By Katie Lancaster
Jamaica was a hazy humid blue sky, a dusty road, and the sometimes smoldering scent of burning garbage. Jamaica was constant sweating and the prohibited yearning to pet the many dogs and cats that culturally live a different, less pampered, more functional vocation (barking threats, protecting the household, and defending the human realm from mice and other tasty rodents). Jamaica was a deep genuine welcome from local pastors, churches and schools, and a daily supply of tropical fruit and jerk chicken. Jamaica was dignity and wholeness and an encounter with God.
Jamaica was a Short Term Mission. Last week’s 84 person IMPACT trip to Kingston owes its heritage to the Short Term Mission phenomenon that has been around since the post-war era and has grown from a barely noticeable activity to a grassroots movement of over 2 million people per year seeking to serve God and God’s people in some of the most impoverished, struggling communities around the country and world. One study shows that 29 percent of American teenagers participate in at least one Short Term Mission during high school. Participating in such a trip is a rite of passage into a new way of thinking, not just about God but about the world. Our youth (and adults) were invited to see economic inequality, cultural difference, racial dynamics, gender discrimination, globalization and social injustice, and were asked to wonder, “How might God be calling me into action?”
And God was calling. Teams worked building houses and cinder block fences. One fence, at Greater Portmore High School, was being built to keep out food vendors who were sneaking onto school property, not just to sell snacks, but also to sell drugs, sometimes directly though the windows of classrooms. What was most unique this year? Working with Praying Pelican Missions, a ministry committed to cross-cultural community building and local leadership. Each Kenilworth Union team was accompanied by a Jamaican leader who helped interpret cultural differences and translate the hard-to-understand fast-paced Patois spoken by Jamaicans. With tight partnerships developed by Praying Pelican with local Jamaicans, our student teams were trusted with the opportunity to teach and lead discussions in schools: conversations about shame and forgiveness and character-building with younger students, and with older students, conversations about drugs, alcohol and addiction, sex and sexual behavior, prostitution and rape. Our students were asked to be leaders, and they stepped up. And all week, our 14 adult and 10 college leaders modeled the vulnerability and honesty needed to help our high school students take up the mantel of leadership.
How is God calling now? Each participant has their own answer to that question. It was an incredible voyage. I know you prayed for us. Thank you. Now, prayerfully ask for our stories: thousands of stories from 84 different people, experiencing Jamaica, experiencing God, experiencing catalytic transformation.