Thursday, July 19, 2012
It's our second Monday in Jamaica and our first day of VBS in Montego Bay. We felt spoiled....no more leaving 2 hours early so we can pick up 200+ kids....no more traveling 20 minutes to the building....no more yelling the bible lesson because we're up against the main road....no more 7:30am breakfasts. We're blessed to meet in the neighborhood of Paradise (don't get any grand ideas) and we assemble in their primary school building. Nursery, Primary, and Middle School each get a classroom while the High School and Ladies Class meet under large shade trees. Before we got started this morning, I met up with Leighton. This familiar face caught my attention two years ago when he had the happiest, most energetic, lively singing face of the entire group. We hugged and were excited to pick up where we left off....what new VBS song will you teach me this year, I asked. Then we started talking about his life and family. He lives in the neighborhood of Granville. Our bus that picks up kids only took two adult men to that part of town this morning. It is a rough area and not always safe, I heard. So I asked Leighton how it had been around home. A lot better, he replied, and peaceful. It used to not be, I asked. He said, no, but now I can walk around at night. He explained that last year he was not able to go outside his house after dark. I asked him why had it gotten better: did people just start acting differently or did some move away. They had moved away. What did these bad people do? They messed around with guns, he said. I asked if he knew anyone who had gotten hurt or killed. Without hesitation, Plenty, he said. And this is his reality. It's not how it should be for a bright, kind, fun-loving 14-year old kid. At night you shouldn't become scared, worried, and a prisoner in your own home. During bible class today, we posed the question, How could you respond if someone hits you. Beat them up, was the first shared answer. Would my 11 year old have had that on his list of possible replies? No, it's a hard life here and these children are overcoming mounds of obstacles. Pray for their hearts and souls, please. We had our 8th evening worship service tonight. Another night filled with Christians from different parts of the globe, sharing in the one true gospel of Jesus Christ. Another perfect day.
To see Gods presence in each moment is to have joy and peace abounding. Today, I saw this evidenced. I saw God in the sweet melodies of children singing "my my my my my my my my my my Lord is sweet". God's presence in provision, keeping us safe and in good health (despite a scare). God in the ignited interest of Hindus to Chrisitanity. God in prayer, that we may rest in his presence at all times. God in thought provoking conversations with my new Jamaican friend Rene. God in the laughter brought on by the antics of Elnel, a girl in the VBS nursery. God in love, shown and received. Thanking God for another blessed day in Jamaica, and that in His presence we can be completely satisfied.
Today we had many more students at VBS than our first day in Mobay. I helped in the nursery class, and a middle school student walked in and handed me a one year old baby. The mother wasn't there. Most American children would be uneasy being handed to a stranger, but these children are very used to being shuffled around. This girl was really sweet and complacent, and I held her for most of the morning. It really breaks my heart to see all of the children starving for attention. Fathers are nonexistent, and mothers are too overwhelmed and frustrated in their current situations. My impression of Jamaica is that the situation here is not unlike other situations in the world. I have never been in a third world country, but I have been in poor areas of the US, and it is the same. People need helped, and it is difficult to help them. You cannot hand money to most people in need. They have not been taught humility and gratitude, and it is very very overwhelming. Many Americans have dumped money into programs in the US and elsewhere, and this is an easy way for people to feel that they are doing good. While donating money can make a difference, the recipients of these social programs often do not need to change. Without being taught, they will continue to remain in the same cycle of sin. In order to help someone we must donate our time in order to really get to know the individual. We often avoid spending our time for various reasons--we are too busy or we do not want to get hurt are the most popular excuses. God calls us to love, and we as Americans stay busy "loving" those people who are in a similar social status as us. Everyone on this trip has made a large sacrifice in order to reach outside ourselves and help in Jamaica. It is my prayer that when we go home we will continue to help. We must be workers for the Lord and maybe give up some of the activities that consume our time in order to get to know people and make a difference. Tonight we sang "Our God, He is Alive" at our worship services. I have sung that song in many different venues with many different Christians. It reminds me that all over the world there are groups of Christians striving to do what is right. It is a very powerful reminder. We are all fundamentally the same, and we all need God.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Sabrina Beckford is a little girl I've known since before she was born. At 8 years old, she is an endless bundle of energy with an insatiable vigor for life. Sabrina's mother abandoned her when she was but 5 1/2 months old, and she has been raised by her father, Jude, and his family. Wednesday afternoon Sabrina came back to our room after VBS to spend time with us and play with my little girl, Sophie. She complained of a headache, and within less than 5 minutes, she was crying and shivering on the bed. Her temperature had skyrocketed and it looked as if she was coming down with the flu. Amy packed up her belongings and carried her downstairs into Burt's van so that I could help get her home. I cradled her barefoot, feverish body in my lap as we maneuvered the potholes that occupy the streets here. Not half a mile down the road and we had to pull over because she was sick. When I carried her back into the bus the tears were streaming down her face and she was mumbling something I couldn't quite understand, so I asked her to speak up. 'I won't get to go to church tonight.' In the midst of a spiked fever, stomach virus, and the chills, the only thing on her mind was missing church that evening and VBS the following day. As we pulled up to her grandparents' house and I carried her into the room she shares with her cousin and grandfather, I laid her limp body down and kissed her forehead. The day was scorching hot. There is no a/c, and there were no fans. The air was stale, stagnant and suffocatingly hot in there, and again all she mumbled was 'I want to go to church tonight'. Oh, to have the perspective of that 8 year old girl. I fought the tears as I quietly stepped back into the van. She cared nothing about herself or her current state of physical misery. She focused not on the simple accommodations where she stays most of the time. There were no popsicles to cool her off, no pedialyte, gatorade, or saltine crackers, no movies to get her mind off of her discomfort or mother nearby to feed her ice chips - and still all she cared about was being around God's people. Moments like these are abundant here. Moments that jolt me and keep me grounded. Moments that urge me to take the focus off myself in the midst of a world that is obsessed with itself. Friends are often surprised and speak of how committed we must be for going to more than one church service each week. In truth it is hardly a commitment. I give a few hours out of my week - Christ was committed to the point of death. There are also those who speak of how uncomfortable it must be to spend two weeks here each summer laboring in the heat; and while these days are long and the work is challenging, it is hardly a sacrifice. Christ endured more discomfort than I will ever know in order for me to have the chance of Heaven. My life is not about me. It is not about how many material possessions I can collect, or my perpetual happiness. My life is about serving others just as Christ did. I pray that even when life gets rocky or my present situation is not ideal, that I will hold the same attitude that sweet Sabrina did and remember that there are far more important things to focus on than the wellbeing of Sarah Lyon. There are a million reasons I make the journey to Jamaica each summer. Yes, I come to teach the children, but as is the case each year, the children always teach me far more.
Friday was a super busy day. Planning to get up at 6:30 for an early morning walk to the market and to see the ocean can be rough when you stayed up till 2:00am packing for the move from Sav to Mo Bay. Fortunately (or not ) I was woken up by some tapping noise at 5:50 AM. So getting up and wandering downstairs at 6:15 to see if anyone else was around I went in to the lobby of the hotel to try and find internet access. When I opened the door, I saw 3 of the hotel workers we had all come to know praying as they had a morning devotion. Before I could sneak out quietly, the grounds keeper Jeremiah invited me to join them in prayer. After we finished praying we spoke for a few moments before the others going out joined us in the lobby and we headed out for our outing. The trip to the market was pretty uneventful until some strange wild-haired Jamaican on a bike with a rubber glove on his hand was trying to converse with us as one of the vendors at the market told him to leave us alone. He started to curse and hexed us and hoped that all the Americans would get a blood clot in their brain and die. (I wasn't too concerned about it till I was ready to go to sleep with a little bit of a headache but I'm okay) After rushing through breakfast once again, we packed up and piled into the vans to start our journey across the island to Alligator Pond (no there are no alligators in Jamaica) to visit Mahlon. He is a quadriplegic whose wife left him three years ago, and there is no church or Christians close to where he lives. After driving two hours and then procuring KFC which just so happens to be Mahlon's favorite, we continued on our journey. When we arrived at Mahlon's house, we visited with him, had lunch, then gathered around his bed to sing and have a devotion. Mahlon is so happy to see us and seems very at peace with his situation which for many of us is difficult to see and even comprehend the life he has lost and now leads. I have a good friend who is 46 that is in the final stages of MS and is now preparing his family for his death. I have spoken with him several times about the anger and bitterness that he has dealt with. So, seeing Mahlon dealing with the same types of issues that keep you from having the life you thought you were going to have and that sometimes you ask God 'why is this happening to me' really hit me during our visit and I had to leave the room so that I could hide the sadness that hit me. As the van was loading to leave, I went to tell Mahlon good-bye and let him know how his spirit of peace that he shows encourages me and helps me to remember that this is not our final home and we have a much better destiny awaiting us. After almost a 3 hour drive over the mountains and thru the woods (or bamboo forest) we finally arrived at the YMCA for our worship meeting at 7 pm in Mo Bay then another late dinner. We finally made it to our final destination and the squeezing in of 33 people into a 25 person accommodations...but truly this is one definite way of promoting the Christian closeness we all try to have (big smile). I will be leaving on Sunday morning to return to my normal life and will definitely miss this group of amazing people, some of whom I may never see in this life again-But I am truly looking forward to an eternal life with God and the people I have met here and come to love deeply.
Saturday has been the quietest day yet-- lots of sleeping for sure, several of us enjoyed a day at the beach, doing laundry, some leaving today and some of us leaving tomorrow. I am leaving tomorrow as well as the Stones & Esther. It's definitely bittersweet to be leaving; bonding with new people and seeing old friends, making both relationships stronger. I have been blessed with the people God has brought into my life. This is my third year in Jamaica and I have to say I wouldn't miss it for the world. Connecting with the kids is one of the most incredible feelings ever, especially when they remember you from the two years before - it's overwhelming. Just seeing the joy on these kids faces brought tears to my eyes. It's what they look forward to all year and it's what I look forward to all year, too. I am ashamed that I'm not content with all the things God has blessed me with. I am so blessed with everything that God has given me: wonderful loving parents, food, shelter, water, clothes, cell phones, computers. I have been blessed - we all have. So, when you find yourself complaining about something you don't have or something you want, just remember this, you are far more blessed than those in Jamaica. Mahlon (the quadriplegic) said last year, "I have nothing to complain about, God has blessed me." He can not walk, and here we are complaining about eating too much burger king or KFC or sleeping to many people to a bed. Be thankful you have a place to sleep, you have food, water, shelter, air conditioner. I find myself getting more and more content each year with the things I have. This trip will change you on the way you look on things back home, I try each morning when I say my prayer to just say thank you, Lord. The children here: some of them are very tough and very hard to get to know, but once you make that connection with them, you can ask them anything you want. This past year I feel like I've renewed old friendships and made new ones that will last a lifetime - especially with Troy. (Troy is one of the teenage boys who just has a wonderful heart, he's just always been that good kid, he's such an encouragement to me.) I tried my absolute hardest to just talk with all of the kids, getting to know them, because I want to be a role model for them. I try my hardest to be a good example for these kids, I want to make a difference in their lives. Knowing that my attitude and my actions could change these children's lives is absolutely overwhelming. I am going to just say thank you to those of you who have supported me and prayed for me,and thanks to Kollin and Leslea for being my 'mom and dad' once a year. A special thank you to my parents for allowing me to go and being supportive in it too, and also Russ who told me about this trip. This trip has forever changed me and no matter how many times I've been, it always in some way has changed me in a wonderful way.
Friday, July 13, 2012
Our first week in Jamaica is quickly drawing to a close and although we are anxious to see our friends in other parts of the island, it is very very hard to say goodbye to our brothers and sisters at the church in Cave and the many new friends we have made here in the Savanna-la-Mar area. Today marked the end of our VBS and nightly services here - had a full house for both (standing room only tonight and a great sermon from 18 year old Zach Gerbholz!) We trust that the week was as encouraging for our Jamaican brethren as it was for us....the "lively choruses," the smiles on children's faces, the frequent requests for Bible studies from eager learners, the many notes of appreciation and multitude of hugs make us realize that WE are the ones that are being blessed and uplifted in more ways than we ever would have imagined before visiting this warm and loving group of Christians. Among today's particular highlights....getting a very early start on the day to walk down to the market as it opened and explore the shoreline and streets of Sav as the rest of the city was just waking up...delivering a bouncing bundle of joy (ok it was actually a boxful of 25 chickens, but they were babies and VERY FLUFFY!!!) to our friends that live on the sugar cane farm....climbing up the mountain to visit the homes of two of our favorite VBS students who live in very humble circumstances but have views fit for a king of the azure blue waters of the Caribbean. Their mountainside perch nestled among the mango trees and bougainvillea will change your perspective on what's truly important and leave you longing for a simpler life. I am in love with this place and these people. -Shannon Stinson
Thursday, July 12, 2012
This is my first year on the Jamaica mission trip, and I think it would be appropriate for me to start my thoughts off with this snip-it out of my Jamaica journal that I wrote on my first night here: "During devotional this evening, Sarah said to those of us who have never been on this trip before - 'This trip WILL change you, and you'll never be the same.' Those words and the way she said them were very profound to me, and I think that's mostly because that's what I've been afraid to face about this trip. I know I can't go on living the way I've been (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results - the definition of insanity, right?) but it was nonetheless comfortable and mostly enjoyable, and it's going to be hard to change that, especially once I get back home. Relationships with people I love and care for deeply will change. Some may be for the better, and some may not. I know that with God I can move along either way, but it'll still be new and difficult.' Well this trip has certainly had its impact on me already. I have a whole new appreciation for the life I live. Most people in Jamaica have it SO hard compared to most of us in America. The lush, green, gorgeous residential areas are mainly spotted with shacks, and the people we've encountered mainly only have a few changes of clothes and one pair of shoes. We've seen many people bathing in rivers, and most don't have much in the way of plumbing or air conditioning. The society is very rude, selfish, and immoral, and many young and old people feel entitled to handouts from those that are evidently more fortunate. That being said, the fact that this is such a negative society makes the individuals that choose to live according to God's Word that much more incredible. We've met quite a few very positive people that thank and praise God for what we'd consider in America to be very little. There is a family of ladies that is very close to those in our group who come regularly, and if asked how they are they constantly have a positive response, one girl will usually say how blessed she is, and they never ask for anything from us. There is a very sweet, Godly man here named Mahlon whom I will get to meet on Friday. He fell off a ladder and became a quadriplegic at the prime of his life, yet when you talk to him he goes on about how good God has been to him when he could understandably be depressed or bitter about his physical state. I see so many here that are hungry for a better life, and it's so amazing seeing some of them turning to people in our group asking for Bible studies, and others being restored to where they were previously in their walk with God. Yesterday evening an older girl actually asked me a Biblical question, and I still can't find the words to describe how it made me feel that she counted me amongst these Godly, learned people that I came here with. She and many other children and adults I've talked to have taught me to see how minor the troubles are that I've been hanging on to and just open my eyes to how blessed I am, and they've given me the desire to lead a more Godly life and become more familiar with the Bible, because I could be unaware of who may be looking to me as an example or a guide. I'm so looking forward to everything else God has in store for me here! Those of you reading this, I request your prayers for the many people fighting to live a decent life here, for the success and safety of the rest of our trip, and for me when I return that I become more of a living example of God's word.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
JAMAICA BY NUMBERS by amy hammond 4=bedtime devotions we americans have had; thank you george slover, kollin stone, gordon gerbholz, & Nate Lankford 132=people that came on the first day of vbs 95=those that attend monday evening church service 3=hotel employees that have went to church with us 1=christians restored; rejoice and pray for letecia bacchas 33=people on our mission trip 36=sermon notes turned in after two evening services...for a piece of candy (: 1=cutest little baby girl in the world on our trip 2=people on my lap on the way to church last night
Monday, July 9, 2012
Today was day 1 of VBS for the group we are working with in Sav. Our numbers today were a little low, having only around 130. Each day the numbers tend to grow, as does the excitement. While Bible school and the work that we do here is not new to me, many things still are shocking. So many here have such a sad story of a hard life I don't even like to imagine. A life so foreign to us that it makes our material abundance and blessings seem wrong, or unfair. They have so few things on this Earth yet are in most cases more content. Today I learned a valuable lesson in listening and expectation from a very unlikely source - a girl from one of the poorer communities. A girl that is known for the trouble she causes us each year, and has some days been left behind, as a result. Today I set out with a different attitude toward her and was pleasantly surprised. She is so angry inside and has no one to talk with, counsel her or any role model to look to. She is still really rough and mean at times, but today I was able to see a glimpse of who she truly is and who she wants to become, and also what has caused her to be the way she is now. Knowing what I know now, it will be easier to tolerate not only her bad behaviors, but that of others as well. I know she wants to do better and be better but has no one to teach her the right way. She looks forward to our VBS each year, though by her actions for many years, you would not have known it. Many here simply lack a moral compass that living a Godly life is a never ending uphill battle. Though the kids hear about God daily in school and weekly in church, they rarely get to see real life role models, which brings the point of the mission full circle. We are here to encourage, serve and to teach and spread God's message of love. Thanks to this girl, I come away having been encouraged myself, and certainly learned a few things as well. It happens every year - these kids just have a way of changing us, for the better. -Crystal Rogers, Middleburg, FL
Today was the 1st day of VBS. When I decided to make this my 1st year to Jamaica, I had planned on taking a 'light' approach and just being a background helper. When you have 'teacher' listed as your occupation, that's not likely to happen. Not only that, but I was left to do the 1st day with the kids! To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I felt ill-equipped to handle up to 75 students in our primary class (ages 5-8). Luckily, things went smothly! My tricks that I use in my classroom came in handy and I saw many similarities to my American kids back home. They were eager to learn, help, and get attention. We only ended up with 20-30 kids since it's the first day and I still don't know the Jamaican songs -- but the kids were ready and willing to teach us! I was so blessed to have the chance to teach these kids about LOVE! I feel like love is the most challenging trait to master, understand, and give in a consistent way. Love is also the greatest command God gives us - to love the Lord (Matt. 22:37) and to love our neighbors (Matt 22:39). So today, I hope we taught these children through class time and our personal actions the love of God. -Shannon Harden
As a first-comer, I have had many surprises these past few days. My biggest shock came Saturday as we were visiting the humble homes of different families. Not once the whole trip did I hear one disclaimer or complaint about anyone's situation or home. These people are very content with what they have. This humbling experience has made me reconsider my attitude towards my physical and spiritual life. I am very excited for what's to come!! -Jacob Stinson (age 16), Nashville, TN.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Hey everyone, this is one of the rookies, Gordon from Arkansas. We had an amazing day. After a fine breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up into the vans to go out into the communities to make contacts & let everyone know that Vacation Bible School will be held starting Monday morning at 10am, and in the evenings at 7pm. I knew that we were coming to a third world country, but I was not totally prepared to see the standard of living. It is a humbling experience to see this first hand. The vast majority of Jamaicans live in what we would call real poverty. Wow, we as Americans have so much to be thankful for. I am ashamed that I am not more content with what God has blessed me with, but I will strive to do better. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the business where chairs and tables can be rented. While Burt was talking to the manager I had the opportunity to visit with the receptionist. Her name was Chamile and she is 17 years old. She has one year of high school left and then hopes to go to nursing school. She is one of five children. I asked if she lived with her parents - she said she lived with her mother, and that her father had left when she was very young. She said that in Jamaica most men choose to leave rather than stay with their families. I asked why she thought this was the case and she said she didn't know - then asked if I knew. I told her that I thought it was because men weren't following what the Bible said. The Bible tells a man that he is to take care of his wife and children. She agreed. I then asked her if she knew where her father was, and she replied 'no'. She did say that she sees him sometimes in the streets and he will say hello but doesn't really talk to her. She seemed sad about it. I told her it is good to read our Bibles everyday to know how to live properly and in a way that is pleasing to God. I asked if she had a Bible, and she said yes and that she carried it with her all the time. I asked her if she went to church anywhere and she told me that she was a Seventh Day Adventist. I told her about the morning VBS and evening services and invited her to come along. She works during the day but said she hoped to come to an evening class. She seemed like a really sweet young lady who was trying to do the right thing, and was interested in spiritual things. Please be prayerful that this young lady and others like her will be receptive to the Truth, and will seek it diligently. Please also be prayerful for the team here, that God will grant us safety as we work. Have a blessed day!! -Gordon
Saturday, July 7, 2012
By Terri Griggs (Excelsior Springs, MO): The First Day: Deciding to go on my very first church mission trip aroused many emotions weeks before my actual departure. Emotions like apprehension, excitement, humility, and lack of worth. It even raised the question as to whether or not I was worthy to go and help spread God's Word, just as the apostles/disciples did. Well, the day of departure has arrived. I flew to Atlanta, Georgia to meet up with part of the group I would be spending the next ten days with. They were all welcoming to a first-timer. For those in the group who were "seasoned" or been there before, there was a very visible closeness/connection between them that is not felt by the first-timer. However, that is not a bad thing - it just made me aware that I wanted to work harder to be able to have that feeling, closeness, and connection that these saints shared. The ride from Montego Bay to Savanna La Mar was an experience to say the least. Jamaicans drive on the left/wrong side of the street, steering wheels are on the right side of the vehicle, the roads are extremely narrow, with dirt and potholes everywhere. Drivers drive fast and crazy. Cyclists, pedestrians and cars all share these narrow dirt roads. Montego Bay was not at all what I expected (a clean, tourist city). It is extremely dirty, and overly crowded with people, cars, and buildings. Every shop had bars and gates around it. There were street vendors all along the street and in the street - standing among moving traffic. They sold peanuts and steering wheel covers. How they don't get hit is a miracle. The drive through and up the mountains provided a glimpse of a lifestyle totally foreign to anything I would have imagined. Poverty beyond description. Shanties and shacks no bigger than my bathroom at home. Goats tied everywhere. Outhouses - not flush toilets. There was a contradiction though that I'm not sure how to explain. Those shacks and shanties are neighbors to homes that would cost $300,000 in the states. After approximately 55 minutes, we arrived at our hotel: Kibo. For Jamaica, it is a very nice hotel, however not like the hotels we are used to. I must say, these rooms are very clean. There is one thing that overrides everything else: the people we have encountered at Savanna La Mar and at our hotel are so friendly and so willing to do whatever they can to make our stay the best it can be. I am so looking forward to tomorrow, where we will actually go out into the area to meet the people and invite them to VBS. I cannot wait to see what this week will hold!