Jamaica Missions Trip Recap 2018
Some say a missions trip can change your life. Others believe it. Others live it. My intention is to live changed forever.
I have safely returned from my 6-day adventure in the mountains of Jamaica. It was a trip of a lifetime, and it's so difficult to put it into words. The Lord orchestrated every single moment spent in our group and with that of the locals. I like to say it was His trip, not mine. I am but a vessel, chosen by God, to deliver his Kingdom on earth.
A group of 23 Americans over 2 weeks poured their hearts and souls into the lives of many. The area we visited was a remote town in the mountains about 1 hour from Montego Bay. The village was quite familiar as our group served there last year and we returned after seeing additional work to be done. Below you will find a summary of my experience in Jamaica.
The first day I spent in Jamaica was really one of travel, arrival, and preparation. Along with 12 others, I arrived in Jamaica to be picked up by a bus full of the rest of our group (they had already spent a week serving and were staying for an additional one as well). We joined the group with hugs, questions, and full smiles. Oh, we were in for a real treat. We stepped on the shaky bus, loaded our luggage and headed off to the village. We arrived at our place of residence - a half-finished conference center with exposed cement, open windows, and absolutely no air conditioning. This was the same place we housed the year before so it was quite familiar to most of us. We placed our luggage in our rooms (the women all stayed together in one large room with bunk beds, screened windows, and a couple fans). The heat was suffocating. We dropped our suitcases and headed off to the back of the building to play a round of pickup soccer. I was so happy to move my body after a long day of travel. Once we sweated an absurd amount, we showered off in a community bathroom with no hot water (which we were actually very glad about). We gathered in the cafeteria for dinner - fried chicken, rice, and beans - the same meal we ate twice a day for the entirety of our stay. Once dinner ended, we met in an open gazebo for worship, words of preparation, and stories of the previous week's endeavors.
Sunday began bright and early. Our group loaded onto the bus to attend a local church. The church was unlike any I had experienced before. It was held in a large party tent with cement flooring, open sides, and a highly energetic church body. Our pastor was able to speak to the Jamaicans to bring them encouragement and prayer. Their service was full of music, singing, and dancing. The women far outnumbered the men which we later found out was quite common throughout the country. Everyone was joyful beyond doubt. Our group joined right in, led a few worship songs, clapped our hands, and took in the beauty of worshiping alongside people of a different culture. It was such a blessing to see God being praised thousands of miles away from home. It was even more amazing to see him being worshiped with such joy from those who had far less than us.
Next, our group packed up and traveled about 1.5 hours through the jungle to an infirmary. It was unlike any in America, as this place was primarily for elderly men and women who had been abandoned by their families because they were too costly to care for or took up too much time. It broke our hearts as we stepped into each building to see people hidden from society with mental and physical disabilities. As we spoke to them, a different emotion came to light. Though they were removed, broken, and hurting, they declared the Lord's goodness. I had the opportunity to speak to a man who was left by his family, alone and aching. It was very difficult to understand him as he spoke with a strong slur and mere mumblings. I leaned in and listened, held his hand and just sat in his presence. Though I could barely understand him, it was evident that he enjoyed the comfort of sitting with another. He continued to talk for close to 30 minutes. Out of that time, I could catch only a few phrases, one of which he repeated over and over, "I don't know when He's coming, but He will come for me one day." This sentence stuck in my mind. This man was left for dead, but he continued to live daily with a sense of hope and with the "end in mind." His goal was to live each day as if it were his last before seeing Jesus face-to-face. What a beautiful reminder, I thought. Through the pain, hurting, and loss, a hope can be found for my God has made a way out of the misery and into the light.
Last year we visited a school with rebar sticking up from the ground and an unfinished frame of a building. The need was great. This year we returned to complete the shell of an expansion. As we stepped onto the school grounds, we were quickly greeted by a load of children of which a few called out to us by name. Shock and joy flushed our faces. The kids we taught last year remembered us and were excited to see us return. My mind couldn't comprehend this. The impact we made last year in three short days was lasting. God is good. Our goal for this trip was to teach sixth graders about the Armor of God and expand their school to meet the capacity it held. We had three days to complete this mission. Only God could use us to speak to this overwhelmingly large and rowdy group. We went all in. Our first day teaching was full of shouting and heat–60 young teens (30 over capacity) sat in a room that was as hot as a sauna. They shared desks (and chairs!) with each other to squeeze into the room. Each one trying to talk over the other, and us attempting to speak louder yet over the madness. After nearly 3 hours of trying to teach lessons, doing crafts, and sweating profusely, we were weary. We were unable to connect as much as we had hoped but knew God would provide us with more opportunities the next day. We moved onto the second part of our day–construction. Outside the classroom, we joined the rest of our team to work on the school's expansion. The work was not for the weak. Our group banded together shovel after shovel, passing 20 pound buckets down an assembly line, and nailing up walls. Slowly but surely we made progress. Drained mentally and emotionally, we prayed for the Lord's strength to come in the morning.
Our second day at the school was much easier handled. We split up into smaller groups, boys with our men, girls with me and another young woman. The children were far better behaved and we were able to connect on a deeper level with fewer distractions. We shared about the Shield of Faith and the Shoes of Peace found in Ephesians 6. Games and crafts made the kids excited and open. God had created a way for connection. The rest of the day ended with construction yet again, but this time we were more energized from a successful morning of teaching.
Day three came about too fast. We had prepared the night before for the lessons to come. Wednesday was the most intimate day, in my opinion, as we taught on the Helmet of Salvation and the Sword of the Spirit (the gospel). We transported bibles from America to give to each kid. One by one, I was privileged to meet with each girl, to pray for them, listen to them, and write words of encouragement in the bible I gave them. Oh, what a joyful few hours. The Lord showed up in his greatness that day. As I was praying with one of my girls, a young boy sat down beside me. Once the prayer was finished, he asked if he could have a bible too. I was shocked. Well, of course you can have one, I said. His face lit up. He then proceeded to ask me if he could say the prayer that would allow Jesus to come into his heart. My soul leapt. After we chatted about what this really meant, the Lord brought this little boy to be a part of his Kingdom. I felt the heavens cry out! I continued to give Bibles to and pray for each girl that was in my group of Jamaican children. When I was on my last one, the girl asked if she could accept Jesus as well. Stunned. The Lord brought, not one, but two children into his presence that day and I am beyond humbled that he used me to do it. Needless to say, we proceed to the school's expansion and we worked all for the glory of God. With each bucket, with each drop of sweat, with each song, we worked our hardest in His Name.
On our last full day of missions, our group drove almost two hours on windy roads to an orphanage. This one was special in that is housed children 8 - 30 years of age who had been abandoned by their families, likely because they were mentally and physically disabled. Children bed-ridden without movement in their limbs, girls unable to speak but a word or two, and others without arms or legs. It was not the disabilities that were difficult to handle mentally, but rather the heartbreak of knowing they were left without earthly families, confined to a small area. Yet, as we walked the orphanage grounds, we saw joy unlike any other. Kids ran up to us, took our hand in theirs and skipped into the grass. A young girl pulled me to the swings, and though she was unable to speak, she made it evident she wanted to be picked up, placed in the seat and pushed. Her joy was contagious. She smiled ear to ear as this seemed to make her day (or maybe even year). My heart went out to these children, but I also had much to learn from them. Though left with little, they were joyful. Though broken, their souls were full. Though disabled in many ways, they were enabled to glorify the Savior all the while. I could not stop grinning while at the orphanage. The children were God's children, and ones I will see in heaven one day. I saught to see, serve, and love them the way God does. I prayed for joyfulness and mercy as I interacted with each kid. I pray I can continue to find that same feeling at home–viewing the world the way the Lord sees it.
Wednesday night was one I will never forget. My, oh my, was the Spirit working in ways beyond measure. We began our usual night of worship, and as we sang our first song, God moved in our Jamaican leader. He stopped us and began speaking to me directly. The Lord was calling me out for not fully surrendering to his mighty ways. I have been living with God bottled up to fit my normal schedule. I had been limiting the Spirit's abilities because I was not trusting him enough to let go of my grasp. My life was safe and comfortable. Instead of trusting God to work in his ways, I was forcing him to fit into my own. As I realized my brokenness, I stood up and poured my water bottle completely out, representing my surrender. I prayed that I will not bottle Him up any longer, but I will give my life to His will alone. Instead of limiting his power, I relinquished my authority and committed to letting him reign in me. My heart pumped out of my chest. As I sat back down, a weight was lifted off my shoulders, my heart slowed as tears streamed down my face in joy and surrender.
The Lord was not finished yet. Next, our leader spoke words of truth into two men. The first was an older teen with a heart of worship. Affirmed by the Spirit, this man would become a great leader among his friends, colleagues, and family. After about an hour of tears, relinquishing control, hugs, singing, and prayers, a group of teenage men was found on the floor. It was a sight that will be engrained in my brain forever. A circle formed as each one was bowing on their knees with their heads and hands pressed against the floor in complete reverence of the Lord. Prayers from the men were whispered, tears flooded the floor, and passion filled the atmosphere. God was in the room. He was right there, holding each one of us. His presence was unmistakable. Our guitarist playing all the while as we sang out to our Lord. How beautiful a sight to see men and women bowing down as low as possible to recommit their lives to the maker of heaven–A pure transparency I had never seen before.
Lord willing, I will be returning to Jamaica next year. The need is great. The language is known. The people are open. Working on the mission field is beyond humbling in many ways. After speaking with several people about my experience, I feel as though a mission trip is lifechanging for many. It isn't simply helping others and changing their lives. Rather, it changes the lives of those who attend the trip as well. I feel that I got more out of this experience than I gave. My life will be changed forever. God is moving all around the world, and I am blessed to be a servant of the King.