm, they would have never been able to help families that lived in parts of the island that could only be reached by boat. Only the Army reached out to them; they had the boats and went to them with food,” said Rosamilia.
“I was advised to make that new community my top priority. As an officer, I will need to keep that mentality with me at all times, especially if I’m in a new environment,” said Mogaria. “I have to adapt to their culture, their style, and remember that I am no longer in my own familiar community.”
“That’s what Hands On does. It gets you out of your comfort zone and makes you stronger in every way: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
by Hugo Bravo