Taking In Cuba

The wanderlust gene runs deep in my soul.  I am always up for a road trip, an airplane flight, or even packing a moving van and setting out on some fun adventure or checking out new destinations.  You will see this in the next couple of weeks as I share a couple of trips Audley and I have made this summer.

But, I am not the only one who has this wonderlust gene in our family; my children have it as well.  Since I am in Boston on an anniversary get-away with Audley, our daughter Madeline is taking over my blog today sharing her recent trip to Cuba with my Dad (see, the wonderlust gene is multi-generational) for a little mission trip; the second mission trip some of our family has made this summer. 

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Pop and me at the Atlanta airport ready to fly

The view of her trip through her 17-year-old eyes is so very sweet and full of passion.  Enjoy.

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I think I just left my whole entire heart in another country.  Over the last year I have been praying for Cuba.  I have cried out to God on their behalf so that the people there could experience Him.

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Yes, it is a BEAUTIFUL country with so many kind and beautiful people.  Their country is not far advanced and it is in poverty.  They may be content, but they still lack one thing – Jesus.

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We went through Cienfuegos spreading and teaching the gospel.  They welcomed us in their homes and cried with us as they shared their stories.

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People there thought that they were full, but as we taught, they were quick to realize the emptiness they had inside.  This week we filled that space with Jesus.

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I fully believe that we have been called to be missionaries where we live, work, and play, but also sometimes we are called beyond that.  It is a beautiful thing that we can be tools for the kingdom, no matter where we are in the world.

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We were able to hug and tickle kids who needed to feel loved and valued.

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We got to make new friends, sisters and brothers.

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We got to spend time with His creation and worship Him.

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My Pop teaching

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But most importantly, Jesus made himself known this week.  He taught me to be a little more humble and that it is okay to not have everything figured out.  My God is UNSTOPPABLE.

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Look at all these Christian teenagers gathered in CUBA… a communist country!

I am so thankful for this opportunity and how Jesus is continuing to change my heart.  My greatest prayer is that we won’t lose our fire back in our communities; that we will continuously be sharing the gospel, not just through our word, but by our actions.

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Pray for Cuba.  There is still work to be done there, but we do know God is on the move.

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Pop studied with a young man who was baptized (one of 17 baptisms I watched) and this young man brought his friend to study and learn as well!

To the people who made this trip financially possible (I know some of Momma’s blogging friends helped), and spiritually possible through prayer, THANK YOU!

This week I have made so many friends for life.  I have learned to be humble and patient.  We saw so many people come to meet Jesus and got to encourage churches and communities in Christ.  God broke through every barrier in our way to make Himself known and our team feels beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to be tools for the Kingdom (the Church). God continued to reveal how He is our provider.

Continue to pray for Cuba and Cienfuegos’ churches.  I have a full heart and God is unstoppable in me.

~Maddie Jones~

Our Jamaica Mission Trip

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.

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YS Falls

Hilton Resort

A glimpse from inside the Hilton resort in Montego Bay

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.

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Visiting with Brother Lorenzo

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.

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Just one road we traveled

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.

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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.

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Bananas growing in a local yard

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!

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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.

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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.

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Santa Cruz Church of Christ

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.

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MacKenzie talking with Brother Lorenzo

Then there is Everton, a man who has dedicated his life to God instead of a family because he feels that is most important.

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Everton chaperoning MacKenzie and I in Montego Bay the night before we left… those are non-alcoholic beverages as we dined at Margaritaville; a meal that Everton kept calling “luxury”

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.

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The young preaching student with his wife, daughter and two brothers who came over from Montego Bay in a taxi to hear him teach Bible class on Sunday.

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.

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Beautiful faces at Vacation Bible School

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.

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Singing sweet gospel songs

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.

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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.

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They are fortunate to have a church building right next door where they are allowed to have space for group activities and morning assembly.

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Praying babies at New River 

We had so much fun singing and interacting with these babies, and they had fun entertaining us as well!

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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Personally I enjoyed watching the smaller children play on the little playground.

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playground fun

After their morning devotional, we painted the ceiling and trim in the common room since it had just recently been replaced.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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These children that we encounter on our trips are why I return to Jamaica time and again.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Travel Jamaica

image via Jamaica Olympics/Facebook
Watching team Jamaica arrive in London’s Olympic stadium last Friday and then make a huge impact on the track brought back so many memories of our recent trip.  Between our multiple trips to the island over the last few years and our many precious friends in Santa Cruz, Jamaica, I couldn’t  help but cheer for the Jamaican team as they entered the stadium led by their own national hero, Usain Bolt.
MacKenzie doing her impression of Bolt
 I had shared a bit of our mission work from our June trip,  but we also take time to enjoy the island.
While we do see a lot of the “ugly” on the island that most tourists will never see, we also see some of God’s amazing creation.  From the most beautiful ocean you will ever lay eyes on to the gorgeous resorts there is enough color and floral beauty to make anyone fall in love with this tropical destination!
Dusk on the Caribbean
View from the White Witch golf course in Montego Bay
Walkway into Rose Hall, Home of Jamaica’s own “White Witch”
Gorgeous Bird of Paradise

But, while the resorts of Jamaica are beautiful, I have discovered that the yards belonging to our dear friends in Santa Cruz have the most beauty with their mixture of sustainability and natural floral growth.

Passion Fruit vines with it luscious fruit ripe to eat an cherries ready to eat right from the tree.
Wouldn’t you just love to walk out your front door and pick bananas from your own from yard?
Pomegranates growing. Oh, how I wished they were ripe!
Coconuts that will be carried to the market
Gorgeous greenery in one of the yards.
I would LOVE to have this beauty growing in my own yard!

And if the flowers and fruit growing weren’t breathtaking enough, the view from the front porch of the hotel we stayed in was absolutely stunning!

With just this glimpse it’s easy to see how my family has fallen in love with Jamaica.  We are already planning our trips for next year which is quite exciting!

Jamaican Beauty

Most people who visit Jamaica never see the real Jamaica.  What they do see is the inside of an all inclusive resort, the “fixed-up” area where cruise ships dock, the clean and neat main drive through resort towns and beaches with clean white sand. 
While Jamaica has it’s beauty, a large majority of the island lives poverty and general dirtiness.  This is the Jamaica the tourist board does not want you to see, and the Jamaica where I have spent time every summer for the last three years. 
  
In this Jamaica there is access to public beaches where tourists do not go because they are so dirty.  
There are thousands and thousands of houses falling down or incomplete.  Homes with outdoor showers, kitchens and toilets.
Shower anyone?
You have to bring your own bucket and cup after you have carried your water to bathe with.
 There are parishes where the main streets are filthy and you feel dirty just driving through.  There are children who roam the streets both day and night who are scrounging for food or trying to con you out of a dollar.  If they can’t afford book fees,  “tuition”, or just don’t make the grade, they do not get to go to school.  It is nothing for a local to walk up (while smoking) and offer you weed (ganja), and to see a man peeing on the side of the road is not uncommon.  
But in the middle of this ugly is also a natural beauty.  One that touches your heart and reaches deep into your soul.  It’s beauty that many will never know because they choose not to step out of their comfort zone.  This is the beauty of Jamaica that I love, the beauty that has changed me and my family over the years.
It is the people.

We don’t go to Jamaica to “save” them all.  We go to Jamaica to offer hope, love and encouragement.  We don’t knock on doors inviting people to worship, we go into homes and offer love and service.  Over the years we have painted homes, built porches and dressed children. 
We do have a Vacation Bible School, but we also go to the schools and read to the children. 

If just one life is touched, changed, or given hope because we share love, then I see success.  So many people in Jamaica feel hopeless. 
I am often asked why would I go to Jamaica for mission work when I can find the same type of poverty here in the USA.  The answer is simple.
In Jamaica, people, especially children want hope.  They are receptive to the love of God and you feel welcomed with open arms.  
Here in the States?  God is more often than not, an afterthought. 
I cannot begin to put into words the power of this type of trip, so I hope pictures will suffice.  
I do know that as long as I can, I will continue to work in Jamaica.  My children are falling in love with the people as much as I have.  They want to make a difference as well.  In a world filled with pamper me attitudes, I swell with pride watching them grow in such a giving manner.