Monday, March 1, 2010

Finding Harmony in Harmons, Jamaica

Written by Kiara Goodwin

Until three weeks ago I didn’t understand when people would say that an experience couldn’t be fully explained. The sentiment makes sense to me after my mission trip to Jamaica. I can tell stories about the remarkable Jamaicans I befriended and the work that our group accomplished in a week. I will never be able to completely articulate the impact those seven days had on my life, and the ways in which I am forever changed. Nonetheless, I will continue to tell my story the best that I can.

I graduated from Bentonville High School and now attend the University of Missouri-Columbia, where I am currently a sophomore. Each year a group of students in different sororities and fraternities at MU travel to Harmons, Jamaica on a mission trip. When I first heard about this opportunity, there was no question in my mind that this was something that God wanted me to be a part of. I have discovered over this last year that it is hard at times to be a Christian in college, especially being in a sorority. When I heard that a group of Greek students who also have a desire to live for God and spread His Word were going on a mission trip, I knew I had to be involved. This year there were 40 of us who ventured to the Caribbean the week before classes resumed in January. This trip was much different than anything I’ve done. I’d heard stories from the people who had gone before, but I didn’t fully know what to expect. Jamaica means sunny beaches, clear waters, and luxury resorts to most Americans. That’s no longer what Jamaica means to me. Jamaica means poverty and brokenness; but it also means hope, love and faith.

The organization we were partnered with is called Won By One to Jamaica. In the town of Harmons they have built a Christian community center called the Harmony House. Won By One has groups like ours from schools and churches all over the United States come to Jamaica for a week at a time. A lot of the money that we raised for the trip went straight to the Jamaicans. It covered medical bills for those who can’t afford them, school fees for children who can’t pay for their own education, the wages of the Jamaicans who work for the Harmony House, and so much more. In the months leading up to our trip every person collected 100 pounds of clothing, school supplies, medical supplies, and other necessities in two suitcases to leave with the Jamaican people in Harmons. At the Harmony House there is a store where the women can pay a small fee and fill two Wal-Mart bags with these necessities for their families. This is the only shopping that some women can afford until their name comes up on the waiting list 18 months later. It was humbling to realize that what seemed like a small price for me to pay made such a difference to the Jamaicans.

Every day we split up into smaller groups and went to different worksites in Harmons. Throughout the week we helped build two houses, laid the foundation for two more to be built, and moved rocks and gravel to prepare another two foundations to be laid. These modest homes are the size of a college dorm room and don’t have running water or electricity. Usually between two and five people share this small space and are just happy to have a roof over their head. We also dug a pit for an outhouse, patched roofs, helped out in the elementary schools, worked in the Harmony House store, and so much more. I enjoyed working side-by-side with the men and women who are employed by the Harmony House. I loved hearing their stories and getting to know them and their families throughout the week. For having as little as they do, they are the most giving and selfless people I’ve ever met. The sense of community and love that they have for one another in Harmons is remarkable. It’s definitely something that I think Americans should try to imitate. Another one of my favorite things was spending time with the children. The kids were fascinated by the Americans and loved to come and play games with us. They are extremely friendly, fun, and bright. Each little smile touched my heart and is something that I will never forget.

One day we stopped our work after lunch to go to a place called the Infirmary. The worst conditions in an American nursing home are nice compared to the circumstances here. The Infirmary is a poorhouse where the physically and mentally ill are sent when they can’t pay for care or they don’t have any family to care for them. One of the people who had gone before described the patients as being ‘a step away from heaven.’ The conditions were the worst that I have ever seen. Some people crawled on the floor in adult diapers, unable to communicate. Others talked to themselves while rocking back and forth. I won’t forget the terrible things that I witnessed that day. But I also won’t forget the woman who smiled when I rubbed lotion on her hands; or the one who asked me to read Psalm 50 to her because it was her favorite; or the one who couldn’t say a word to me that I understood, but was calmed by holding my hand while I read the Bible to her. They are in this dreadful place, yet they are at peace with God and enjoy these little things. It was amazing, yet it didn’t make sense. That day and those women will be with me for as long as I live.

Won By One’s motto is “Changing Lives By Changing Lives.” They say that they see a change in the lives of Jamaicans because God’s grace and unconditional love is something that isn’t taught in their culture, but is shared with them when groups come. They see a change in the lives of Americans who serve because their eyes are opened to the reality of poverty and that lasting hope can only be found in Christ. I completely agree. My life has been changed in more ways than I can describe. I thank God everyday for allowing me to experience Him in such a way, and pray that I will be blessed enough to go to Jamaica again next January.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2: 8-10

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