2012-03-23 / Community

Reflections on a Jamaican mission trip

By Craig H. Skelton

Nearly 30 members of the South Portland Church of Nazarene visit Jamaica last month for a mission trip. (Courtesy photo) Nearly 30 members of the South Portland Church of Nazarene visit Jamaica last month for a mission trip. (Courtesy photo) Our mission work took place in Frome, (pronounced froom) Jamaica from Feb. 18 until Feb. 27. You can visit www.missionofsight.org/ to learn more about the Dr. Paul Gamertsfelder Mission Centre, where we worked, and the adjoining guesthouse where we stayed. Our hosts were Pastor Lionel Brown and his wife from the Burnt Savannah Church of the Nazarene.

In preparation for the trip, our group of 28, that included 12 members from the South Portland Church of Nazarene youth group, raised more than $40,000 to cover travel expenses and the cost of materials we would be using on the construction site when we arrived.

Dr. Gamertsfelder had been visiting this area of Jamaica since the early 1970s to administer eye care to the local population. Over time, his dream of building a medical facility and combined child care center has gone from the planning stage to soon becoming a reality. The Gamertsfelder Mission Centre grand opening is scheduled for May 26.

William “Bill” Downs, left, and group leader Timothy Owen. (Courtesy photo) William “Bill” Downs, left, and group leader Timothy Owen. (Courtesy photo) After waiting in countless lines at airports, we arrived in Montego Bay, Jamaica and were immediately met by a blast of air much warmer than we encountered when leaving our homes in Maine merely hours before. We finally loaded the group and about 75 bags total onto two buses before leaving the airport. I was sitting one row back from the front, and driving away from the terminal was such an odd experience as Jamaica is a former British Colony and driving is on the left side of the road.

The bus ride would have been about half an hour to our destination, however, Jamaica time is influenced by really bad roads, which extends travel time by a factor of three, making our trip an hour and a half to the Mission House. Our driver, Geevus, who’s real name was Gregory, answered an endless number of questions from travelers, including many questions my daughter, Neeka, had to help her complete a school project. At one point, we stopped by a roadside stand to purchase some fruit. The stand was little more than scraps of wood lashed together from which bananas hung. I had not known the conversion rate from U.S. to Jamaican money so it came as sort of a surprise that something costing us perhaps a few dollars, cost several hundred Jamaican dollars.

Many of the members of our mission team worked on projects that involved cinder blocks or concrete. Bill Downs, Wanda Prunty and I were assigned to work with a carpenter to install doors, trim and hardware. Esra was the name of the local worker who directed us on where to work and what to do. God made us in all different shapes and sizes and as it would turn out, Bill, who is very tall, seemed to be getting a lot of the short guy jobs while Wanda or I happened to be in position when reaching high was necessary.

You have to have an appreciation for the basics. Construction techniques such as mixing concrete involve using a wheelbarrel to move each ingredient to a spot on the ground where bags of cement were broken open. Then it was all mixed, with no set amount of water, before being shoveled back into wheelbarrels to be moved to where the mixture was needed. Carpentry tasks appear to be completed with a sparse amount of tools. Our carpenter showed up on a bike with a backpack in which he brought a circular saw, drill and hand tools such as chisels, screwdrivers, a tape measure, level and hammer. Framing up a door for a bathroom stall involved filling in a space with drywall and using his circular saw to cut it. He was not aware of the common practice of scoring drywall with a utility knife and snapping it along the cut. The usual power tools, compressors, generators and machines, found at most local construction sites in the U.S., were not evident in Frome, Jamaica.

One local worker in particular took quite an interest in several young women in our group and I was told that by Tuesday there had been three marriage proposals, yet no takers.

Poverty was evident around us. However, I don’t think we truly grasped the true extent. We did encounter local workers who had gone without meals, yet were working through the day to collect a wage so they could buy food at the end of the day. There were other instances where we encountered children that came to the Vacation Bible School we conducted with empty stomachs. One little girl told us on a Saturday that there hadn’t been any food in the house and her mother didn’t get paid until Monday night, which would be when they got their next meal.

The one day off from our work was spent in Negril, where we enjoyed most of the day at the beach and then went to see the sunset at a place where locals and tourists could dive off a cliff into the beautiful blue water. One local diver entertained us by doing hand stands on, and then pull ups from underneath a dive platform that hung over the cliff about 75 feet above the water.

It was harvest season in Burnt Savannah and because they burn the sugar cane before harvesting it, we saw a lot of ash raining down upon us. One day, however, it began to really rain and each raindrop contained a bit of ash, which left black streaks on our shirts.

The people we encountered were lovely and the gospel music was incredible. Theirs is a much simpler way of life and we found ourselves enriched by not having distractions such as computer games, voicemail, e-mail and Twitter or Facebook.

One important thing I took away from my experience is that we have nothing to be unhappy about. I would like to thank all those who helped us along the way through their kind words, donation of supplies, money and countless other actions for which we may not be aware that made it possible for the Jamaica mission trip.

The 28 members of the 2012 Jamaica Mission Team were: Pastor Timothy Owen, and his children Hope, Hayden and Hailee, Linda Babbitt, John Gogswell, Hannah Crothers, Cathy Crothers, Bill Downs, Katie Downs, Travis Elliot, Shayla Farley, Kristina Lore, Rita Lore, Chandra Lowe, Cheryl Parker, Krisitn Porter, Wanda Prunty, Dan Rudolph, Bernie Rudolph, Kasey Samples, Craig, Marcy and Neeka Skelton, Jim, Beth, Ryan and Brianna Stark.

Craig Skelton lives in South Portland with his wife and daughter and was a guest columnist to the South Portland Historical Society for “A Window On The Past” from 2006 to 2010.

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