Lessons learned through helping others

I recently returned from my second mission trip to Jamaica and wanted to tell you about my experiences there. If I could live anywhere else but Colorado, it would be Jamaica. There are many reasons I feel so strongly, but most of them I can’t really put into words. There are two things, though that come to mind: First, there’s the beauty of the island itself – everywhere you look, it’s green. It seems every natural surface in Jamaica is alive with some kind of growth. It’s almost as if nature itself is challenging mankind to push it back to make room for human development. And I truly believe that man has only reached a temporary cease-fire in that battle. Secondly it’s the people – I have never been in a place where EVERYONE is so happy to see you. Nor have I ever been to a place where the quality of relationships are more important than the things you own.

Since this was a mission trip, I could stand up here and talk about the things we did and how we helped others, but instead I want to talk about how God helped us. The theme for this year’s trip was ‘be real’. Son Servants chose this theme to describe what our relationship to God and others should look like (real faith, real love, real devotion). We spent a little time every day learning how to have a more real relationship with God and the people in our lives. I’d like to share some of the ‘real’ stuff I saw on the trip:

Real caring from the staff – We didn’t arrive at the camp until 12:30 AM on Wednesday after traveling 19 hours. The work was to begin that very morning with a wake-up call at 6:30. The staff, obviously, would need to be up prior to that, and yet everyone was awake and greeted us when we arrived. They fed us and sat with us and showed us to our rooms before they themselves went to sleep.

Real growth – some of the quieter members of our group really began to participate and share for the first time since joining Youth Group a year ago during family time. It was amazing to hear how God was touching the lives of kids who I hardly knew though we had spent some time nearly every week together.

Real love – one of the girls came back from the infirmary with tears in her eyes as she talked about one of the residents praying over her. She talked about how she had gone to this VERY sad place to bring comfort to those in need and yet SHE had been comforted. The infirmary in Mandeville, Jamaica completely changed her world-view. Now she is looking for a retirement village in her neighborhood that she can ride her bike to in order to visit the forgotten here in Denver.

Real joy – there is nothing like seeing a bunch of teenagers, covered from head to toe with dirt that stains EVERYTHING, exhausted from digging a hole 6 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet, so happy to work so hard and excited to know they’ll be doing it again tomorrow. It was very apparent that doing God’s work creates in us a joyful heart.

Real community – we not only grew closer to each other as we relied on each other, but created relationships with people we had never met – most of whom we’ll never see again – that we will continue for years to come. We overcame regional barriers with those from other parts of the country and language barriers from those in another country to touch their lives and allow ours to be touched. It was amazing to see people stop what they were doing when a neighbor came walking down the road and REALLY talk to them about their life – not just a quick “how are you” and “I’m fine” before getting back to whatever business was at hand.

Real faith – one of the members of our team shared how he had been wrestling with God about trusting God to care for him and found a peace in that relationship.

Real devotion – When one of our kids got hurt our leader dropped everything to give aid and comfort to that boy, forsaking his own need to eat to care for his wounds.

Real grace – When one of our kids’ luggage was lost in Miami for three days, not once did he complain. Not once did he remark about missing this or that, he just went on with the job at hand, and as an example of real compassion, the rest of our team banded together to make sure he had clothes to wear to the worksite, soap, shampoo, toothpaste to stay clean, blankets to use as bedding. We did our best to insure his hardship was minimized completely.

Real patience – even as the trip was winding down, with 100 tired kids and adults stretched to the end of their rope, even when nerves were wearing thin, not once did we have so much as an argument amongst ourselves. Not once were voices raised in anger. Not once were the lines of right and wrong behaviour so much as grazed, let alone overstepped.

When I went to Jamaica last time, I knew I was going down to help people who had a lot less than I did. What I didn’t realize was how these people had so much more than me in ways that really counted:

They taught me to place my worth not on what I own but on who I’ve touched in a positive way; about counting success not in how many things I scratch off my to do list but in who I’ve spent time with; That God is not found in my schedule, or my phone, or my stuff, but in the faces of every living thing He puts in front of me; That in order to receive God’s grace I must learn to hold everything else in my life lightly; That the most valuable thing I will do today (and every day) is to stop what I’m doing, no matter how important I think it to be, when God calls me through one of His creations to take a moment and share myself with that person.

One of my most poignant memories of this trip was an experience I had with our team’s mason (foreman) on the last day: WE had only known each other for six days. We had shared a little about our lives and gotten to know each other some, but not deeply, yet after we said our goodbyes, I went to get on the bus to go back to camp; Paul stood there and waited like a kid watching his best friend move away. He had concrete mixed and waiting for him to be applied to the wall – it was drying as he stood there, but watching me roll away was more important, meant more to him than doing the job that had to be done before he could go home. You see, in Jamaica they don’t own a bunch of stuff to distract them from what’s important – not the houses, not the water tanks, not the septic systems, not the concrete we poured, but the relationships we built.
Our work crew in front of Herman's new water tank.Our work crew in front of Herman’s new water tank.

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