Blackwelder Park mission trip to Jamaica
By Brittany Iddings
For The Salisbury Post
Unto the least of these
More than 1 million people vacation at the beautiful sandy beaches of Jamaica each year. The island is inhabited with beautiful people and beautiful beaches featuring sandy shores and azure blue waters: the perfect vacation spot for the typical American tourist. Perhaps it is the beauty of the beaches or the Americanized shopping, or possibly even the beautiful and smiling faces of the Jamaican people that have painted this exquisite but totally inaccurate picture of the island.
Through my trips, I learned the truth about this misconception. A popular television commercial advertising Jamaica states the truth: “Once you go, you know.”
At the tender age of 15, I traveled to Jamaica with my youth group at Blackwelder Park Baptist Church. The trip affected my life so immensely that I am planning my fifth consecutive trip this summer. Steertown, where we visit, is a small town outside of St. Ann’s Bay and is home to the many reasons that I return to Jamaica every summer: the people who have stolen my heart. My experiences there have opened my eyes, broken my heart, and most importantly, impacted my life. Forever.
I know what you’re thinking now ó a bunch of high school kids go to Jamaica and simply call it a “mission trip.” You are thinking of the unlikelihood that a bunch of church-goin’, Bible huggin’, casserole-dish lovin’ Baptist church kids could go to an island paradise and build 10 by 10 foot houses, mix concrete, and play with shoeless children.
Well, I have news for you: We do.
And we do it every summer.
We do it because we love God and we love his people ó all his people, especially the Jamaicans. You also might be thinking that we can’t have much impact on the Jamaicans’ lives in only a few days, a week to be exact, seven days. Seven days was nothing to God when he had all of eternity, but that’s what he created the earth in. Those seven days are still everything to us. It made our world, literally. And that’s why we do what we do: we change their world because he made ours.
In the summer of 2007, Kayla met a little Jamaican boy named Oshane. He was about 6 years old and he broke her heart when we had to leave.
The next summer, a mere 365 days later, Kayla came back to Jamaica. We were back on the pot-hole-filled, gravel streets when we saw a small, now 7 years old, Jamaican boy running, shoeless and shirtless. He was squealing in his beautiful local accent, “Kayla! Kayla! You come back!”
He broke Kayla’s heart, again. He remembered. How many people have entered your life for a mere week and you would remember them a year later. Not only remember them, but burst with so much joy that you would run to them, screaming their name. Not many people. Only the people who changed your life, your world.
The summer of 2006 was Angie’s first trip to Jamaica and she met a young mother, Janet, under seemingly ill-fated circumstances, at least to Janet.
Janet’s little baby, Akeem, had a high fever. As any American mother would respond, Angie thought the solution was simple: Tylenol.
Angie did not understand the extent of this problem until she realized this mother could not go to the local medical mall and make an appointment, she couldn’t go to her local pharmacy, and she couldn’t use an over-the-counter medicine. She couldn’t because she doesn’t have access to them, a problem that is foreign to Angie, a mother of two healthy American boys. This broke Angie’s heart.
But hold on, Akeem’s fever was on God’s time.
You see, Angie resorted to what we would call “home remedies” to help Janet and Akeem. She used cold water and lots of time.
Janet was upset, and determined that Akeem’s sickness was a direct result of her bad mothering skills. Angie constantly reminded her that this was not true and that all children get sick. She continually tried to cool Akeem, acutely aware of the seriousness of his fever. As she cooled Akeem, she talked with Janet.
They talked about what most mothers talk about. Their relationship began over water, the water Angie used to cool Akeem, and it blossomed in the ocean water Janet was baptized in later that week.
God was in Akeem’s fever the whole time. He knew Angie would sympathize with the new mother and want to help her. He gave her the wisdom and the right words to comfort Janet.
The Bible says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened.” Janet was lost, Angie was there, and God was faithful and ever so timely. From their relationship came a friendship. Janet asked Angie to send for Akeem when she returned to the United States so that Akeem could grow up in our privileged American lifestyle. Janet’s selflessness broke Angie’s heart but she assured Janet that the best place for Akeem was with his mother.
This past summer Janet and Angie were reunited. After hugs, tears, smiles, and laughter they began to share stories about each other’s lives. Akeem is now 2 and he’s Angie’s godson. A simple fever and lack of Tylenol formed a relationship that changed lives. A small bowl of cold water transformed this relationship into a sisterhood: sisters in Christ.
The Jamaicans’ selflessness broke my heart. Their shoeless feet broke my heart. My heart broke to see them cry. It broke my heart to see a Polaroid camera aimed at a 6-year-old child who doesn’t know to smile.
My heart broke when we heard them chanting, “God’s not dead, He’s alive,” the words to a song we taught them a year ago.
It broke my heart to hear their growling tummies. My heart broke to learn that a year of school costs $80, and most will never go. Their dirty faces, prayers, and humbleness broke my heart.
My heart broke to see their 6-year-old snaggle-tooth grins and know that they will never wake up to find a dollar bill under their pillow in exchange for a tooth. They will never experience Santa Claus sneaking into the house they don’t have on Christmas Eve. The Easter bunny will never hide eggs in the yard they don’t own.
It broke my heart to see Dominic’s face fall when he learned that his best friend John could not come. It broke my heart when they saw a picture of themselves and they were unsure of who it was. My heart broke to see their joy in a worn-out pair of Nikes three sizes too big. It broke my heart to see their tiny fingers struggle with glue because they had never used it before. Their shirtless backs broke my heart.
My heart broke when I saw Dominic had found a new friend whom he referred to as “John’s cousin.” It broke my heart to see them dance, and giggle, and sing. My heart broke when they jumped on our backs and wanted a piggyback ride home, which we always gave in to. It broke my heart to hear their beautiful accents harmonize with ours in praising God.
My heart is broken for the Jamaicans. A popular praise song titled “Hosanna” states, “Show me how to love like You have loved me, break my heart for what breaks Yours, everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause.”
God has broken my heart for the Jamaicans. What has he broken your heart for?
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Brittany Iddings is a member of Blackwelder Park Baptist Church. She is a sophomore education major at Appalachian State University.