My daughter, MacKenzie, and I just returned from a 9-day mission trip to Jamaica last week. It’s funny because when you say that you are going to Jamaica on a mission trip people immediately think of the Sandals commercials and make comments on how difficult that must be.
Jamaica is very beautiful, but outside the resorts are lives and lifestyles that many of us only see on the news or tend to ignore.
Beyond the resorts are a people struggling day in and day out to make a living for themselves and their children, all the while, living in poverty. There are families living in houses that will never be finished because they can’t afford the property taxes on a finished home. There are children that hang out in bars while their mommas work every evening because they need a parent close by. Children walk miles (even up Mountains!) to school on dangerous roads.
There are men and women who can’t afford medical treatment (because there are no decent doctors or medical facilities on the island) that go blind with cataracts or glaucoma. There are parents who live off drugs while their children beg on the streets for them and unable to attend school as they should. This is a culture with no concept of proper dental and medical care. If you can’t get to it or afford it, you’re out of luck. And there are children who can’t go to school because their family can’t afford a school uniform for them.
This is an island of people trapped in a socialist lifestyle just hoping for a break if not for themselves, but for their children, and not really knowing how to accomplish change.
To be honest, Jamaica doesn’t want you to see the island. They only want you to see the beauty of the resorts and tourist attractions.
But, there is so much beauty to be found outside of the resorts as well… it’s found in many of the people we encounter, their loving hearts and their love for Jesus in a culture that doesn’t really live Christ. Jamaica is beautiful, but you have to experience it to see exactly what I mean!
This was our fifth visit to the impoverished island, but it’s a trip we truly look forward to. Santa Cruz, Jamaica (which happens to be quite a distance from the coast) has also become a place we cherish dearly and hold close to our hearts.
We had a taxi driver in Montego Bay tell us if we had friends in Santa Cruz, we were considered Jamaicans ourselves. I like that idea.
The people in the church at Santa are some of the most loving and caring individuals you can find. They welcome us with open arms and hearts each time we arrive and cry with us as we leave. It is a congregation of mostly women; strong, powerful women who worship with all their might. They are women who are striving to serve and grow, while raising children and grandchildren to do the same. It’s a congregation with many children who love to sing , listen to Bible stories and color. Brother Lorenzo, with his clear singing voice will bring you to tears with his words of wisdom and fierce independence as he is a blind man living entirely alone.
Then there is Everton, a man who has dedicated his life to God instead of a family because he feels that is most important.
He leads worship every Sunday as well as driving to pick up every member before services. It can take a couple of hours to accomplish that.
And now there is a young preaching student from the School of Preaching who travels each week to share the word with this small congregation. He has the sweetest wife who is trying so hard to be a support for him in this ministry he has chosen. It’s a congregation of people who I pray for daily.
We worshipped with the church on Sunday, and held a Vacation Bible School each night we were there. We also visited several homes of church members, singing and praying with them.
And one of my favorite parts of the week with the church members was the home-cooked suppers before Vacation Bible School prepared by several of the ladies during our stay.
Our trip this year was spent more in the community than normal as we worked with four different schools; visiting with children and helping with some things the schools needed.
The little preschool in the New River district is a block one-room building with minimal light and up to 42 children at one time! The teachers arrive early each day to clean up the school yard and bathrooms for the day.
They are fortunate to have a church building right next door where they are allowed to have space for group activities and morning assembly.
We had so much fun singing and interacting with these babies, and they had fun entertaining us as well!
At Aberdeen High School (an hour from Santa Cruz) we were introduced to an older group of kids who made me realize just how easy my kids have it despite all that American culture throws at them. These young people have heart and soul but are totally conflicted on what direction their lives will take.
While talking with a teacher, he told me that less than 70% of the children in the school will stay until graduation; maybe 30% of the remaining will attempt higher education, and the really smart ones will do whatever they can to leave the island of Jamaica for America and better opportunities for their lives.
Sobering thoughts indeed.
At Schoolfield Primary School, some of our young people and the students kicked off the school day with an entertaining game of “football”.
Personally I enjoyed watching the smaller children play on the little playground.
After their morning devotional, we painted the ceiling and trim in the common room since it had just recently been replaced.
Our final school visit was to Marie Cole Primary. From the vender selling prawns in baggies to the kids for breakfast to the childrens fascination with a Nerf football (American version), it was an interesting morning watching the children arrive.
There are no school buses in Jamaica (except the one that has been turned into a classroom at Marie Cole), so children walk quite a long distance, or if they can afford it, take a taxi. Momma and Daddy generally don’t walk with them.
After morning devotion at Marie Cole, the teenagers in the group went to the classrooms to read to different age groups. I use the term classrooms loosely as the school is a large block building with each classroom separated only by carefully arranged chalkboard partitions.
These children that we encounter on our trips are why I return to Jamaica time and again.
If there is just one child whose life we can touch and change, helping them overcome the status quo, then we have done something good.
Several of the children that attend church at Santa Cruz are the reason we are allowed in the schools. They have taken the initiative to bring together a mission team from the US and principals to form a bond of friendship and trust.
While it’s sad to say goodbye each trip, I’m always glad to be back home in my comfortable air-conditioned home and drive on roads we really have no right to complain about. But, that first Sunday back in our home congregation with its elaborate building and organized worship assemblies, is alway sad. With 300 people in attendance, the heart and soul of 75 Jamaicans in worship can blow away our singing.
The Christians in Jamaica are passionate about their worship; not worried about entertainment and politics in the church.
They come together to praise God with all of their heart and soul, truly fellowshipping with one another, thus humbling me and teaching me a lesson when I thought I was teaching them one.