Please join us in prayer for the 26 youth and adults who are serving in Jamaica from July 13-20. You can view the prayer guide online by clicking here and can stay up to date on the Jamaica Mission Trip Blog.
Day Five, Wednesday, July 16 (updated at 5:00 pm with an extra blog):
I have never felt God’s presence like I did today. Being part of this amazing youth group and experiencing such amazing things has really been foundational and built my faith. Today was the last day of VBS, and it hurt to have to say goodbye to these kids that I have grown to love, but going the Infirmary for the second time was a true blessing.
At VBS this morning we did our normal rotations from Arts and Crafts to Games, and then to Bible study. I, also with Elizabeth and Marley were the shepherds of the 9-10s group. While shepherding, I was able to take lots of awesome pictures with the kids and all the activities we were engaged in. During worship time at the end, Jackson and myself would stand down in the crowd and use all our energy to hype the kids up to dance and sing along. Though we were tired we knew it was worth it because these kids are so passionate and are so joyful that once they start going they just can’t stop. We said our goodbyes and took plenty of pictures, then we were on our way back to the office headquarters. We ate lunch and then split up into two different groups, one that would go paint (which I was in), and the other group who toured the chocolate operation. After we completed painting primer on a few boards we returned to headquarters and then got on a Bus and headed out to the Infirmary where I, for the first time, would shave someone!!
Today, after finishing VBS, I went to the infirmary for a second time with much more ease and confidence than the first. I greeted everyone that I saw with a smile on my face, a “hi” or “hello”, and sometimes a handshake. I was glad to see familiar faces again and continue to serve such lovable people. I enjoyed feeding a sweet man named Paul some Jell-O and quenching many others’ thirst with regular or flavored water. After tending to people’s needs I decided to read a neat book called My Abuelita to an amazing woman named Jean. Jean is such an engaged woman; she listens with such an interest to everything Payton and I had to say. Also, Payton and I learned that Jean has a very beautiful gift for coloring pictures. She showed us pictures of her children and grandchildren with lots of pride and joy. It made me happy to see her have never-ending motherly love for her kids. But Jean truly loves the Lord. She pulled out her Bible and asked us to read Psalms 27 and 100. I noticed that she wasn’t sitting quietly like some people, but she raised her hand up with a pointed finger repeating the Scripture from her memory. Jean has so much faith in the Lord’s ability to never forsake us and His ability to achieve glory. I looked at her knowing that God will bless her with eternal joy and peace in Paradise because I saw it in her vibrant face. Truly, I was upset that I only had a total of one hour and thirty minutes to spend with some of God’s children who deserve the most love in the world. However, I will never forget Paul, Jean, and every other gracious person within the infirmary. I’ve really been so blessed to come on this trip since I visited the infirmary.
Day Four, Tuesday, July 16 (2 blogs tonight to make up for the missed one!:
The views here are epic. Like you can hear the ocean when you fall asleep and seeing the moon peek out from behind the clouds at around 7:30 is awesome. The clouds are something else…in the best way. The stars, the pink then purplish-blue clouds all settle in together like a big sky salad. All aesthetically pleasing things aside, Jamaica has been eye-opening. Of course, I knew that poverty existed in other parts of the world but it’s heart-breaking to see how the people here live. In the U.S we have everything we could possibly want at our fingertips, yet we take so much for granted. I want to come back in a year or two and do this all over again. And again. And again. And again.
Today was the day that I realized that I’m getting older. I was juggling a soccer ball with the kids, and I fell and hurt my back. Then I hobbled around like an old man without his cane. Anyways, day 2 of VBS went well. I mean there were a few fights between the kids, but Jackson handled the conflicts surprisingly well and had the kids shaking hands with each other. So far, everyone on this trip has exceeded my expectations in terms of how they would act. It’s crazy. Also, I met this girl named Mary, and she’s awesome. She has a camera and she’s in her church’s choir. If I had her voice I would sing all the time. She’s a part of the group that we share the hotel with, and they’re cool. I thought they were going to be problematic (which is why assumptions are dangerous). But getting back on topic, VBS is amazing. Seeing the kids open up to me (a complete stranger) is really fulfilling spiritually and emotionally. The love I have for them is unexplainable. Oh yeah, and we went to the infirmary like a day ago. It looked like one of those wards that wounded soldiers went into when war was going on. It was very sad to see. Not a pitiful sad though, more like a starving-child-on-tv type sad. Definitely tugged on my heartstrings. The image will be forever burned in my memory.
It has dawned on me over the last few days in Jamaica just how similar people are all over the world. In meeting new people every day, we are greeted by identical smiles, an identical desire to show God’s love, and identical desires, pursuits, and joys, even if not geared toward the same goals, nor occurring in the same context. Some of the same issues we tackle daily in America are problems in Jamaica as well: lack of confidence in leadership, women’s rights, and how to approach the poor. The hand of God, therefore, is equally visible in the lives of those impoverished in Jamaica as in America, and I find myself thinking of some of our homeless ministries even at NAPC as we better get to know the work of ACE.
For me, Jamaica has provided an opportunity to streamline my thoughts toward the goals of spreading the gospel and serving the people I come into contact. Too often in Atlanta I miss out on opportunities to carry out God’s vision for a Heaven on Earth due to a busy schedule, the distractions of my electronic devices, and countless other excuses for not doing what I know I should do. Wasn’t it Peter who wrote “what know I should do, I do not, and what I know I shouldn’t do, I do?” We allow ourselves to look away from the homeless man on the street, to avoid the glance of the clearly upset woman in the supermarket, to steer clear of the people with whom we inevitably come into conflict with in our daily lives.
This week, my phone remains on my desk at home, as well as all my other gadgets. My email is unread, my Instagram feed is unviewed, and I have no idea what kind of stock dips or current event happenings have gone on while I’ve been in the paradise of this country. This week, I have also been free to serve the children of one of Jamaica’s parishes at VBS, to focus on my peers from North Avenue, getting to know them better and allowing them to know me, and to open my ears, my mind, and my heart to the voice of God as he speaks to me about the future that is so full of unknowns at this stage of my life. The complexities of college classes, dorm life, social experiences, and countless other experiences are both there to seize on and enjoy and to see as daunting tasks. The freedom to unplug from those fears as well as from the social pressures of home has been very much needed (and enjoyed as well), and I look forward to the rest of my time. I pray that I will continue to feel more grounded in faith, prepared for the future, and confident in my God and the gifts he has given me to see me through the next year of transition.
Jamaica is exactly what I needed. Let the heat and humidity not dissuade anyone else who needs a break to refocus and restore from travelling here; the ocean breezes are far better than Atlanta anyway. God bless everyone at home.
Third day, Monday, July 15:
Hello, parents (and other readers). Day three of our trip started off from 6:30-7:15 with quiet time. Most of us went down to the water, reading our Bibles, writing in our journals, and praying. We then came upstairs to make PB&J for ourselves and the kids at VBS later, before eating a nutritious breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, pancakes and boiled cabbage.
After breakfast, we all hopped on the bus and took a winding and rather bumpy road inland, giving some motion sickness, while others enjoyed the spectacular view outside the windows. When we got to the school, we walked up a steep hill to the school where we were doing the VBS. There were already many Jamaican kids there for us to entertain, though it would be almost an hour before the rest of the kids arrived on another bus. When it got there, we found that while we had expected to have 35 kids, we ended up with almost 80! It was a bit stressful at first, but after teaching them some awesome hand motions to the songs we were singing, almost everyone warmed up – to each other, that is, it was already plenty warm outside—and we were able to experience the joy of the Lord with almost twice the number of children we had originally expected. What a joy!
We proceeded to split the kids into three groups by age, which went to rotations of Bible, arts and crafts, where the kids made Galactic Slime (metallic blue with star sequins in it), and games, where some kids played statues in the garden, and some (most) played football – not the American kind. Afterwards, we reconvened and sang some more songs before the kids got their PB&Js and left for the day. We can’t wait to see them tomorrow.
We left for ACE headquarters, a house not too far from the hotel. There we ate lunch and discussed the afternoon’s activities, going to the infirmary, and painting a house. I was with the group that visited the infirmary, so the only thing I can really tell you about the painting was that it was hot, and that there was apparently no breeze to speak of. (we will try and upload those pics later when we get the right cords!!)
The infirmary is a set of three buildings where those who are physically or mentally disabled and whose families cannot take care of them go. They have a few nurses on duty, but that does not mean that it is anything like what you think of as a home for the disabled. The buildings on either side are long and lined with beds and basically open to the air, with minimal furniture otherwise. The men and women will sit outside along the open-air walkways outside, many of them missing legs. It is a sad sight. The middle building has a sort of social room in it where many of the infirmed sit and talk, if they can, or watch the small TV that they have.
We came and fed the infirmed, giving them soup in paper cups, and water. Then we went out and talked with the men and women unfortunately stuck there. A few of the best stories from the infirmary (from the boys’ side at least):
Richard, a man who has been there for about thirty years, is the most energetic man at the place, made friends with Jarred, the quietest of our group. By the time we left, they were hugging, and Richard was asking when Jarred would come back.
Another man taught a couple of our group how to play a game called draft, which was basically checkers, except you could move backwards, and Kings have extraordinary powers.
The last story is about Andrew, who fed a man who was disabled so that he could not get up off of the floor. Andrew fed him, pouring soup and water in his mouth.
We left and came back to the hotel, where we jumped in the pool and played a game Ben taught us called Stick in the Mud. Afterwards, we went to dinner (pork, rice and green beans). Then we went upstairs for worship, and broke into small groups. Afterwards, most of the small groups went to the jerk shack where we consumed two chickens (at least!) and lots of Jamaican Sprite and Coke!
Signing off for now,
July 13 and 14
First day, Saturday, July 13: Our first day was mainly just traveling, but there were still some fun moments that indicated that this mission trip would be successful and lots of fun. We first met at the bag drop-off at 7:40. Personally, I was expecting someone to lose their bag or their passport, but things went as planned through security. We boarded our flight around 10:30, and we were now only a couple hours from Jamaica. 1.5 in-flight movies later (roughly), we landed! Customs went smoothly, and I knew we were in Jamaica as the first store we saw was a rum shop. We each spent 1,000 (Jamaican) dollars on lunch, and then boarded a bus to drive us to the hotel. We hadn’t started any mission work yet, but it was still interesting to see the divide from impoverished Jamaica and the picture-perfect resort Jamaica. From how my sister described her trip here, I wasn’t expecting much from the hotel. But, when the hotel, and more importantly, its view came into sight, I was at a loss for words. The hotel wasn’t fancy or over-the-top in any way, and that made it perfect in my eyes. Dinner was good, and the pool felt amazing. To finish the day, we met in our family groups, collected our scuba gear, and sorted out our rooms. And just like that, the first day of our trip was over.
Second day, Sunday, July 14- The second day of our trip was spent having fun and planning for the rest of our action-packed week. The day before, we were given the option to go on a snorkeling trip with the price of $25 and having to wake up at 6 am. When I stumbled out of my room, the first thing I noticed was the tranquility of the ocean. Later, after nearly falling out of the snorkeling boat due to waves, I realized that this was a false perception. The waves were so strong that a couple members of the snorkeling trip got seasickness. For me, other than the waves, the trip was great. From the surface, there wasn’t that much to see, but as soon as you dove down, the coral reef lit up. We saw lots of “dory fish”, sea anemones, and striped yellow fish. When we got back to the hotel, we had quiet time. I reflected on my expectations for this trip and adjusted them based off the first day.
After that, we had breakfast. I had KP (kitchen patrol) duty, so I had to set up and clean up breakfast, and let me tell you, people are MESSY! But, breakfast was very good. After that, we practiced crafts and the songs for the first day of VBS. And then, we departed for Church. The Jamaican Church experience was certainly unique. We entered the church and were immediately greeted with the booming of several large speakers, all on full volume. We sang for around 30 minutes, tried to understand the head pastor for 10 minutes, and then listened to a very moving sermon for around 40 minutes. The sermon alone was probably worth the ring in my ears that I felt for the rest of the day. After this we had lunch, and after that we had free time. This was our largest chunk of free time yet, and we went crazy with the games. I first engaged in a heated game of spike ball, and when the heat got to me, I jumped in the pool. In the pool, we played volleyball. The teams were seemingly uneven, but one factor was an equalizer; depth. On one side of the pool, you had to jump or sit on someone’s shoulder to hit the ball, while on the other, the pool was shallow enough to reach the ball. We played volleyball for about an hour, and the team on the shallow side always won. We closed off the session of games with some Marco Polo. One word of advice: keep siblings separate. Both Marley and Lindsey could never catch anyone because they kept splashing water in the other’s eyes!
Sunday night’s dinner was the best meal yet, in my opinion. We were served fried chicken, potato wedges, salad, and a delicious marble cake. After dinner, it was too dark for spike ball (we tried), so we all migrated to the water for worship. We loudly practiced cheesy songs for VBS, and occasionally were soaked by a large wave. When the adults arrived, Jessica shared a story, we sang some more, we prayed, and split into family groups. My family group, dubbed the ceiling group by others, is amazing. We talked for an hour, first complimenting each other on our strengths, and ending talking about the day to come. This one day alone felt like 3, and I think we are all ready to begin out mission work tomorrow.
(We are having major upload issues so we have very few pics to share at this time! We are hoping to resolve it soon!!)