What a week I just spent in Jamaica! From February 9—16, I made my third sojourn in the last three years to Montego Bay to serve and aid the economically underprivileged in the name of Jesus Christ. Our church sent a team of 14 people that were diverse in age, life experience, travel experience, etc. And by God’s grace, he multiplied our micro-economic development efforts: last year we distributed 600 baby chicks, 100 50kg bags of chicken feed and 500lbs of donated materials with 12 families helped. This year we distributed 1200 chicks, 225 50kg bags of feed and 1000 pounds of donated materials, which allowed us to help 24 families. Our work was blessed in ways that we could not have dreamed of!
The results were very encouraging to me on a personal level. The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 had me internally wondering & doubting if we were traveling to the right Caribbean country at the right time. The devastation of Haiti made the problems that Jamaicans face pale in comparison. Yet I knew that God wanted us to go on our Jamaican trip at this exact time. Last fall, God opened the doors to send us to Montego Bay again even as he knew this humanitarian crisis would unfold a few months later. And the more I researched the matter, I realized that Haiti’s infrastructure is in such disarray that it will be a while before a relatively novice missions team (like ours) will be able to offer significant disaster relief. Hopefully in the coming years Haiti can rebuild enough to receive and properly distribute supplies to those in need while also having the ability to host aid workers and missions volunteers.
Yet all my struggles vanished when I arrived in Jamaica. Once you get outside of the resort walls, you notice that many Jamaicans are very poor. Consequently, being immersed in that poverty rivets your attention to the tasks at hand. I was also trying to be sensitive to our team members who had never been exposed to this kind of economic and material destitution. Included on our team were a few teenage girls who had never experienced such a bleak environment. You could see their minds, hearts and souls attempting to process this new reality just a short plane flight from their home.
Now as I reflect back on the plethora of experiences from our trip, there were two major highlights. The first occurred on Sunday, Feb. 14. On that day, I had the privilege of helping baptize a Jamaican man named Peton. Our first Jamaica missions team had befriended him in March 2009 when he was helping us do construction on a church. During the end of our time in Jamaica, Peton made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ. We encouraged him to grow in this relationship and become a leader in the church. We told him we hoped to return a year later to check on him. Amazingly, despite being unplanned by us (yet due to God’s providence) it just so happened that when we returned to Jamaica for this trip, Peton was getting baptized on the only Sunday we would be there. As Peton emerged from the river, the joy that filled our hearts was indescribable. It was truly a transcendent moment that validated our work in Jamaica.
The second highlight occurred during our last full day. We visited West Haven Children’s Home, a residential home for severely physically and mentally handicapped children. To be honest, it was a very intense and overwhelming place! As soon as we got out of the van–before we even had a chance to unload our donated clothes and toys–the children swarmed us. They wanted to hug us and play with us. So we hugged them and pushed them around in their wheelchairs and fed them lunch. After lunch, we held a rousing Cricket Match. A few of the young men in wheelchairs proved remarkably nimble and adept. One guy in a wheelchair hit a hard line drive to another guy in a wheelchair, and he caught it with his bare, gnarled hands! Everyone erupted into cheers! I thought to myself “What a special way to end a special trip. Thank you God.” In that moment, there were no doubts, just joy and gratitude to be a part of God’s work.