God Was In The Midst
Jamaica Missions 2017
I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Trelawny, Jamaica this past June to do the Lord's will. I don't want to sound typical by any means, but this trip truly changed my life. It is so hard to believe that in six short days, my outlook on life, love, and the Lord would transform so dramatically. Yet, that is exactly what occurred. I hope you read the following as a little glimpse of our experience, and feel encouraged and empowered to change the world.
Soon after she graduated college, my mom became a missionary in the rural mountains of Jamaica for one full year. She always wanted to return to her "home" land and bring her children. That dream came true as my entire family–my four sisters, brother-in-law, my husband and his parents–felt the Lord's calling to go on the trip. Accompanying these willing attendees were two of my cousins, my uncle, about 10 teens from my sister's youth group, and their youth pastor. The group of 24 could not have been a more perfect bunch. My parents orchestrated the trip with the support of the Praying Pelican Missions organization which sent four leaders to plan, travel, and show us the ropes in their home country.
As a tourist, you view Jamaica as a beautiful country full of tropical plants, stunning beaches and endless relaxation. As a missionary, we saw so much more. Our leaders prepped us as much as they could for what we were about to see and experience, but it wasn't until we witnessed the culture and spoke with natives that we begin to further understand their way of life. It is a place ridden with drugs, alcohol, broken families, and poverty. The majority of men are not home long, and the institution of marriage is commonly frowned upon. Rather, it is considered better for a man to live with a woman and his children without the binds of marriage. Needless to say, it was evident that a yearning for change existed. We dove right into the scene as we began to perform the work we had set out to do.
Our first introduction to the country began as we attended a service of the church we would be helping while in Jamaica. The church-goers consisted mainly of women and children. Curious as to where all the men and husbands were, we asked a woman for insight. She said men are judged for attending church and most were home drinking instead. It broke my heart to hear this. Leadership was broken in their homes, yet the women at the church sang out with praises and encouragement for hours every Sunday. They longed for change in their relationships, love in their families and blessings for their lives.
Later that night we visited an orphanage for the elderly. Filling the buildings were men and women with physical and mental disabilities who had been abandoned by their families because the care that was needed was too time consuming and too expensive. Our hearts broke as we walked into the home and began to interact with them. Most could barely talk and some didn't speak at all. Our group had the opportunity to share and read the gospel to many. Our interactions included coloring, dancing, and reading to the elderly. My mom brought a bag full of lotion and washing materials. She bent down on her knees and began bathing a woman, massaging her cracked skin with lotion and speaking words of love. I will never forget the woman's face–it lit up full of shock and endearment. She was so overjoyed just to be touched. It was a simple act, yet so powerful.
The women in our group were commissioned to teach classes in a primary school. Our expectations couldn't have been further from the truth. We walked into the school grounds to see barbed-wire fences surrounding the property, k-bars sticking up from the ground next to the school, doorless frames and bared windows. Shocked at the sight, we walked into a narrow pathway to find a few hundred children lined up to sing us a song and proceed to their classrooms. The rooms were divided not by walls but by chalkboards, making the noise level inside absurdly high. We struggled to teach as we shouted at our students in hopes that they might hear a bit of what we had to say. Three days of this ensued as we longed to connect with our students and make a small difference in their lives.
Craft-time was pure gold. We were able to explain the "artwork," as they called it, and then interact with the students individually. It was at this time that a little girl in my classroom shared of her family life. She came from a broken and poverty-stricken home. The meal she got at the school was the only one guaranteed each day. She longed to soak up every second with "The Americans" and craved attention. The activity we provided that had the biggest impact on my life was when we taught the story of Esther. The kids listened intently as we spoke of an average girl becoming a queen! I was then able to call every student up to the front chalkboards to speak words of truth to each one. I drew a pink or blue crown above their heads as I shared that they were daughters and sons of the King - making them princesses and princes. They were astonished and so full of joy as they turned to see their crown. After our morning at the school, we traveled to meet the guys and lend a helping hand.
The men of our missions group were hard at work by the church we serviced. Their job entailed digging a large ditch surrounding the church, mixing concrete by hand, filling in the holes with buckets and buckets and buckets of concrete. The task was not one for tired hands. The work was grueling and tough, yet so fulfilling. As each bucket was passed along a line of 20 people, we sang songs, teased each other and laughed until our tummies ached. My arms were completely dead, yet we pushed on to complete the task. By the third and fourth days, locals began wandering near the church property to get a look at the odd sight - a line full of American men and women faithfully working until the sweat covered every inch of our bodies. At first we were wary of this, until the pastor explained they were not accustomed to seeing people actually enjoy such grueling conditions. Not to mention, seeing women working so hard, was truly a spectacle.
Our group wished to connect further with the people of the community, so our leaders set up a prayer walk for us in a local city. Nervous for what would follow, we prayed for clarity, words, and wisdom as we approached anyone and everyone on the streets. When we felt led, we walked up to those we saw, made small talk and then asked if we could pray for them. It was incredible how the Spirit moved in each of us. My husband and I prayed for two different women who were struggling to provide for their children, we prayed for a man raising money to help a local orphanage, we prayed for the community as we walked.
THE HEART CHANGE
Every evening our group met together to have a devotional, connect, pray, sing, and recap our day. It was a time of crying, laughter, honesty, and deep emotion. John, the youth pastor, led our discussions. The Spirit was moving through him in mighty ways. He spoke of his passion to honor the Lord in every part of his being. His words that hit my heart most were, "I want to live intentionally... so that anytime someone hears what I say or sees what I do they will see God in me." This made me think: do I live in such a way? Do my actions reflect the love of the God of the universe? I know I don't need to guide someone to Christ, that's the Lord's job, but what I am called to do is be open and willing to let Him move in me. I need to let Him outpour his love to others through me–to be his body and his hands. I broke down during our evening study as I shared with the group how guilty I felt about my life. I felt guilty that I wasn't using my talents and life in an intentional way. I was living for myself and just letting each day pass without acknowledging the gift of each day. I felt guilty that I was not being intentional with my friends and family and anyone I came in contact with. I learned on this trip that we can shine so brightly just by sharing love with others. This could be as simple as telling someone they are loved, or buying someone a bottle of water, or helping someone pick up their groceries. Love cures all things. It heals, mends, gives, provides. We were created to love God and love others. If we aren't doing that, what are we doing? We need to stop living in fear of judgement and criticism, and instead, live in the affirmation and assurance that God loves us - and that's enough. My heart ached for the Jamaicans, but it also ached for those around me. Who can I share love with today, tomorrow or the next? Who can I be intentional with? Who is the Lord leading me to comfort? I want to be a force that longs for God to use me in mighty ways.
Returning to the States was so much harder than it may seem. We were abroad for six days, but the change was so transformational that our lives were disrupted and shaken. My heart hurt for the locals we didn't have an opportunity to meet and for the challenges they faced. Upon my return, I was hit by a wall of shock. I was living so intentionally in Jamaica, very evidently working for the Lord. I felt his hands, his guidance, his love, his passion, his Spirit moving in me and through me. I wanted that and continued to want that, every day. I was faced with the question of how can I be intentional with my life on a day-to-day basis. I slowly came to realize that God placed me in the job, family, friend group, city, and activities for a specific reason. I don't need to be on a missions trip to feel his presence and to feel that I am doing His Will. I can live in the place he so carefully placed me to minister to those around me. It is a hard thing to swallow. I don't want to get caught up in the pressures and redundancy of life, but I want to live with intention. I want to be a light, to love and perform my mission. I want to be His hands and feet.