For the second time, I went with a group from my church to one of my favorite places in the world: Mandeville, Jamaica. This year, I’ve begun working with the church’s youth group as a youth leader and when they needed chaperones, I signed up. I definitely wanted to be a part of the trip.
You see, when I went to Jamaica the first time, in 2004, it was with a group of “young adults” (they called us) that I’d grown up in the youth group with. We had a great week – grew closer as a group and met some amazing people while we were there. We formed friendships that have continued to grow. Like last year, when a group from our sister church – Andrews United – came to Kentucky to visit. We reconnected with the friends we’d made before, and made a few new ones.
The friendships weren’t all that made me want to go on the trip though. I wanted to be there for the youth. I remember the effect the trip had on me the first time. I was touched by the connections I made with some of the kids over there – during the church’s VBS and when we visited an orphanage, Mt. Olivet Boys’ Home. At the end of the week that first time, as we all sat around reflecting on the week and saying things we had seen in each other, learned about each other, we all started to cry. It was an experience we didn’t want to end. This year, working with a group of young people, I wanted them to have the same experience. I wanted them to learn about each other, grow in their friendships and fellowship and see what we’d seen the first time.
So on July 6, we boarded a plane for what we didn’t know would be the best week of pretty much all of our lives. I had forgotten how beautiful a country Jamaica is. When we landed everything was greens and blues. The ocean was clear blue and there were trees everywhere you could see. During the week we worked with the kids at Vacation Bible School. I got my hair “braided” – which was more like twisting and pulling, but it was 3- to 6-year-olds, what do you expect? I got a lot of hugs, hand-holding and so many people wanted to touch my hair.
We visited Mt. Olivet Boys’ Home again. As I helped a 7-year-old boy named Ricardo decorate a doorknob hanger with all kinds of different stickers, I wondered how it could even be possible for a parent to give up a child, to not love a child, especially these children, so polite, so cute, so full of love and happiness, though they didn’t have many of the things we in America do and take for granted. Ricardo just wanted me to go swing with him, which I unfortunately couldn’t do. But as we got ready to leave, he came and sat with me for a few minutes. He sat on my lap and played with the bracelet I was wearing, one our Jamaican friends had given me with my name on it. He asked if he could have it. I had another bracelet on, one I’d gotten during our last youth trip, in January to a youth conference in Disney World. It represents one.org and the One campaign. I took it off my wrist and gave it to my new friend. Then I gave him a hug and we left. I know I’ll probably never see him again, but I hope he knows that he’s in my heart forever. The next day, when we reflected on the trip to the boys’ home during our devotional, I couldn’t help but cry. I can’t understand why someone would give up a child…but also, I thanked God that these boys had a place to live, where they are cared for and get water, and food, and shelter and love.
We visited a Seniors Home. We led worship. We played games – soccer, Little Sally Walker, Look Up Look Down. We sang and danced together. We became a family.
The youth at Andrews welcomed us with open arms. Everyone was a friend. Our group and their group grew in friendship and fellowship and faith throughout the week together and we all formed bonds that will last a long, long time. And on the last night, just as it had happened the last night of the 2004 trip, as we all sat together and reflected on the week, everyone (except the boys) began to cry. No one wanted to leave. We’d had the best experience of our lives and couldn’t imagine going home and being without this place, these people every day.
I saw these youth learn more about each other, about themselves, about their relationship with God. One of our girls suggested a group prayer and moment of silence after we saw a young boy who’d been in a wreck. Another suggested – in our last moments as a group before we got back to our families, just off the plane – that we hold hands in a circle and pray, that we thank God for the trip and for safe travels. It was an amazing week and one that can’t be replicated. I just hope that what everyone got from the trip has stuck with them and will continue to for years to come.
Jamaica has a phrase that I always come back to – “No problem.” I say it a lot, usually instead of “You’re welcome.” But now, it means something different to me. You see, before the Jamaica trip, my car broke down. It got fixed for free though. Then, the night before I left, my computer crashed. I can still save all my photos and anything saved on the hard drive. At the time, I was so upset, so mad, so victimized: “Why does this always happen to me?”
I’m not a pessimist, but I’ve tended to look at the bad more than the good. I focus on the problem and not the solution. I see this bad thing that’s happened and don’t see any positive coming out of it. But that’s changed. I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, but since I’ve been back from my two-week vacation/time off, I’ve made some changes to how I perceive things. I think more positively now. Something goes wrong, oh well. Could be worse. Or – how can I fix that? Little stupid things I used to worry and stress about are no more.
Everything happens for a reason.
God won’t give me anything I can’t handle and it all makes sense now. There’s no need to get stressed and worried about the little things. Or sometimes the big things. Yeah, my car was messed up, but instead of having to pay $3,000 for a new fuel pump, I got it for free because it was a recall. Yeah, my computer’s fried. But I can save all that’s on it, and I still have my work laptop I can use at home.
Someone said to me once something like, “positive things happen to you if you think positively.” I actually think I’ve mentioned it in a previous post. But it’s so true. I’ve seen some changes since I’ve started thinking more happy thoughts. And why not think positively? You’ll be miserable if you don’t.
I’ve said for a while I want to be happy. I haven’t been really, truly happy in a while and now I’m convinced it’s because of how I was thinking and reacting to things. Of course I’m gonna be sad if I feel like everything sucks. But it doesn’t. I’m a pretty lucky girl and I’m thankful every day for what I have and why I have it. Sure there are some things I wish were better, but everyone feels that way about something sometime. But its when you don’t let that control you that you can really be happy.
Also, a week of relaxation to clear your mind followed by a great, rewarding, fun (and a million other wonderfully descriptive words) trip to a beautiful country spent with some awesome people can’t hurt either. 🙂