Yes, my heart is really aching! I just came back from Jamaica visiting the poor and making plans for future work there. What I saw was truly disturbing - profound poverty, despair, unemployment, hunger, homelessness, abandonment, etc. Yes, there was the sin, but there was also hope - not much in this world or this life, but in the one to come from the One to come.
So, how can I be happy? Through years of work in Jamaica with these kinds of problems God has shown me how when we do unto the least of these, we are doing it unto Him (Matt 25:40). It brings me incredible joy and happiness to do things for Jesus, but neither the Isaiahsixeight mission nor I can do it alone and without support. The blessings are truly amazing! Wouldn't you also like to be a part of these blessings and to know more?
Has Isaiahsixeight been on vacation?
Well, it might appear that way, but very far from the truth. A little over a year ago, Alabama suffered devastating losses from tornadoes. God called some of the leadership of Isaiahsixeight into the rebuilding effort and we built 3 homes with the cooperation of many churches, mission teams and very dedicated Christians. In July of last year, we had one team member to go to Jamaica, then in November of 2011, we took a small team down, all of whom had been involved in tornado home rebuilding, and we built a church in the Wheelerfield community in Jamaica. The tornado destroyed homes we built were completed in January 2012 and in that same month, some of us returned to Jamaica.
We knew that the focus of most of our churches and members was on the local devastation and for a short time, Jamaica would have to take a back seat. We learned a lot in building these houses, not the least of which is how God can make things happen if we are faithful.
With renewed energy, renewed faith, and the knowledge that God is in control, we are taking some ambitious steps to enlarge His mission in Jamaica.
What does Isaiahsixeight do?
That is a question I am often asked. Then, I am confronted on how to best answer that question. Usually my response is whatever God shows us to do. In our society, we are known best by our occupation. I believe God knows us differently - by our faith in Jesus Christ and what that faith motivates us to do. And what did Jesus tell us to do? Spread the Gospel, love God, love one another, feed his sheep, minister to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the prisoner, and the dying.
I know that this is an obtuse answer, but let me tell you a (long) story about how so much of what we do is related:
Our main Jamaican taxi driver for approximately 7 years has been on our heart a long time. We have shared the Gospel with him and he has witnessed our work first hand. We are closer to him than anyone in Jamaica. Even though, he supposedly accepted Christ about 4 years ago, we have seen only a little evidence that he is truly a Christian. Of course, that is probably true of many of us. We had also hoped he would take our movie system and move about the area showing Christian movies. We have pretty much concluded that our frequent visits will not change him. The only One who can change him is the Holy Spirit and a Jamaican that would be a role model would help. So, we just pray and wait on that.
Then, about 5 years ago, we heard about a Basic School (similar to daycare/kindergarten) in the back of a church in Stokes Hall had been badly damaged by Hurricane Dean and was in terrible shape. We go visit it and agree. We pledge to come back to build a new one. We build it. Then a year or so later, we come back to do major structural repairs on the church including a roof. We become very close to that community. Then, I see a malnourished child who is in the Basic School.
To combat the malnourishment, I start investigating the feeding programs of the basic schools and the government involvement. This leads me to visit several basic schools, then to contact the national governmental officials in charge of the feeding programs. There, I learn that the teacher was at fault as to why this basic school does not participate and will not in the foreseeable future.
All of this lead me to talk to the board chairman of the basic school. At that point, she tells me she is pastoring a small church in Wheelerfield and they need a church building. We had already decided that building a church was not in our plans, but to be nice, I agreed to go visit the area and see what she wanted. We had a lady team member there and I asked her to go with me, even though, to this day I do not know why, but God told me I should take her. Well, who greeted us there, but 4 young children. While they did not say much to me, they approached the pastor and the lady team member for food because they were hungry.
As we are walking across the field to look at a possible church site, I am telling myself that we are not going to build this church. Hunger is the main problem and not lack of a building. But, then I am told that this was a church plant from the Stokes Hall church and they started it for the children of the area. So, this was a mission church to help the hungry children. God knew that would break my cold heart. So, with the consent of our leadership, we built the church in November of 2011. This building project was probably our largest ever and we had a small team of 5-6 Americans and we actually helped another team on another project for the first 2 days of that week. So, we needed a lot of Jamaican help and we got some of the best help we have had and the most community support. One Jamaican man, Courtney, in his early thirties was most impressive. He was a hard worker, ingenious, poor, had 4 children, a wife, and was an active member of the church.
Just last week, we went to the church and they have done a lot of work there since we left. We saw Courtney again. On Saturday night, we went up into the mountains past Courtney's home to play bingo and show a Christian movie in the community of Johnson Mountain where we have built a basic school which is the center of a renewed spirit in the community. The bingo was a fundraiser for a community farming project to provide jobs for 17-27 year olds. This was lead by a very nice Rastafarian. We picked Courtney up on our way up the mountain. He was amazed at the movie and is now on fire to show it to his congregation and others. We also gave him Bible study materials and he wants to get our taxi driver to go with him as a team to share the Gospel message via a movie ministry.
So, God had it all figured out, we were just a little slow. So, building a school which lead to a church restoration which lead to a relationship to a community which led us to see malnutrition in that community which lead us to talk to the school board chairman who happened to be the pastor of the mission church. Traveling with the mission pastor, we again saw hungry children which caused us to build the church where we met Courtney. We go to Johnson Mountain at the request of the leading citizen - a Rastafarian who wants us to help with their farming project as well as show a Christian movie. We take Courtney with us. Courtney is amazed at the movie and now wants to team up with our taxi driver (remember this started with him). Also, the taxi driver really admires Courtney and I pray this will ignite him.
So, what do we do in Jamaica? Pretty much anything that God shows us. As with the stories of Jesus, you cannot separate the faith stories, the Gospel, or the mercy ministries. It is all a part of building the Kingdom. Incidentally, the church I did not want us to build has about doubled since November, has had four Baptisms, has two more scheduled and Chef, a good friend of Courtney's who has 8 children, was baptized and will soon marry the mother of his children.
As you can see, this all was the work of God and is to His Glory and is an example of what we do in Jamaica.
I'm a Thief for Christ!
For years, we have been visiting an elderly stroke victim named Ms. Rita. She is a delightful person. Our helper there in the community, Audrey Lindsey, has been delivering soup to Ms. Rita monthly for many years as well. We almost did major repairs on Ms. Rita's home, when much to our surprise, a son did the work. He, however, did not paint the house. So, Bradley, a 21 year old college student with a heart for Jamaica and I, started looking around the house. I was photographing it for documentation for the amount of paint and work. Bradley disappeared around back. There, I found him in deep conversation with a Jamaica woman.
Bradley told me that the woman had a special needs child with hydrocephalus (water in the brain). I peer around the door and met the mother, Michelle and her 3 year old girl, Sosheba. Michelle is renting a room from Ms. Rita, for $12 per month. This room is about 8 feet square, contains a full size bed and little else. There is less than 2 feet of space at the end and one side of the bed.
Sosheba is lying on the bed, in a Pampers, thrashing about. Occasionally, she will giggle and smile. She is obviously malnourished, her head too big for her body, and her limbs too frail to support her. Michelle, tells for her love of the child, that she could never put her in a home for the handicap, that no one will babysit for her, and that she cannot leave her alone. Someone has given her a stroller and a medical mission team had left some children's books, but nothing else. The child sleeps in the bed with the mom, there is nothing to keep her from falling out of the bed, there are no toys, and the child stares at a dark tin roof and old dark unpainted walls. The is one light bulb in the corner attached to a small extension cord.
To make it worse, Michelle tells of her need for Pampers, her need for food for the child, and the fact that the child cannot chew and must have all her food mashed up and how difficult that can be. Of course, we see all this on late Saturday afternoon and we are leaving the island the next morning, so what to do.
Audrey was also devastated that she had been to that house so many times and did not know the child was there. I immediately asked her to buy a playpen for the child (which will have to be used outdoors because of lack of space), buy eggs, meat, nuts, cheese, and beans to help meet the protein needs of the child, buy some rattles she can grasp, possibly a mobile and help in other ways as well. Then, without permission and without regret, I stole! I stole a blender belonging to the Langer's, missionaries to Jamaica, and asked Audrey to give it to Michelle.
Getting protein to this child is a problem on many fronts - money, blending or mashing the food, and they have no refrigeration and even if we bought a refrigerator, they could not afford the power to run it. Michelle and Sosheba need more room as well. I think they just made it to the top of our list to for us to build them a home.
Michelle is a Christian and a member of a Pentecostal Church. She reads her Bible regularly and reads it to a gentle Rastafarian man who helps her with the child. She certainly has faith and the hope that Christ gives us, but as Christians we need to help her and her child.
I am contemplating returning to Jamaica soon - with toys, protein powder, and to help Michelle which would include trying to improve her housing situation.
He was blind, lame, and lost, but now he is found!
A few minutes after finding the lady with the special needs child, we met a great Christian man helping a elderly lady with amputated leg who we had already visited. He was telling about a man who had recently lost his leg to diabetes who formerly lived in the area. He had heard he had moved to the Seaside community and was in a terrible living situation.
So, off we go to visit this man. We find him. He is elderly and living with his elderly sister in a two room house, where one of the rooms was uninhabitable. We entered. The room was dark with most of the light coming from the cracks and breaks in the floor. The source of the light was also the only source of ventilation. He was living in a house with a tin roof and plywood walls, but there was only a door - no windows whatsoever. There was also no electricity.
My immediate concern was for light, but when I learned that not only did he have but one leg, but that he was blind, my concern about light was not an issue. We originally thought the main problem would be the stability of the floor, but we soon recognized that ventilation and nutrition where the main problems.
We thought putting in windows would be a great project for a team from Birmingham-Southern College expected in January, because we were leaving the island the next day. Then we put ourselves in his shoes and realized this needed to be finished soon since it is summer. So, we have made arrangements to pay a Jamaican carpenter to take care of the windows.
In talking to Audrey about this man, for years, he had been a recipient of the soup from their soup kitchen for shut-ins, but he moved and was lost to them. Now he is found and God can now bless him with windows and soup.
Feeding 3 generations.
Sometimes, God has to hit us over the head twice. Early in our recent trip, we were walking through the Seaside shanty community. My good friend and fellow Jamaican missionary Terry Fry told me as we passed this pink house that the woman there on the front porch just really seemed desperate. She frequently asks us for help, but I usually shun her because of the coarse almost demanding way she asks.
The next week, we were again in the community, but Terry had left the island several days earlier. I recalled what Terry had said and as I walked by, she asked me for some money. We normally do not give money out (see comment below), but I went to talk to her. Her daughter and the daughter's two little boys (one still nursing) live with her. She was cutting cabbage for the evening meal and that is all she had. She wanted me to help them buy some rice and oil to add to the cabbage. I gave her the equivalent of about $2 US and she did indeed buy the rice and oil.
Later, I wondered, how many other times had she asked and how hungry were they? God taught me, I need to look beyond the words and manner in which they are spoken and look at the need.
Comment - While we almost never give out money, I saw so many desperate hungry people who I know, that I could not follow my own rule. One of the most honest hardworking Jamaicans I know, for the first time in the ten years I have known him asked for some money. Since he is a long time friend, I could not say "no". I also gave money to several elderly women and men.
What does a Rastafarian, marijuana, and our mission have in common?
God must have a sense of humor! Several years ago, we go to the community of Johnson Mountain. It is an agricultural community on the side of this large mountain. Before we go up there, we hear two things: first, they have a terrible basic school that needs to be replaced and secondly, the area is known as one of the major marijuana growing areas.
We go, see the tremendous need and like the people we meet. One is the community leader, a very tall, kind, well spoken Rastafarian. We took a great team from Birmingham up there in January 2011 and built them a school. Approximately two months later, we visit them, find that the enrollment is up about 50% and everyone tells us the school is the new central point of pride in the community.
On trip two weeks ago, we go up there to visit and check on them and we hear they are working with an agricultural development arm of the European Union and are planning to do a cooperative farming project to raise and process ginger. However, they need some money to pay for a bulldozer to cut the road. The European Union is doing this project to try to make jobs for 17-27 year olds. We are all for jobs and opportunities, so we talk more about it.
I asked the Rastafarian leader, with the red eyes of marijuana usage, if we could come up the next weekend and show a Christian movie to the community and we could also play bingo (I have an iPad app that automates and projects the bingo calling). He loved the idea and suggested we charge for the bingo and use the proceeds of the farming project.
Well, on Saturday night, we go there. We show a Veggie Tales movie for the children and 4 Three Stooges shorts. Then when we have a crowd and ready to play bingo, the Rastafarian asks me to open the proceedings with prayer. Now, Rastafarians believe in a god and they think it is our God, but they have their own "messiah". So, I made sure my prayer invoked the name of Jesus Christ.
We played 5 games of bingo and the Jamaicans really enjoyed it. Many then left, but quite a few stayed including the Rastafarian as we watch "The Hope" video, an outstanding presentation of the Gospel.
Incidentally, I am participating in a study about how to start spiritual conversations naturally. Was this natural or supernatural? God certainly had me scratching my bald head!
Isaiahsixeight hires its first employee!
We have been working in Jamaica since the early 1990's, and Isaiahsixeight came into existence in 2007. Everything has been done by volunteers except for the occasional casual Jamaican laborer or a short contract job. Most of our work in Jamaica that is done when we have not been there has been done by Audrey Lindsay, but Audrey is a fulltime basic school teacher, a lay minister, steward of the church, runs a Seaside children's ministry and is busy in many other church and community causes. So, while she is very dedicated to our mission and our causes, she has no time for additional activities.
We knew that starting a child sponsorship program would take a lot of work on the Jamaican end and someone to do it, so we went to Jamaica on this last trip with the main purpose of finding that person. We had some preconceived ideas about who that person might be, but almost immediately, God showed us that those people would not be our employee. I was sharing our plight with Mrs. Jacobs, the proprietor of the local hardware store when she told me about her daughter, Freddi. Later that week, Mrs. Jacobs met with Audrey and us. Then a few nights later, she brings her two delightful daughters - Freddi and Sandi.
Freddi is an intelligent 26 y/o lady who graduated college studying pharmacology, then got something akin to a masters degree in epidemiology. She wants to enter medical school and become a pediatrician. She is a Christian, technologically savvy, is well spoken, energetic and self motivated. God sent us what we could not imagine; however, Freddi can only promise us 10 weeks of work until school starts.
Freddi is already cataloging the children, meeting the teachers, chronicling the needs, preparing Bible studies and summer programs for the children in Seaside, working to help us find jobs for some of the brighter older children in Seaside, reading books I recommended, installing apps and learning software that we will need to communicate, track expenses, and track the children.
All I can say is "Thank You God!" and "Welcome Aboard Freddi!" What can you do?
I believe as you can see from these stories that God is moving in many areas of our mission. We have had no fundraisers in over a year. The tornadoes, the economy, and probably my failure to tell the story have all hurt our contributions. Also, we have taken fewer teams to Jamaica in part due to donor and volunteer fatigue (including my own) related to the tornadoes.
So, what are our needs?
● A small construction team to build a home for the mother and her special needs child
● Money to help feed and support the special needs child
● Money and a small team to build a playground at Johnson Mountain
● A team of child educators to gather materials for schools, communicate to the schools, and to consider going there to help train the teachers
● Money to help pay for a bulldozer to cut a farm road in Johnson Mountain
● A team to build church pews for our new church in Wheelerfield
● Money and a team to replace plywood on homes in Seaside
● Money to pay for making the windows in the blind man's home
● Money to help us feed the poor
● Sponsors for the child sponsorship program to begin in a few months
● Creative writers to replace my feeble attempts to tell the story
● Creative people to redesign and update our web site
● Creative people to maintain a FaceBook presence.
● Prayers, prayers, and more prayers for guidance, wisdom, and appropriate responses to the needs before us.
We pray that you are touched by these stories and will come alone side us to help this mission. To God be the Glory!