Isaiahsixeight is becoming better known in the area. In February, a mission team from Missouri led by Bobbie and Hank Langer, former long-term missionaries to Jamaica, used our rented house there in Jamaica. Technically they are not a part of Isaiahsixeight. However, as they traveled around to many communities, people introduced them as Isaiahsixeight. They were so pleased to find that Isaiahsixeight had such a good name in the area, so they did not correct the Jamaicans. We now welcome the Missouri team as the Missouri branch of Isaiahsixeight.
Since our last newsletter, we have made 4 trips to Jamaica. Rather than talk about the trips, we will highlight the ministries we are conducting:
This was our largest and best Christmas program ever. We want to thank everyone for such generous support. 254 people were served as follows:
- 180 people were fed a hot meal, cake, and ice cream at the church.
- 150 of the 180 above were children who were given gifts
- the remaining 30 were adults who also received a bag of groceries. The bags contained: 4lb of rice, 4lb of sugar, 4 lb of flour, 2 lb of cornmeal, a can of mackerel, a can of sardines, salt fish, crackers, vegetable oil, cocoa, toilet paper, bath soap, laundry soap, matches, Lasco soy food drink powder, and salt. This is enough food for about two weeks.
- Another 35 who were sick and elderly had a bag of groceries delivered to them also.
- 24 men at the indigent nursing home received gift bags containing underwear, towels, skin lotion, olive oil for skin, soap, soap dish, comb, a washcloth, and oil for their hair.
- 15 women at the indigent nursing home received gift bags containing a house dress, towels, skin lotion, powder, olive oil for skin, soap, soap dish, comb, a washcloth, and oil for their hair.
Since our last newsletter, we can report that we have two new basic school buildings in operation. The first was in Spring Bank. This project was difficult because we could not count on community support.
Then there is Johnson Mountain, another mountain community.We had planned to build a basic school there last summer, but because of the social unrest in Jamaica, we had to cancel that trip. It was, however, the main target of our mission team in January of this year. This was a wonderful project in almost every respect. It was greatly needed, it was in a poor rural area, the teacher had been praying and asking for help for years, the community came out to support us and the we were much appreciated.
A look at the photos of the school can give you some appreciation of the situation. While the condition of the old school was not the worst we have encountered, it was quite bad. It was built with scrap wood and tin. It was dark inside; and the desks were probably over 50 years old. Many were rotten. The chairs were broken. The adjacent toilet building was built with sticks instead of cut lumber. The hinges on the doors were pieces of old car tires.
Our team poured concrete footings for an extension of the school, demolished the old school, added a small porch, steps and rails, built a new toilet building, and built a new bus stop for children waiting for buses and taxis. In addition, through an arrangement with another mission organization operating in Jamaica, we were able to buy children's chairs and get some legs for tables. The Missouri team provided labor to build new tables for the classroom. We also donated them some educational electronic games, books, balls, chalk, etc.
One of our mission leaders who was not there for the building project, but who had visited both Spring Bank and Johnson Mountain on previous trips and was amazed at the change in the teachers. When we had met them on previous occasions, they seemed depressed and without much joy. After moving into their new schools, they were radiant, joyful and smiling all the time. The Johnson Mountain School only had 22 students in January, but had grown to 29 by March.
In March, we visited Market Road Basic School - probably the closest one to our rented house. We had heard many years ago that they were having difficulty due to a church - school dispute as well as some politics associated with the school. We were advised to steer clear of it until things had sorted out. Well, that time finally came. We were asked to visit because they needed as piece of plywood and could not afford to buy one. On our visit, we found a very depressing place. They had occupied a non-completed addition on the back of a church. Some materials had been donated and a few of the parents had done some work there. They needed a door to separate their bathrooms from their classroom. Also, they had pieces of tin over the window openings and had flexed the tin up to allow for ventilation. However, one opening was larger than a piece of tin, so they had rain coming in. In March, we went there and built a partition and door to separate the bathroom from the classroom and solved the rain problem as well. As depressing as that may seem, it gets worse. The school's lease on this space ran out in August 2010. They have no place to go, no property, and certainly no money. We are praying that God will show us a solution for these 32 children.School support:
We continue to take educational materials to the area. Audrey, our Jamaican liaison, works in a basic school and is part of a cluster of at least 8 other basic schools. She also has a relationship with the teacher at the Special Needs School. Every time we take supplies there, she distributes them among these schools. For years, we have seen great needs in these schools - financial, building, resources, materials, teacher training, etc. In the past our mission teams have been mostly composed of men - none of whom are trained in education of children. We knew how to build schools, but other than bringing them a few supplies, we did little to help with the education of these children. We have been praying for and trying to recruit people who have teaching skills, a heart for children, and the ability to help in these areas. We think someone who traveled with us in January can help supply these needs and is eager to get very involved. Please be in prayer that this person will continue to be used by God for these children in Jamaica.
Several years ago we had a photo of a little boy who appeared to have protein malnutrition. We started to investigate further and found that many children go to school hungry and may only have water or a Kool-Aid like drink with a very small bag of cheese curls for lunch. As we began to investigate this, we learned of a government program back by USAID and the World Food Bank that for a very small amount of money has provided some nutritious foods to the children in schools. After research, we contacted those government agencies in Jamaica. On a recent trip, we met with several of the sponsoring boards of these basic schools. Then we went back to the government only to find that because of funding problems in Jamaica, that they would not allow these basic schools to rejoin the program. So, we do not have an answer for this problem. Please be in prayer that God will show us a way.
Future school projects:
We have recently visited the Winchester community. It has a primary school (grades 1-6) in what is essentially a large one room school building. The school is very old and has some structural problems, but we were very impressed with the staff and the discipline we saw at the school. They asked us to consider helping them build a basic school since there is no basic school in the area. This means that many of the children do not have a preschool option prior to 1st grade.
Adjacent to the primary school is an old abandoned house that once was the principal's house. The roof is rotten, caving in, and is not the home of bats (the flying kind) and old desks. We are contemplating replacing the roof and making minor repairs to make it function as a basic school and a computer lab for the primary school.
As usual, we see one problem and there is another disturbing one as well. The toilets for the primary school are on a hill side and are just large outhouses. The pits beneath them are deep and dark. The seats are made out of plywood and have very large openings. As one could imagine, the very small children are afraid to use them. So, frequently they do not. They will go to the backroom in a corner of the school or in the floor of the outhouse to avoid these deep scary toilets. So, as we renovate the house, we will also try to install modern flush toilets and make it a more modern and less frightening place for the young children.
Our last several mission teams have visited the following basic schools: Johnson Mountain, Spring Bank, Stokes Hall, Chapel Hill, and Market Road. We also visited Winchester Primary School and the Lysson's Special Needs School. In some, we had a music team perform and sing with the children. In others we played with the children, helped them with their work, and delivered vitamins, educational electronic games/toy computers, a laptop computer, balls, school supplies, books, etc.
Churches and Bible Schools
In March, we had a youth team with musicians and a children's pastor. So, we conducted Bible schools for children. This was a little difficult because while it was Spring Break here at home, it was not in Jamaica. So, the children where in schools. So, we conducted them as late afternoon/evening programs. On Monday and Tuesday, we had Bible school from 4 PM until 7 PM in Stokes Hall at the Jamaica Evangelistic Association Church. We had over 100 people there both nights. We had singing, skits, crafts, play time, and a small sandwich and drink for all participants. We repeated this on Thursday and Friday nights at the Port Morant Methodist Church. Also, on Saturday afternoon, we had a version of Bible school with a movie at the Port Morant Methodist Church as well. We had more than 100 children at the Port Morant functions.
Prior to the Bible school on Saturday, the team participated with the Port Morant Methodist soup kitchen to prepare and deliver lunch to some of the sick and the elderly in the area.
While the team was showing the movie on Saturday, a two of us went to visit a church in the Wheelerfield community. Wheelerfield is a very poor area where the predominate employment is manual cutting of sugar cane. A cane cutter usually works in a team of two with one cutting sugar cane and the other stacking it. Because the cane is burned prior to harvesting, it is covered with ashes and soot. They begin cutting about 5 AM in the morning and finish about 4 PM working in full sun with temperatures into the mid 90's. A good pair can cut and stack 10 tons per day, with each one making only $16.35 USD per day. If they are lucky, they may work 3 days per week. Also, gasoline, building materials and most food items are more expensive there than here.
We went to this community because in one of the meetings with a school board member, I was asked by a chairman of the board to visit her church as see if we could help them with a building. It is a long story, but to make it short, we went just to be nice and expecting to politely say we would not build the church. As we talked with the pastor, we learned that she was a nurse at the sugar factory (almost all pastors earn their living doing something other than being a pastor) and was a member of the Stokes Hall branch of the Jamaica Evangelistic Association Church. We have a long track record with that church. This lady started a mission to the children in the Wheelerfield area many years ago, which eventually grew into the largest church in the area, but they have no building and are meeting in a multiuse community center. Well, while we are there, some children came to the pastor and asked if she had brought any food. Then they were walking with our children's minister (from Alabama) and one of the little girls asked her: "Miss, do you have any F. O. O. D. (spelling it out)?"
This visit truly troubled us. Even Audrey, our Jamaican liaison, was concerned that there were some significant hunger issues there. She has pledged to research it further and visit again as well as take some food there. As an organization, we have been trying to get out of the church building business, but this one is serving a very needy community, started as a mission, and it would seem that the pastor has probably been involved in helping feed the children. Will we be building this church? Probably if God will provide the money. So, expect this as a future team building project.
Approximately one year ago, we visited the Morant Bay Infirmary which is the indigent nursing home in the area. As you can imagine with the poverty in the area and a dysfunctional government, this place is really in need. When we first went there, their washing machine was out and they were having to so their laundry by hand in sinks. Even some of the residents were having to wash their own clothes by hand. Flies covered the soiled linen. We purchased a commercial washing machine for the facility. On subsequent trips, we noticed how crowded the facility was. Patients have no privacy and no place to store personal belonging. There only chairs for the residents are on the veranda; in the wards, they only have their beds. The residents have no tables for food and must eat on a plate sitting in their lap. The evening meals are very sparse as well. We were encourage to see that the Chase Foundation (Jamaica's foundation that distributes the income from their national lottery) had decided to build them a large new dormitory with smaller rooms and hopefully more privacy. It was completed last Fall. When examining our photos from a trip last summer, we noticed something missing - pillows. Only about 25% of residents had pillows. So, we had our agents there to purchase pillows, but they were not distributed because they wanted to save them for the new unit (not our plans). So, on our January trip, we had our work team distribute the pillows to the residents.
Of course, we expected to see the new dormitory operational. It was completed in the Fall, however, it was not being used. Even in March, it sat empty. After inquiring the reason, we learned they had no money to install a septic system for the unit. We have our agents there in Jamaica studying this to find out what it would cost to get a septic system installed. We may need to involve ourselves with this. This is typical in Jamaica. There is something also ironic. One day we may see this unit functioning with a large sign on it that states it was built by lottery money. Of course it might be made usable by God's money, but that plaque may be on a septic system and underground.
Our youth team in March visited the nursing home and played music with some of the residents joining us in singing. We had a treat when one blind lady started singing one of their spirituals we did not know. Three other women joined her. It was quite emotional. When we were singing, one of our team members took a necklace they had made in the Bible Schools and placed it around the neck of one of the lady residents. Our Jamaican taxi driver, Devin, got emotional and gave his necklace and another cross necklace to some of the residents. I asked him about where he got the cross necklace. He said, with a tear in his eye, that Brenda from the Missouri mission team had left him a whole box of them to give out when the time was right. He said: "I think the time is right." I told him to drive home and get them and come back. He did and a cross was placed around the neck of every resident at the home. It was truly a special God time!
Lastly, we will talk about the Seaside community. It is certainly not last in our hearts but rather an ongoing area of mission for us. For years, we have been building homes in the shanty town near the ocean and we have helped the children there with clothes, shoes, Christmas, and school supplies amongst other things. In the past, we have sent some young ladies from there to church camps in the summer. Some of these ladies have grown up and now are assisting with Bible schools, basic schools, and are working on advanced degrees. There are many children in this area. We have helped several mothers gain skills and materials to provide for their families as well. The children know immediately when we are on the island. Most of them walk past our house every morning on their way to the primary school. On our last trip, we were making lunch for approximately 20 of them each morning. They would start coming to our door at 7:30 AM. We also left a lot of peanut butter and other food so our landlord (Ms. Patsy) can continue to feed them. We also brought clothes and shoes again for them. Of course we always make several trips to Seaside to see the children and play with them. They also were many of the children who attend the Port Morant Methodist Bible school, so we see them a lot.
Computer Lab in Port Morant
Because of the poverty of the area, computers and the Internet are not readily available. Probably less than 5% of the homes have computers. The high school has a computer lab, but it is about 12 miles away. The only business in the area with a computer is the hardware store. None of the churches have computers, printers, copy machines, or fax machines. If you wanted to use the Internet, a computer, or a printer, you had to go to the library - but it was closed about a year ago. The nearest place to go is in Morant Bay - about 10 miles away, and the cost of a taxi prevents people from getting there. Private transportation is very uncommon in this part of Jamaica. Last summer, we learned that a government agency had made some computers available to a couple of community groups and they were attempting to build a community computer lab. We even visited it last Fall, but it was not complete. We would estimate they have approximately $40-50,000 USD worth of Dell computers, flat screens, desks, chairs, networking equipment, etc. Then as usual in Jamaica, there were unforeseen delays. Among them was a rent they could not afford. The lab just opened in January but is in danger of closing because they are 7 months behind on rent and cannot even pay the current rent. Many board members have abandoned it, etc. A group of very humble sincere board members approached us to see if we could help.
Could we be involved? After listening to the board members, praying about it, and discussing it with our board, we believe the answer has to be "Yes." We have recognized that the poverty is only getting worse. They are falling more and more behind educationally and education is one way out of poverty. The high school students now have to do Internet research but cannot afford to travel to the Internet cafes. The churches need to print flyers, bulletins, notices. The businesses have like needs. There are programs to help the students who did not pass all the subjects in their graduation exams. There are also plans to start programs for children like computer classes. We have made a proposal to the local board controlling this. It will require them to renegotiate their lease, allow us full access to their books and board seats, and let us try to teach them better business skills. We will give them money in the short term, but much of it will be in terms of vouchers for computer use that we can distribute to the very poor and to the churches. In addition, we proposed a diminishing money match to match their fundraising and their revenues from operation.
On our last mission trip, we had a mature Christian church leader, who after a few days told me she could not believe what all we were involved with, how wide our reach was, and how many people we touched. She was totally amazed. Later in the week, she said we were trying to do too much and that we needed a focus - such as basic schools. Then I asked, "Well what do we give up? Hungry children? Hungry elderly? Those in the nursing home? The special needs school? Building schools and churches? Supplying clothing, shoes, Christmas, etc? Those needing housing? She said "No - you can't give any of it up." That is our dilemma. That is where our mission is. I believe that is where God would have us.
In Matthew 9:35-38 I think we also get the answer: Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Please pray that we get the workers and the financial resources that we may show His compassion and help with His harvest.
Isaiahsixeight, Inc. and IS68 Jamaica, Ltd.