Christmas Break Mission Trip 2003-2004

Montego Bay - Jamaica

A Journal by Bryan Lynch

(Click on any picture for an enlargement.)

When I first heard that the 2003-2004 University of Evansville mission trip would be to Jamaica, for some reason I felt led to go. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it was Jamaica, maybe I needed a change and wanted to "get away" for a while, or maybe I had some regrets about not going on last year's mission trip. I'm not sure. I am sure, however, that something or someone was tugging at my heart telling me, GO! So I went. And I'm very grateful that I did. I will never forget the wonderful people I met in Jamaica. The mission team was very small: four students, (AJ, Mary, Sara and Adrienne), myself, and Carla, the Chapel Administrative Assistant. The Chaplain of the University had left in late spring for a position at a small college in upstate New York, so Carla agreed to take charge of the trip. As it turned out, Carla is a woman who "takes no crap" and she was an excellent leader, always making sure the group had as many of the conveniences of home as she could get for us. As you will see, even then there weren't that many conveniences to be had in Jamaica!

It takes a lot of flying to get from Evansville to Jamaica. We left Evansville for Chicago, where we boarded a flight to Miami, and then finally got on a large, and mostly empty flight to Montego Bay (known as MoBay by the Jamaicans). We arrived soon after dark, and were greeted by a man strumming a guitar and a group of colorfully clothed women welcoming us to Jamaica with songs. That was fun. Customs was not fun. We were bringing along a couple of suitcases filled with craft supplies, such as glue, pencils, crayons and paper, as well as some small toys that you would get with a kid's meal at McDonalds or any other fast food place. The customs agent valued these at $2000 (huh?) and charged us a US $19.00 duty. Rather than complain, we paid the duty and were on our way, expedited now by Dalton, a member of the Jamaican Constabulatory Force and a member of the Mount Ward United Methodist Church, which would be our home for the next 9 days. Our hosts, Rev. Earl Harrison and Rev. Everald Galbraith, drove us out of MoBay (on the wrong side of the road!) and up the mountains on a long, narrow, winding two-lane road. We were headed for the interior and the Mount Ward church in the parish of Hanover and the "town" of Ramble (southwest of Anchovy, for those of you with a map). In retrospect I am glad this first drive to Ramble was after dark, because I would have been terrified at the steep cliffs we maneuvered at incredible speeds. Seems everyone in Jamaica is a NASCAR wannabe and certainly tail-gating is an art form.

Established in 1895, the Mount Ward United Methodist Church is built of stone and sits on a gently sloping hill. Behind it is the parsonage where we spent our first night with Earl, his wife June, and children Jason, Wendy (in their 20's), and Andrew, 15. That evening June treated us to a meal of papaya, fried plantains, rice and beans, a chicken dish that tasted a lot like tandoori, a cole slaw, white yams, dumplings and a treat made from brown sugar and fresh ginger. Very good!

The Mount Ward United Methodist Church Earl and June

Although we were all very tired, at 10:00 PM we walked down to the church for Night Watch, a New Year's Eve church service. There was lots of singing and a short message, and then the party began. A large, and I mean large, bonfire was built for cooking hot dogs. No one could get close enough to the fire to actually cook a hot dog, and later the police came and told us to put it out. At midnight the children rang the church bell and we all walked about hugging one another, shaking hands and singing "Happy New Year To You." Then we enjoyed the food the women had brought: more chicken, some cake, buttered bread (very dense and tasty, more like a cake than bread), yam pie, and a candy made from coconut, ginger and brown sugar that actually tasted more like pork to me. No seconds on that, thank you. Finally at 1:30 AM I went to bed. I had been up for about 23 hours and had traveled who knows how many miles to get to a strange country to live with some lovely people. I slept like a log at the Harrison's house.

Up at 8:30 AM on New Year's Day to begin a day of work! The sun was shining through the open window, and it was very HOT. We're not in Evansville anymore. No time for showers or shaving, but we did have a breakfast of scrambled eggs, hot dogs (yes, for breakfast!), oranges picked that morning from the Harrison's trees, papaya and blueberry muffins. June soon found out I like coffee, so every morning I had coffee and milk, which I greatly appreciated, especially this morning.

Walking out of the parsonage that first morning was like walking into a paradise. There were beautiful plants and flowers everywhere, including two gardens, the largest about 25 feet wide and 75 feet long, and most of it under netting. It was filled with all kinds of flowers, many I had never seen before. The other, much smaller garden, was filled with orchids. Next to it was a pen of guinea pigs, whose sole purpose I was told is to supply "fertilizer" for the plants. Needless to say, the Mount Ward church is never in need of flowers for a Sunday service.

The Parsonage

We went right to work on cleaning and painting the Mount Ward #6 United Methodist elementary school, which is only a stone's throw from the parsonage. Although the school isn't that large, I was told it serves about 240 children from 1st to 6th grade. The school is for the most part just a series of classrooms, each with concrete floors. There are louvered windows (no glass or screens) covered with security bars, and students sit at wooden desks built for two. Frankly there aren't a lot of amenities at this school, but there is a small kitchen for making lunches for the students. We began work on the inside, wiping dirt from walls and the pitched ceiling and I soon found out that what I thought was dirt on the ceiling wasn't dirt at all. It was mold. No wonder we were using anti-fungal oil based paint. The inside walls were painted aquamarine and grey, and the ceiling was painted white. I breathed so many volatile organic compounds that day that I woke up the next morning tasting them. We were helped by two professional Jamaican painters, Delroy and Gapa. They were pretty fast painters, but unfortunately they had few tools. No ladders or scaffolding other than what they had put together years ago out of old wood and rusty nails. I had to climb the rickety scaffolding to work on the ceiling, and I kept reminding myself to get a tetanus shot as soon as I get back to Indiana. Later that morning a guy named Cru showed up with a bunch of coconuts. With his machete he cut off a portion of a coconut to produce a small hole, and gave it to me to drink. It was delicious. I was at the top of a scaffolding, near a steel roof in hot weather, and some refreshing coconut juice was just what I needed. Cool! I wonder how many "regular" tourists to Jamaica are given such a treat? Just about all the men I met in Jamaica were interested in me finding them wives so they could travel to America. Our country remains the "land of milk and honey" for so many people.

Carla, AJ, Adrienne Delroy at the ceiling

We broke for lunch around 1:30 PM. The Harrison's eat lunch late, and it is the main meal of the day. We had spare ribs, chicken, rice and beans, gravy, fried plantains, white yams and dumplings. It was wonderful! June is a fantastic cook!

Graciously we ran out of paint and finished work at 4:00 PM. We were all very tired, and some of us were covered with paint. Adrienne especially. She accidentally stepped into a bucket of paint and ended up with a beautiful aquamarine foot and matching shoe. It made for an interesting tan line.

That evening we decided to move out of the Harrison's small house and into a smaller cottage between the church and the parsonage. The cottage had been built by the church to house incoming workers (like us!) helping out at the grade school. We were anxious to move into the cottage so we could have some privacy for devotions as well as stay up until all hours of the night talking or playing cards. There were some draw backs to this decision. The Harrison's have hot water, at least in the morning when they turn it on. At the cottage the sinks and shower only have one faucet knob - cold! And it seems the local water officials turn off the water every once in a while, without notice, and no one knows when it will be restored. The Harrison's have a back up system where a pump restores water to the house from a holding tank filled with rain water. There is no such system at the cottage. And lastly, the restrooms at the church were being renovated, so church goers were allowed to use the facilities in the cottage. This meant that we would have to essentially move out of the cottage on Sunday, since no one in Jamaica leaves their house unlocked while they are away. But one thing everyone learns on a mission trip is to be flexible! So we were flexible.

The Cottage

That evening I had my first cold shower at the cottage. You know, a bar of soap lasts a lot longer in a cold shower! This information was about the only good thing I gained from a cold shower, other than cleanliness. And later that evening we spotted our first mouse. Just a youngster, very small with darling eyes, and obviously part of a family whose members we would meet later in the week. And there were lizards everywhere. These are actually good things to have since they eat bugs. Adrienne especially was terrified. That night she pushed her cot away from the wall (so no lizards would jump on her) and wrapped herself in what soon became know as "the cocoon" to ward off any other creepy crawlies. Needless to say, the mice and lizards never really bothered us.

Painting of the school's interior, exterior and roof continued until Saturday. The ceiling was especially difficult to paint, so a friend of Gapa and Delroy's decided to use a spray gun rather than a brush and that certainly made the work easier. But by the end of the day this black man had a totally white face. I mean, totally! Even his hair. He proceeded to clean himself with paint thinner! His liver must have taken a beating that day! But the next day he came better prepared with a plastic bag with holes cut out for his eyes and mouth. With this over his head and a bandana over the mouth-hole, he managed to finish the remaining ceiling. Now he only had to clean the small amount of white paint about his eyes when he finished. Unbelievable. By Saturday we had just about completed everything except the soffit. Monday the students return from Christmas vacation, and I imagine Delroy and Gapa will finish the exterior while school is in session.

Saturday after lunch a tour bus came and took us downtown for a visit to the market. Beverly, the church's choir director, agreed to join us and keep us away from any extra zealous salesmen in MoBay. Later that evening we had devotions and prayed that water would be restored to our cottage. While working on the church bathrooms, someone had broken the water line to the cottage, and we were dry as a bone!

Sunday we woke to water, praise God! I shaved and showered in cold water to get ready for church, and on Beverly's urging I joined the Mount Ward choir. They don't seem to have much sheet music, and Beverly had copied the words to the morning's anthem so I would be able to participate. The service began with lots of chorus singing, most of which I didn't know, and Earl showed up about 15 minutes late. He had to preach earlier that morning in Cambridge and he was running behind schedule. We went through the covenant liturgy typical of a Methodist service on New Year's Day Sunday where the emphasis is on rededication and covenant. The sermon was "What is in your hand?" and centered on how we can serve God in 2004, by using what God has given each of us. It was a wonderful sermon and service! God gave Moses a staff and everything he did after that was with the staff (in his hand). So, what has God given us - what is in our hands? I guess all of us from Indiana could say "right now a paint brush is in our hands!" But I think the more important question is what will we do in 2004 with our gifts after returning to Indiana? The warmth and friendliness of these people continues to astound me. Everyone in the choir made me feel at home, and during the "meet and greet" time a woman read from a large book of record, talking about what was going on in the life of the church, who was ill, who was well, and so forth. The church felt like one large family. During the service, one very thankful woman stood up and began singing her favorite song! All four verses of it! After the service June had prepared a big meal for us at the parsonage. Some of my new favorite foods were served: potato salad, cole slaw, chicken, rice, beans, and more. I felt like I was home! The Harrison's are such hospitable people!

Monday morning we were invited to have devotions at the church with the students attending the Mount Ward school and then meet them in their newly painted school. This was a real treat. The students were excited to see us, and all of them wanted their picture taken, especially with a digital camera so they could instantly see themselves on "film." To thank us for helping out with their school, the kids got each of us a pin of the national bird (Dr. Bird, a humming bird with a long tail) and a mug covered with information about Jamaica. Pastor Harrison told me unemployment in Jamaica is about 20% mainly due to lack of education, so school for these children is so important. I could see the promise of Jamaica in the faces of these children, but if they don't secure a good education they will most likely end up in the tourist industry. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but catering to tourists doesn't demand the full potential of these people. They deserve more.

The Students at Mount Ward Elementary School

For the rest of the work day we painted the doors of the downtown Methodist church and conference center in MoBay. This wasn't hard, as this church was very clean and the doors easily accessible. Frankly I felt more useful working at the Mount Ward school. In the late afternoon we took off to the interior again to provide a VBS program at the Lethe School, another Methodist grade school. I saw a lot of poverty on the way to this school, and I felt like I was traveling into the jungle. The school was surrounded by banana trees. About 40 kids showed up; they were polite and quiet, and it took a while before they realized they could ask questions and just have fun with us. We taught them songs and broke up into craft groups, and soon there was glue and glitter everywhere. My group made puppets out of paper bags and other "stuff." I encouraged them to make a fruit (of the Spirit) by making my puppet a banana. It was a fun but exhausting time, and it was hard to say goodbye at the end of the day. The children found that after pressing one of their fingers onto our tanned skin, our skin color would lighten and then darken again. This was something they had never seen before, and they just couldn't get enough of it; and they wouldn't stop touching us! Finally we forced them to leave since most had to walk home on narrow roads and it was getting dark. Obviously word got out that we were at Lethe, because about 70 students came to VBS the next day! It was even more of a zoo, so to speak, but just tons of fun; I couldn't imagine myself being anywhere else!

Lethe School Lethe Students

Tuesday was our "day off" for sight seeing, and we took off for Ocho Rios, a tourist town east of MoBay. On the way to Ocho Rios we passed by Henry Bellefonte's childhood hometown, and our driver broke out into song, singing "Day-O" - he was pretty good. We climbed the 900 foot high Dunns River Falls at Ocho Rios and spent a little bit of time at the beach, which really wasn't all that nice. Later that night we had our final dinner with the Harrison's back at their house, and lots of pictures were taken for our scrapbooks. The next evening we would stay in MoBay and sleep with Everald Galbraith and his family. They are only 5 minutes from the airport, and since we have to be there early, this arrangement will be much easier for all involved. It was hard leaving the Harrison's; I have met few families that are so welcoming and hospitable, and June's cooking is wonderful! And of course, I would much rather stay in the country with its cool breezes. But after painting again at the downtown church and VBS at Lethe, we moved into the Galbraith's for our final evening. Everald took us into the city for dinner, and we chose to eat at "The Pelican" restaurant, across the road from Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. I got my fill of Jamaican fresh fruits, and AJ tried the national dishes of ackee and saltfish. I don't think he'll ever try ackee again! Back at the Galbraith's it was difficult getting to sleep; everyone wanted to stay up talking. I finally got to bed near midnight, since we had to get up at 5 AM for our early flight.

Our last night with the Harrison's

Our flights home were pretty much routine. Jamaica to Miami, through customs as fast as we could to catch the flight to Chicago and then finally to Evansville. We spent a lot of time in the Chicago airport playing cards and eating food we hadn't touched in some time, like donuts! Ah, America! We finally touched down in Evansville at 5 PM. A pile of dirty clothes sits in my room, but there is an enormous bank of memories in my heart! I can only thank God for letting me meet the Harrison's and the wonderful children of Jamaica. It was a privilege to be a part of this trip and to share in His great work.