Have you ever witnessed an event which shocked you? Which put your life back into perspective? I experienced a moment like that a few days ago. Our church just commissioned its first ever, overseas, short-term missions team. Ten people (including myself) spent a week in Jamaica serving the poor in Christ’s name.
Now lest you think we were there primarily to acquire a nice tan while making ourselves feel good by doing a few acts of kindness, you must understand the condition of this island nation. There are two Jamaicas: the resort areas and the rest of the country. For example, the average Jamaican survives on ten American Dollars a day! The website www.CIA.gov states that Jamaicans face serious problems such as high inflation, high unemployment, and a high crime rate “including gang violence that is fueled by the drug trade.”
This reality was made personal to us through an unpleasant incident. Our team was working in a small town called Zion, in the parish of Trewlany, which is east of Montego Bay. We had been helping add an addition to a church, consisting of a bathroom, children’s church room and an office. We were also involved in empowering Jamaicans through micro-enterprise development: building and repairing chicken coops and providing chicks and feed so the Jamaicans could support themselves. On Monday, March 9 a delivery of chicks and bags of feed was dropped off a hundred yards from the church we were working at. A crowd gathered and then the fireworks started!
We had a list of Jamaicans who were to receive this initial gift of chicks and chicken feed. One man who was a beneficiary of this generosity started yelling and swearing at two Jamaican women. He brandished a jack knife and waved it in the air as a show of force, to add emphasis to what he was saying (which is still unclear to me). He grew louder and more frenzied in his gestures until he slashed open a bag of feed to drive his point home. Afterwards, he calmed down and asked for forgiveness for his outburst. Even though we were not in physical harm, the chaos and confusion caused a few of our team members to become upset. Consequently, we removed our team from the location to make sure everyone felt safe.
Before we left another unfortunate event occurred. A Jamaican named Andy, who had been helping with the construction work at the church, stole five bags of feed during the chaos and sat on them. He was not scheduled to receive anything that day but took advantage of the situation. A couple of his Jamaican friends and a few of our team members pleaded with him to return the bags, but he refused. He starting sulking and cursing, saying this was his only chance to get a “break in life” and that he deserved it. We told him if he would just return the bags and apologize, we could bless him with chicks and feed in the future, but he flatly rejected us.
Then one team member found Andy’s backpack at the church, gave it to him, and told Andy he should do the right thing, as he had just done the right thing in returning Andy’s back pack. He explained to Andy that he could have kept the back pack, which was stealing, but instead returned it to him and implored him to do the same with the bags of feed. Our team was dismayed when Andy missed the lesson and refused to show mercy as he had been shown mercy.
That night, as our team processed the event, one of the things that struck me was the desperation that Andy must have felt to do something so stupid. He was operating from a momentary outlook. By stealing now, he ensured we would not give him anything in the future so as not to reward his bad behavior. If he could have expressed his desires to us, we could have helped him soon thereafter. But by publicly pilfering a few dollars worth of chicken feed, he forfeited the future blessings that could have been his. Therein lay the real tragedy of the situation.
But I wondered aloud, apart from my Christian convictions, if I would have acted any differently than Andy. If I felt his despair, would I have done the same thing? Like so many things in life, I believe it all depends on your perspective.