After a long journey by air, our kind hosts drove us for three hours to our final destination in beautiful Ocho Rios. We were not here to be tourists but the breathtaking expanse of forest and the chalky, towering hills were not lost on us. The entire team had a splendid attitude without complaint and jovial expressions were the order of the day.
One of the main mindsets one must bring to a mission trip is preparedness to adapt. A most memorable lesson I learned as a Vincentian living in Barbados is that though our countries have islandic similarities linking our well loved archipelago together, there is so much nuance among us and these differences should be appreciated and according to the circumstances embraced. I think we all did well with that, adapting to our new sleeping quarters rapidly.
We quickly learned that often lunch is lighter and dinner is larger. We adapted swiftly to the one hour change that came with travelling West. We were reminded that well known songs come in so many different versions. In spite of these differences, the same crow rattled its melody through the morning at dawn and the same crickets sang at night as the sun set one hour later than we’re used to. And we read, discussed, laughed, shared and prayed as the sun cycled daily.
The most prominent characteristics tying the members together were their love for Jesus and their eagerness to serve. We had singers, dancers, cooks, administrators, servers, speakers, teachers, masseuses, counselors, supporters, dramatists, writers, encouragers, intercessors, techies and more. There was never a dull day and everyone at some point had an opportunity to participate and share the gospel.
At the street feeding, Romano and Anderson’s amicability was evident in their ability to connect with young men and talk with them openly. The little children at the schools were so excited to see Marcia, joining in song and dance with her in the mornings. Her vocal approach and her honesty were refreshing to those around her. Ann with the voice of an angel led us in spirited worship and songs, while adding words of wisdom. Beverley narrated such moving dramas at the schools with the expertise of a trained and experienced teacher. They reflected well known stories in the New testament and the applicability of their lessons for today. Eronica and Heather ensured that they were well assembled. Golda’s acting talent shone through in the inevitable hilarity in her portrayals. Esther reminds me of my mother in more than just looks, she gave wonderful advice, tied every loose end and provided when there was lack. June kept us in check by ensuring that meal times were like a tightly run ship and that clean ups actually happened. Ingrid helped with absolutely everything. Jannah is so proficient with a phone camera you would never believe that it wasn’t a canon and nikon. Her technology savvy made it so easy for me to upload updates. Granny is always a superb encourager and came through with the necessary pick-me-up words when the team needed it most. Shorma was such a blessing relieving both tired feet and tired hearts with her light heartedness and humour. Marilyn was ready to assist wherever she could. Sonja’s artwork was a remarkable gift to leave with Teen Challenge and the butterflies coincided with the theme at the women’s center. Brendalese is the supportive force everyone needs to get through any attempted task successfully and as with everything else she dances with grace and passion. Everyone had hands on deck at all times.
The power of the team was also present when we joined sessions with the men at the centre. The hosts from the Teen Challenge programmed help to rehabilitate those who struggle with alcohol and drug addiction while providing the support to strengthen others in their Christian life. We had several opportunities to interact with those doing the programme and we learned so much just by listening to them dissect the bible and participating in thematic discussions with biblical responses. I remember one day we discussed forgiveness and there were testimonies both from the team and from the guys that really brought some encouragement and enlightenment. The way that they commit their time and energy to the renewing of their minds by detailed, prolonged engagement with the Word was a great encouragement to us all. In this sense the team was more than just us from Barbados, our friends from Jamaica were actively edifying us too.
I loved going to the schools to share with the children. We got to talk to them and pray with them sometimes individually, sometimes in groups. No one was left out in terms of an opportunity to impact. I saw how my own participation, aside from intercession, played a role when one night I asked the team about Jamaica the country. We took time to examine the motto, the anthem, national historical figures, the music, the culture, the food, the populace. By the end of our exchange there was so much more about Jamaica that we came to appreciate.
It has stuck with me since. The following day when we went to a lovely, little Primary school sequestered in the gently sloping hills, Marcia runs up to me excitedly and exclaims that she saw national symbols on the walls. And there they were, the littlest child had the chance to memorise the features of Garvey and Nanny and Bogle and Bustamante among others. They would know their national flower by heart. It was a real life illustration of knowledge applied. The sweet little “yes sir” and “yes miss” filled the air each morning along with a panorama of hair ribbons and my heart longed for Primary School days again. The thorough recitations of prayers and scriptures harkened back to a foundation many of us had in my childhood. The teachers were doing more than imparting secular education, they were also providing spiritual education. Each of us had a little part and every little part counted.
In missions, there is no room for ‘I’ or ‘me’, not when the work to be done revolves around a certain Him. We are fit into what preacher John Piper calls God’s “architectural plan”. By our connection through the one Living stone Jesus, we are like living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus (1 Peter 2.5). We are partners with Him and workers building with and for Him. Christianity is predominant in Jamaica as it is in Barbados and equally our beautiful homelands need the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Matthew 28 is still relevant. Short term missions like these exhibit the willingness of the body to volunteer their time and energy to help lift up the hands of brothers and sisters serving in another part of the vineyard. And what a blessing it is to serve alongside people who love Jesus so much just as you do! Our times of worship at the neighbouring assembly were sweet. They welcomed us with open arms and treated us as if we were their own. They were a part of our team. Several of us are partnering in the great commission even those of us who are physically unable to go but we pray from our homes and donate or provide guidance and assistance, even when we do not go, we are part of the mission too. It is a chance for all of us to be a part of what God is doing.