August 22, 2004   Shirley Macemon
  In the Land of Milk and Honey
Volunteers in Mission in Jamaica


Jeremiah 1:4-5 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Mission trips are a funny thing. Sometimes it seems that everything goes perfectly. Sometimes snags happen in the planning. Sometimes it feels as though there are roadblocks at every step of the way. There was a point at which I wondered if we would ever actually get to Jamaica!

Though I returned from Jamaica over the weekend, I don't quite feel back in California yet. I can't blame it on jet lag--Jamaica's Eastern Standard Time (not daylight savings) is only two time-zones away from us, but the weather and culture are worlds away.

Our mission started with some interesting turns in the road--our first flight (out of San Jose) was canceled. The good news was that we found out before we got to the airport at 4:30 a.m.. Greg (the pastor from Los Altos UMC who organized most of the trip) spent a great deal of time on the phone with the airlines at 1:00 a.m., and by the time I got up at 8:00 a.m., we were re-booked on a red-eye out of San Francisco. (Based on the number of folks that were bumped from that flight, which was vastly oversold, I'm afraid I know how our seats were obtained...)

So, we arrived in Kingston, Jamaica, on Tuesday afternoon instead of Monday evening. And put all our luggage and us into a small van and 25 seat bus. Since each of us had checked two suitcases--one of our own stuff, one of mission supplies--that meant 42 large suitcases (plus my guitar) and 21 people. Luggage consumed the last two rows of the bus--and our laps and very available piece of floor, and every available seat were filled--even the ones which spanned the aisle, and pulled down next to the driver.

Anyway, about 3 hours later we got to Frankfield, in the mountains, in central Jamaica. Our hosts had dinner waiting for us--rice and beans, salad, and chicken--so we were no longer hungry, but very weary. There were 21 folks to bed down in the manse and 2 private homes who would take two folks each. Let's see, that is 21 minus 4 is 17. There are 5 bedrooms in the manse: three double beds and two single beds for 17 travel weary people. This is when a miracle occurred. Two more private homes were offered--one for three, one for two; and a double mattress was brought from a third home to use on the floor at the manse. So, by 11 p.m. Jamaica time we'd had dinner and were settling in for the night. We raided the mission offerings we had brought for linens, and everyone had a place to sleep.

First priority for Wednesday morning was getting our Vacation bible school teams out and away. Well, finding their materials, collecting their materials, and getting them out. Teams went to the churches in Nine Turns (so named for the number of turns on the way to the community...though we counted something more than 100!), and Desire, also up the mountain on a windy road.

The rest of us settled in to painting and repairing the manse--inside and out. The manse hadn't been lived in for several years--the current pastor is husband of a clergy couple and lives in his wife's parsonage. The local folks had replaced flooring in the main room with beautiful tile, but the house hadn't seen new paint for more than 10 years, or occupancy for more than 4, and badly needed some wiring repairs (Location aside, I understood why Moses, the Frankfield Circuit pastor, lived elsewhere!)

The Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas, of which the Jamaican District is part, is organized like the British Methodist Church. Each pastor is appointed to a circuit--usually 4-6 churches. Large membership circuits seem to have senior and associate pastors. At Frankfield, Moses preached at two churches each Sunday, with lay preachers handling the remaining Sundays. The lay leadership of the churches is necessarily strong.

Some mission trips are a joy because the work is hard and it is amazing that it is accomplished. Some mission trips are amazing because a disparate group of people work together toward a common goal. This trip brought me joy in building relationships with the members of the community we worked in.

Mrs Loenston, the Steward--the lay leader of Christ Church in Frankfield--had organized the re-flooring of the manse in the previous weeks, and also organized our meals, which were brought from a local restaurant. We ate Jamaican the whole trip. I haven't eaten so much in so long (and lost weight... go figure!)

Mrs Morgan (on the right in the picture, with Venus DeVega, one of our mission workers on the left) is a mover and shaker in the Frankfield church--looks like a grouchy woman until you realize that behind her thick glasses her eyes sparkle. (During the Sunday Evening worship service, we were requested to lead a few songs. I was thinking Sanctuary, or Seek Ye First. Mrs Morgan wanted Pharaoh, Pharaoh! So we led Pharaoh, Pharaoh!)

Damion, Raon, Simone, (not pictured) Janise, and Sheldon came to work with us on the Manse every day. These are the young people who captured my heart. From Desire (one of the communities on the circuit). about 8 miles into the hills, the boys walked down each morning, I think. These young adults--18 and 19 year olds--are willing, sharp, witty, and anxious to work on the home of their new pastor. Damion tried to teach me some patois (think Creole)--I got "ya mon" down pretty well, but everything else eluded me... Raon talked about his desire to explore ministry--but can't figure out how to pass the entry exams, OR to pay for school. Sheldon leapt into supervisory roles when I put two or three folks onto a task to continue or finish a phase of the inside painting. Both Simone and Janise were detail oriented (and kept the guys on track!) And we talked, and joked, and talked and joked. We had shared meals, they joined us for our evening devotion time, hung out with the young adults on the mission team. They shared their faith. By Sunday I got to meet grandparents, other sisters and brothers, parents. It was a joy to tell their church how privileged I felt to have been able to spend the week with the young adults of their community.

The three of us (Greg, Kristie and I), preached and assisted with worship--and since VBS had been held in two of the churches--the children sang VBS songs, too.

I got to preach at Christ Church in Frankfield on Sunday morning. About half our team was there--which was great for me--and after that service we climbed into cars and vans and separated to two other churches: almost all of us attended two services that morning.

I made a point of attending the second service in Desire, where Damion, Raon, Sheldon, Janise and Simone lived. Sheldon's grandfather plays banjo to accompany the singing for the church there. It was a big morning--a baptism (Sheldon's youngest brother and two sisters), confirmation (two older adults) communion, and Pastor Moses' last Sunday before his new appointment. Moses made a point in his message--one that I'd talked to the kids about during the week--that Moses and I had talked about during the week. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, talked about the "priesthood of all believers"--that, by virtue of our baptism, we are all "ministers" in and of our faith. In talking to his congregation, he actually pointed me out as reminding him of this concept, and discussing it with the kids--but wanting to bring it to the forefront of the minds of the entire congregation--that each and every member and constituent of the church, by virtue of their baptism, are ministers in the faith. That whether they are on a 4-church circuit or more--or have an appointed pastor or not--they always have ministry in the congregation. And that it is the responsibility of each of those in the pews to discover where they are gifted and graced for ministry and use those gifts and graces in the building of the church. And the responsibility of each one to support each other in ministry.

Now, it seems to me that that is what our trip was all about--each one of us from the US, and each one of those in the community figuring out how to minister together during the week. That was our goal, if you will--getting the manse ready for its new occupant was just a side benefit.

Monday we said good-bye to Frankfield to begin the "touring" portion of the trip.

Jamaica is beautiful. The beaches are wonderful. We stayed in a couple of interesting places. But I'd have traded our touring time for another week in Frankfield in a heartbeat!