A little over three years ago, I learned about a Deaf school in Jamaica through a friend who visited during a missions trip with her church. My dad is deaf and the Deaf culture has always had a place in my heart. When I heard about the school, I knew I wanted to learn more about it.
Both traveling and serving had been on my heart for awhile, I had just graduated college, Michael was getting close to graduating, and I knew that although we weren't engaged yet, our future together was going to start sooner than later. I knew God was putting this school on my heart for a reason and I contacted the school to find out what they needed. I was praying all along about going and helping out and it turns out that they needed some help with teaching. After contacting the school several times and working out the details, two friends who also wanted to go and I spent a couple of months trying to raise funds and plan out our trip. God really was in those details. We threw a concert at our church and raised a huge percentage of the funds we needed. It still wasn't enough, but slowly the last little bit trickled in as people were convicted to give.
We were set to leave the day after New Years Day. A few weeks before, Michael had proposed, and it was even harder to leave, knowing that we had such beautiful plans ahead of us. But I knew that for whatever reason, God had opened these doors for Jamaica and I followed. Our original plan was to stay for one month. Michael, my mom, my sister, & my friends' sister were all there to see us off. Walking onto that plane was the first time it hit me that I would actually not see anyone again, or my home country, for a whole month.
|Left: The three of us with the school's headmaster | Right: The students standing for prayer during devotions|
Once we got to Jamaica, the school's headmaster picked us up from the airport and took us up the mountain to the school. There were so many things that were different...the traffic, the smells, the landscape, the people, the cultural norms, the driving style, the houses, the stores. We arrived, met the precious students, and were shown to our rooms. The school is a boarding school, so students live there whenever school is in session. There were two twin beds in a guest room right next to an entire room of bunk beds for the female students. I remember us deciding we'd take turns sharing a twin bed than be split up.
We were out of our comfort zones as soon as we stepped foot out of the airport, but it was such an opportunity to trust God. The real kind of trust, the kind where you realized that He really was the only one in control at the moment, because we were so clearly out of control of our surroundings and circumstances in a new country.
We fell in love with the students. Many of them had heart-breaking stories. We met with teachers, learned their stories one by one, and spent our days working with the students during their school day. After school, we spent time playing with the kids and helping the older ones work on their spelling for an upcoming Deaf spelling bee. We had so much fun meeting every one of them, learning their names and name signs, trying to talk with twenty of them at once, and listening to their silly stories and learning the games they had made up. At night after bath time and getting into their pjs, the students would gather in a main room and watch cartoons for the evening before bed. Those couple of hours we spent with them were probably my favorite. All the kids in one room, playing games and laughing at Looney Tunes was so much fun to be a part of.
|A couple of the milder roads and neighborhoods we traveled through.|
It wasn't an easy trip and we encountered several struggles along the way. After a few days, the school began having trouble with their water supply. We went with the headmaster to petition the city water company, but they weren't helpful and dismissed us. The house down the road from the school with old pipes was getting plenty of water, but the school was getting zero water, even though they had just paid for new water pipes from the city. I was mad. I wanted justice. I wanted to bang on the lady's desk and demand to talk to a superior, but I was quickly humbled as I was reminded that it didn't work that way there. I couldn't just pull out my "wanna-be lawyer-talk" and ramble on about how they could be held responsible for the malnourishment of the children! The school ended up having to pay for a huge water truck to bring water up the mountain and fill up their tanks. We had limited showers because we were trying to save as much for drinking and cooking as we could.
One of my friends and I ended up getting sick, I lost my voice from coughing, I had a bacterial infection, and of all the times to get my period, I got it then. Think minimal showers and you get the picture. I remember laying in bed at night and just praying through tears and coughing, asking God what He was trying to do with us, and what it was that He wanted to teach us. We loved the students and our time with them, but ended up having to cut our visit short at two weeks because we weren't getting any better. It was one of the hardest decisions to make, but we knew it was for the best.
There were so many things about the trip that I wish I could write about. It would take me days. There were so many amazing experiences, and lessons learned, and perspectives gleaned. There are things even now that I'm learning by looking back on that trip and seeing what God was doing in our lives. I'm really torn on how I feel about short term missions, but I do know that the trip served a purpose. I struggled with the purpose of it for awhile...why we were called there, why we got sick, why there is poverty, why there is heart-break.
I'm thankful for the trip, grateful for the joy, regardless of the struggles. We were able to leave the rest of our money for the last two weeks with the school and they shared with us that the money was a huge blessing. They were able to buy food for weeks with the money and take care of some of the school's needs. We were able to be home and get medical attention. We were able to learn about each other as friends, learn about ourselves as followers of Christ, and learn about the ways God can use what He calls you to do.