Jamaica – Day 8 – Leaving on a Jet Plane

JamaicaMission 2015

Leaving Jamaica is bitter sweet.  We have families, jobs, friends, school and so much more waiting for us when we get back home.  But for a solid week it feels like every step you take and every word you speak has so much more power and impact for the Kingdom of God.  You look at the faces of those that you have worked with night and day for a week and you make plans to return in a year.  Jamaica is great place full of wonderful people.  It is also a very hard and difficult place.  There are no jobs for the people to get so they do what they can to survive.  For some that means picking fruit from the mountains and hoping someone will buy on the streets, for others that means stealing what you need.  Resorts line the coast, on the other side of their walls are people doing anything they can to survive, most of the time with a grin on their face.  Ya mon!

Off we go through security checks and customs.  It takes a full day to get back; a 2 hour drive from Seville, an hour through security, the 2 hour flight home, another hour and a half through USA customs and then the 4 hour ride home from Orlando.  Every mile we try to hang on to what seems like memories getting further and further away.  “No worries” Jamaican friends, we will be back.

By the way, I (Haley) got stopped for a security check at every security check point.

Something really crazy that happens when you return from a mission trip, talk to any one who has been on a mission trip and they will tell you.  Post Mission Depression is real and affects everyone at different times and in different ways.  There is something very emotional and deeply spiritual about pouring your life into someone else for a solid week and then having to say goodbye.  Being in a different place with a bunch of people who are very like minded and working toward the same goal of God’s glorification among another people group and then coming back to the “real” world, your everyday life.

A simple picture of a kid whose smile has brought you so much joy for a week can bring a flood of tears.  Sitting at your desk and looking out the window can take you back to the hillside where you poured out your sweat.  Sitting down in your house and no one being around can make you question what God has your here on earth for.  No matter how it affects an individual it is real and it is God working in your life after the trip.  For our team, take it in.  Your feelings are real and the relationships you made and impacted over the week will ripple throughout eternity.  God has big plan, keep walking where He is leading.

Please pray for our team as they come back to their normal lives.  Pray that the mission doesn’t stop because they came back home.  Pray their hearts overflow with love toward the people around them wherever they are as they remember.

Jamaica – Day 7 – Cold Water

JamaicaMission 2015

When you travel to another country to do short term missions you really don’t get to see much of the country.   You really spend most of your time in one or two places working with the people. Yes, you do get to know their subculture well, but as far as a nation and a whole country you don’t get to see or do much else. Friday was our tourism day. We took off for downtown Ocho Rios to the straw market. Booth after little booth filled with Jamaican goodies. Most of the little shops have the same stuff in them. The same t-shirts, the same bracelets, the same coaster, the same wooden signs, on and on, most of it is the same. But for must of the team, bartering is not something we get to day everyday and it’s really fun. If you are good, really good, at bartering you can walk away with all kind of goodies.

This is also the day that you are on your own for lunch. Who knows what to eat!! There are so many little places to eat, but in Jamaica it really comes down to 2 major foods. Do you want jerk chicken or do you want a juicy patty? Most of the team is in love with juicy patties. There really isn’t much to it, some ground beef or chicken (and when I say ground, we are talking pureed) some spices folded into a flat pie shell and baked or fried. Think hot pocket, even the part where you take it out of the microwave and try to eat it too soon and your burn your mouth. The first thing that those who had been to Jamaica before ran to do when we got to the airport in Montego Bay is get a juicy patty, before half of the group got out of customs, some were already finishing there first juicy patty.

After lunch, the team really needs to do something fun, relaxing and mindless. So we go tubing in the mountains down a cold, cold spring fed river. Just a nice little ride that takes no effort and you get splashed a bit. We stopped twice to jump off of “cliffs”, they were no more than 12 feet tall, but the plunge into crisp cool water is so refreshing. To add to my little tubing adventure I got “bag juice.” It’s hard to explain bag juice… not really, it’s frozen super delicious Kool-Aid in square bag. So good! If you are building a house in the heat, bag juice to the rescue! If you have kids crawling all over you while trying to show them how to make a bracelet, bag juice to the rescue! If you are on top of a concrete building in a bucket brigade, bag juice to the rescue! If you need to be lazy and lay back in a cold creek, bag juice is where it’s at!

On the last night, the ladies that have taken care of our rooms and all our food prepare a Jamaican Feast! It is quite the spread and so good. It’s the perfect way to share one last meal in Jamaica along with sharing the stories of how God has worked through the week. Pray for our lives to never be the same and the Jamaican lives we interacted with to chase hard after Jesus and for Jesus to grow the seeds that were planted so we can go back next year and see the fruit of our labor.

Jamaica – Day 6 – Keys & Good Byes

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The team woke up this morning with one goal… finish the house.  The whole team went to the top of the hill to work on the house.  The outside boards had to be painted, the inside had to be painted, the windows had to be put in, the vents had to be working, doors put in, locks installed, and everything cleaned up.  We had 3 hours… believe me, it took every bit of three hours.  After a quick lunch, we headed into town to grab some groceries for the new home and propane for her new stove.  You can’t believe how tight the roads are and how nobody cares.  When you look out the window when going down the road… well it’s just best not to.

What a wonderful gift to hand the keys to a home over to someone who probably has never had a home for herself.  But I never realized how much love and practical goodness it actually gives a person.  She has been paying rent, she couldn’t lock her belongings up so she can’t have nice things, there was no place to cook, it means she doesn’t have to worry and concentrate on getting a steady job.  When the biggest surprise is a new 2 burner stove top… I’m not kidding, tears in her eyes over a place to cook.  We got to pray over her and stock her pantry with food.  She also got a new bed and sheets.  What a wonderful gift to continue on the mission that has been here for so long.

Afterwards we went down the hill for a short VBS time with the kids.  Having to say good bye to kids and families that literally have nothing be what you give them is so difficult.  We give them the shirts off our backs and the shoes on our feet, water bottles and suitcases, to make sure they have all we can give them.   You fall in love with these people and want so much for them and know that you can’t give it to them.  We will return to our lives, so far away from these people, they will be on our minds and on our hearts, but what can we do for them but come back, back to Jamaica to show them, to tell them we still love them.

Tomorrow, Friday, the team will spend some time seeing a bit of Jamaica and relaxing, trying to decompress so that adjusting back to the states isn’t so hard.  Pray that the team can find rest for our weary bodies, over worked minds, and hurting hearts.

Jamaica – Day 5 – Community Center

JamaicaMission 2015

Today the team split in 2 different ways.  The part of the team that had been doing VBS at the bottom of the hill was charged with finished the inside of the house while the part of the team that had been doing the majority of the labor was pulled to the Seville Community Center.  Those that worked on the home had a great time and the people up there are so excited that the house so close to completion.  One of our team members (Cindy) continued a conversation with the sweet lady that we are building the house for.  She is confused as to what is the real truth.  There are so many different religions/cults here fighting for the peoples attention.  Jehovah Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, Rastafarian, the world all have their own truths.  Our prayer and we ask you pray as well as that Jesus would reveal Himself to her as the Way, the Truth and the Life!

The rest of us at the Seville Community Center were in for hard work.  All the major buildings here in Jamaica are concrete, so there is a lot of sand and rocks and water involved.  Its not like in the USA where we go get bags of premixed stuff, it all has to be mixed by hand.  The community center started 2 years ago because the community didn’t want a church.  It will be 2 stories and be a place where kids, adults, and families will be able to learn and relax.  Now the community is wanting a church and it will serve as the church in the community (God is moving in the community for a long term presence).  Our job today was to get sand from the second floor down to the ground level so that concrete could be mixed next week.  A bucket brigade of 20 started moving, and toting, and carrying buckets of sand for 3 solid hours!  Sand broke apart by pickaxe, shoveled into a bucket, picked up over one wall, carried to and over another wall, down over the side of the building to a pile of sand.  My estimates are of no less than 350 buckets of sand.  The hope is to have the community center completed in two years and to get to comeback and hold events in the community center or the people.  I would really like to get to preach a sermon in the center.

After lunch we headed out to the infirmary.  We were prepared for the worst.  And yes, it was a bit rough, but honestly I have seen worst in the states.  But as always God has something in store for us to learn.  For me it was a young man named Ryan.  Ryan broke his back when he was 2.  He fell out of a tub and down a hill and lost function of his legs because his mom didn’t take him to the doctor.  Scoliosis set in, his back is a mess and he is embarrassed to sit up because of how it make him look, now both of his kidneys have failed.  His only hope is found in Jesus.  God has him there for a purpose and Ryan knows his purpose.  To be used by God in place where most won’t even enter the door.  For others it was a sweet lady singing as loud as should could about Christ.

Later in the afternoon a few of us headed out find one of the old friends of the missions (Ted went looking for Popeye, I can’t make this stuff up).  When Popeye saw Ted, he got crazy excited, jumping up and down, hugging and pulling on Ted.  Ted’s face lite up too.  It was worth the 2 mile walk down an odd little dirt path just to see this happen.

This island is great and I love the people.  I’m telling you, as much as I love people, I cannot get over the warmth of these people.  Pray for our team tomorrow as we finish up the house and present the keys tomorrow.  She will also get a bed and she doesn’t know it yet but a gas stove.  My prayers are for her salvation and to allow my team to get to experience the full fruit of salvation, yet we will walk away knowing we have planted the seed of the Gospel deep into the soil.

Jamaica – Day 4 – Seville

JamaicaMission 2015

Jamaicans are great people and a great culture.  Everyone meeting you with a smile and a warm greeting and then want to know what you are doing so they can join in with you.  They all want to help, it appears that in the area we are they are thirsting form for progress.  Our team is building this house really fast and the community has come out in droves to watch.  It is very unusual for the men to come out, but they are showing up, most very shy, but they are there wanting to help.

During a little down time I took a stroll around the village we are working in.  Seville was once the capital of Jamaica, an area of thriving sugar plantations of which you can still see many of the reminiscence of what one was.  Yellow fever swept through the area and everyone left.  What is there now is large houses that were once abandoned and squatters moved in.  Some of the homes have been “bought” from the squatters and started to be remodeled, but that has slowed to a crawl and in most cases to a halt for quite some time.  All the jobs have moved away and most of the people there live on a hillside in shacks built out of anything and everything they could find.  A lot of foundations have been started, but anything past a couple walls is few and far between.  There are no jobs to go to, they have to pay for school after the 6th grade, so life just gets harder and no one seams to care…  So when we show up and start building and building rapidly, they can see progress and completion is near.

I am so proud of our team, as the building is going up, not one person that has arrived on the work site has been neglected.  Everyone is spoken to and many conversations are being had.  Some just breaking the surface, a lot about candy and I over hear chatter of Jesus and salvation.  Pray for us tomorrow that those relationships will continue to develop.  And we are going to the infirmary tomorrow.  The leaders of the mission have told us that we will need time alone to process and recover from the sights and smells of what those walls hold.

Jamaica – Day 3 – The Walls Go Up

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Roll over, eat an amazing breakfast of Jamaican puff pastries, crazy good fruit, and beanie weenies (yes, I said beanie weenies for breakfast, that are so delicious I had seconds), rub on some sun screen and load up on the van.  The next stop is the top of the mountain with a generator, saws, hammers, nails, lumber, and open hearts.   Waiting for us is an excited lady, she is the one this week getting a new home.  Somewhere that she doesn’t have to worry about falling down every time the wind blows or her stuff getting wet when it rains.

On the trail there, a moment that some of us have been waiting on for months, one of out team members, Leamsy, stopped to yell at the goats so they would fall over… these are not fainting goats!  Once we arrived, our team led by foreman Gregory (a Jamaican) wasted no time.  Within 2.5 hours we had the foundation squared, the walls framed and up and started to put the exterior up.  It was very impressive to see the speed and joy at which we were working.  All the while, Jamaican kids running all around us, helping us and playing with us.  Our girls started to paint the walls and doors and they had plenty of help from the kids.  Of course the paint didn’t just go on the walls, the girls left a pale shade of blue and white.  The most amazing thing to me are the locals who remember the members of our team and run for hugs.  Reunion after reunion of hugs and laughter, it is clear that there are relationships that have been built and are growing.

After lunch we went back to the work site, half of the team went to the bottom of the hill to run a VBS or Backyard Bible Club type event for the kids.  However, I stayed at the top to work on the house.  It wasn’t long before what seemed to be the whole village out to watch and some to help.  I love the Rastafarian men that come to help.  They are so laid back and willing to help and learn.  Where as most of the people say “ya mon” to greet you, the Rastafarian greeting is “respect mon.”  The culture is so cool.

We made a quick trip into Ocho Rios this afternoon for to grab some snacks for the week.  Most of us grabbed some coke to drink.  Its crazy shopping,  the total on my bill for 3 cokes was $263.24 in Jamaican money.  That is just a whopping $2.45 in US dollars.  But to hear the lady behind the counter say, “that will be $2876 for a couple loaves of bread is a shocker.

Be praying that our team continues to develop the relationships with these people.  4 years ago, the village wanted nothing to do with a church.  Now there is a church service every Sunday in the village that was build off of the relationships developed during these trips.

Jamaica – Day 2 – Up the Hill

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Sunday in Jamaica, what do you do?  Go to church!  After eating a breakfast of the most fresh fruit that you could ever imagine, we loaded up and headed to church.  Girls in long dresses and guys in pants.  Which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you know that the church is an open air church and its 90 degrees with 95% humidity… for 3 hours.  Now, its a great church service and the people are so welcoming and friendly.  They sing and sing and sing and then tell it like it is.  We were so blessed by today’s service.  The pastor called all the fathers up and prayed over them that they would “Rise up!  Rise up to be the daddies they are to be! Rise up to be the husbands they are to be!  Rise up to be the servants they are to be! Rise up and be the leaders they are to be!  And rise up and be the disciples Jesus calls them to be!”

Now, if I told you today was rough, I would be lying, that all starts tomorrow.  For the rest of the day most of the team was in the ocean, on the beach, or around the pool, and wherever they were, they took a nap.  Before dinner, we took a ride up to see the work site.  If you have never been on an international mission trip and seen the way a lot of people around the world live, it literally  will take your breath away.  We walked up to where we will be building a lady and her daughter a new home, the foundation of which will be no more than 12’x16′.  My bedroom in college was 12’x16′.  All around her are shacks, no more than a few pieces of tin leaned together to make a roof.  Power lines (2 wires) are run like a shoe string from shack to shack held up by “power poles” which are no more than a tall stick that someone got to stand up and hold the wires.  Trash is everywhere along with the bare feet of the kids that walk all over it.

I watch a young lady try to sale one of our team members (Ted) her baby to take back to the “States”.  The mother was not being mean, but doing what she could to get her baby out of these conditions.  I know its coming, but I dread knowing that I will be asked the same type question and will have to respond with a “no.”  We will be working with these people for a full week and I can’t wait to dig into their lives and see what God is up to.

Pray for our team, that their sleep is multiplied and their endurance is supernatural.  Pray that they see God’s presence here in a special way that will forever transform their life.  And pray for the lady and the child, that they will know their home was a gift from God and that we are just the hands and feet of a mighty God and a loving Savior.  Thank you for all of your prayers.

Jamaica – Day 1 – Making Our Way Down

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If you have ever traveled internationally you already know the kind of chaos it can be.  Add to that chaos 17 people and twice the amount of luggage you actually need.  We met at FBCRH this morning at 3:30 am and headed toward Orlando to catch our flight.  Orlando was a breeze… Jamaica… not so breezy.  All things considered it wasn’t too bad.  We did all stand in line at Immigration for an hour and then in line to leave the airport for another 30 minutes and then sat outside the airport for another hour and a half waiting on some others.

We then loaded up in a van that didn’t have enough room for us and cruised to Jamaican Southern Gospel Music.  Yes, you heard me right, Jamaican Southern Gospel Music.  Imagine the Gather Vocal Band but sung by Bob Marley and his backup singers all played on your Casio Keyboard you got in the 80’s!  Just so you know, apparently being packed into a van like sardines with blaring Jamaican Southern Gospel Music puts you to sleep.

The team is staying in some cute open air villas and is all exhausted from our long journey.  Be praying for the team as they rest.  For multiplied sleep and health.  Be praying for life change in our team and the people of Jamaica.

Jamaica – Night Before

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It has been 8 years since I have been on an overseas mission trip.  I do hope this is the first of a long string of serving the nations as a pastor.  While my focus and my priority is the flock at home, I am joyful to serve Jesus in another part of the big pictures of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Here I will record my day, thoughts and how God is using me and those around me.  My prayer has been simple leading up to this trip.  “Father use me, use my team to honor You in Jamaica.  Grow your Kingdom through our service.  Make your glory known more to our hearts and the hearts of the Jamaicans.”

I am getting excited!  I hope not too excited, though I am starting to feel like a 10 year old who knows they are going to Disney World and I have to be up at 3 AM to drive… to Orlando.  Prayers for the mission team are always appreciated but don’t forget to pray for the people of Jamaica.  I’ll keep you updated for the next 6 days.

Good People at 20,000 Feet

Good People at 20,000 Feet

Recently, I have had to make several trips where I chose to fly instead of drive.  This is not usually a big deal.  However, I have also recently had shoulder surgery. It was supposed to be a minor procedure with a short recovery.  I didn’t wake up from a minor procedure.  I woke up from a much more extensive surgery with a much longer road to recovery.  Not being able to use my dominate arm and hand made flying a big ordeal.  I learned a long time ago (plus a $25 charge for checking in a bag) to only bring a carry on.  By now, you can see my problem.  How am I going to get my carry-on into the overhead with only my left hand?

Let’s just start at security in both airports.  Granted, I was flying out at times that aren’t known for being busy and the security lines were reasonably shorter than usual.  The first TSA officers at both airports noticed that I couldn’t go through the super high tech scanners because I couldn’t raise my arm. They walked over to me, ushered me to the side, picked up my bag and got everything on and through the conveyor belt for me.  Before you think I got special treatment, just think about who I was dealing with.  Oh… TSA gave me their version of special treatment.  After walking through the standard metal detector, I got patted down and then swabbed for who knows what.

As I boarded the first airplane, a male flight attendant immediately noticed my arm in a sling and asked if he could take my bag and put it in the closet.  As I left the plane, he had my bag waiting on me.  I only mention that he was a male because as I boarded the next 3 airplanes, the female flight attendants pretty much ignored my arm.  In fact, I asked one of them for a little help and she told me that there might be someone to help me closer to my seat.  However, this lack of help from the flight attendants left room for others to step in.

Approaching my seat on the second plane, my eyes were scanning the overhead compartments for space to put my carry-on.  I stopped at my seat and let go of my bag and turned around to see if I had missed a place to put my bag.  When I turned back around, my bag was gone.  Another guy was hoisting it into the overhead above him saying, “No worries, I got this.”  When we landed and I was making my way out of my seat, the same guy handed me my bag.  “Hope your arm gets better.”  I didn’t tell him what happened, nor did he care to know.  In fact, the only words I even said to the guy were “Thank You.”

On my way back home, I boarded the third jet.  A guy who appeared to be a student athlete from the University of Wisconsin was sitting just past first class on the first row of the “rest of us” class. I assume he was a student athlete because the guy was about 6’8″ and decked out in red sweats, a red Wisconsin jacket, red shoes, and red Beats. (I believe my assumption was fairly safe).  He took one glance and snatched up my bag trying to fit it in any place around him that he could.  Unfortunately, all the spaces were taken or my bag was too big.  I got to my seat bag in hand.  I looked at a guy for a split second.  He unbuckled and said, “I’ve been there,” and loaded my bag.

Getting off that third leg of my trip didn’t go as smoothly.  I should have swallowed my pride and asked for help.  But, I had a plan and it would have worked. The plan was to wait for someone to back the line up trying to get their bag from the overhead, grab my bag with my left hand and let it fall into the seat below.  Just as I yanked my bag, I saw a girl running down the aisle getting ready to go under my arm.  Instinct took over and I caught the bag with my bad arm, or at least deflected it from hitting the girl.  Ouch!!!  Not to worry, the final leg of my trip another sweet couple helped me with my bag.  As I walked down the aisle, a lady watched me all the way to my seat.  When I got to my seat, she hit her husband.  He didn’t even look at her, but jumped out of his seat and grabbed my bag.  When we landed, he handed me my bag as I left my seat.

Luke 10:30, 33 A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

I have to swallow my pride to ask for help and I know many others who are the same way.  This is not at all what this is about.  No, this is about being alert to the possibility of helping someone else.  Helping someone in a lot of cases cost us nothing.  As believers, we have to have our eyes open to what is going on around us.  We must be on the lookout to help others, to bless others.

The first flight attendant recognized the need immediately and didn’t hesitate to take action.  You might say that it is his job.  Well, on your job are you keeping your eyes peeled back to ways that you can jump in and do your job better?  A happy customer is a loyal customer.

How about the student who was willing to help, even when he couldn’t? Is your heart softened to the needs of others?

Are you willing to unbuckle and help someone?  I’m not even talking about going way out of the way to help someone.  Simply a few steps or a few seconds can go a long way.  Are we willing to let go of our precious time to serve others?

Are we on the lookout for each other?  The wife wasn’t in the position to help, but her husband was.  Are we noticing times and places where someone we know can be in a place to serve someone much better than even we are?

Our eyes have to be open to recognizing ways that we could be serving, blessing, and helping others before they even ask for it… if they will ever ask for it.  And recognizing a need isn’t enough!  We must be meeting the needs of others!  A “bless his/her heart” may sound nice, but doesn’t help a person out in the least.  In the parable, a priest noticed the man on the side of the road and probably even felt bad for the guy.  The Levite saw the man and may have shot up a prayer for the poor guy.  But only the Samaritan did something.  Jesus tells us to be a neighbor to people.

Matthew 22:39  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Do Something!!!

Jonathan Haley Uhrig © 2015