Rene’ continues her story about the experience she had with special needs children in Jamaica. If you haven’t read the first part, find it here. You’ll definitely need to read it! Thank you Rene’ for sharing your encouraging story with us. May it spur each of us on to reach out to others.
It’s amazing the love and appreciation children have for each other and for the people who care for them, especially at Blessed Assurance where I went on a mission trip this part spring. They took care of each other. They played and sang and worshiped together. It was an Acts 2 community. They were thankful for being part of a family inside the gated area of Blessed Assurance where they were protected, cared for, and loved.
The time spent with the children was a blessing, but it was also emotionally hard because of their severe mental and physical challenges. It was a great distraction that we also participated in work projects which included digging a drainage ditch on the side of the property which would keep the school from flooding during the approaching rainy season. We scraped and painted the outside of the staff house, as well as painted the trim on the gazebo where the children gathered during the day. We helped with landscaping, and moved lots of rocks to build a rock wall at the entrance of the camp. Jamaica is mountainous and there are a lot of rocks!
When working with the maintenance guys, each day they’d inevitably have to put down their tools at some point and start chasing one or two of the children who helped them.
There were two boys who loved to run away from the caregivers every chance they could, and the maintenance guys just laughed and chased them until they were caught. Then they returned them to the gazebo and to the stern reprimands of the women in charge of their care. As one of the men returned to where we were picking up rocks, he told me “those boys, they just love to run and be free and I try to play with them a little bit each day. They know I’m gonna catch ‘em!” When I looked over to the gazebo and saw at least 25 wheelchairs for those 35 children, I was reminded that running free was definitely a special gift for these two “runners.”
We enjoyed a variety of food including fresh mango, star apples, and bananas picked straight from the trees. They raised chickens at the orphanage which provided fresh eggs for breakfast and one very loud and proud rooster wandered around the orphanage. Meat was scarce and often I couldn’t identify the bones floating in the bowl of “chicken” so I ate mostly beans and rice, cooked cabbage, and fruit for lunch and dinner. On the day we arrived, our missionary host told us at dinner to “please take what you need, but eat what you take.” As the days went by and we fed the children their meals, I saw more and more of the food we did not eat mixed with the children’s food. I realized then that I didn’t need as much “daily bread” as I had once thought and was shown how wasteful I am with food and water.
Being on an island, they bought water and stored it in large barrels on the roof of a couple buildings. Our showers were “military showers” which meant we turned the water on and waited for the trickle to get us wet. We used shampoo and soap then turned the water on again and hoped that the trickle would be enough to rinse. Drinking the water and making sure the children had water was much more important than showers even after a long day digging trenches! When we were there the temperatures ranged in the high 80’s and it was hard to stay hydrated even though that was considered mild for the area. None of the buildings had air conditioning and only some of the windows had screens to keep out the mosquitos. Everyone moves slower in Jamaica because it is too hot to move fast!
I looked forward to the reflection time each night led by Chelsea, one of the Elon students. Chelsea did a great job highlighting scriptures related to serving others and asked questions about the day that helped us understand our fears, motives, and joy in serving. Each of us admitted how challenging it was to communicate with the children in the orphanage, but we also agreed that it was such a blessing to be there with them. We were sad at the limitations of the children, but thankful they had a place to call home. We appreciated the opportunity to volunteer and were spiritually enriched by the moments we worshiped beside the children and their caregivers. We sang “Jesus loves the little children” to the beat of a drum and with tears in our eyes.
Our lives slowed down. Without all the distractions of electronics we remembered how to be still, color, blow bubbles, sing and play. Posted on the chapel wall were two signs: “Thank You, Lord“ and “He is here!“ Each day I felt the presence of Jesus while at the orphanage and I know He is watching over these precious children.
I always want to remember in my every-day live by the words on those signs: to thank the Lord and know He is here. Always.
“Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:13-14
Mustard Seed Communities have five other homes scattered throughout Jamaica for children and young adults in dire need.
As we continue our Women on a Mission series, this week we’re going to be SO blessed reading our own, Rene’ Summers’ story about her trip this past spring to Jamaica to spend time with children in an orphanage who had severe physical and mental challenges. Her beautiful story brought tears to my eyes about the brokenness yet joy they experience daily in this orphanage. Thanks for sharing this with us Rene’!
Does your head spin from your busy life? Do you ever want to just slow down for a week and catch your breath? As an employee of Elon University, I had the opportunity to travel with Fr. Gerry Waterman and students with Catholic Campus Ministry on a spring break trip to Adelphi, Jamaica. I’m an adviser to a service organization on campus and have volunteered alongside of students for years. I’ve chaperoned several spiritual retreats with the Catholic students, but I had not had the opportunity to combine my two loves – faith and service. I was excited to finally be volunteering with a faith-based group of students!
We served for a week at Blessed Assurance, an appropriately named orphanage, for severely physically and mentally challenged children, 5-16 years of age. The mountainside orphanage, approximately 30 miles south of Montego Bay, was founded six years ago by Mustard Seed Communities, Inc. and is a sanctuary and refuge for thirty-five children, their caregivers and staff. Mustard Seed Communities has five other homes scattered throughout Jamaica for children and young adults in dire need. The area is extremely impoverished yet the children we served were well taken care of. There were no internet or phone service, no TV, no Facebook or Instagram – we were unplugged for seven days.
One of the first opportunities on our trip to interact with the children was to help feed those who were physically unable to feed themselves. To my amazement, it was the few children who could hold a spoon who showed us how to feed their friends while the caretakers were close by. I quickly saw the strong nurturing instincts the children had for each other as I watched them lovingly wipe the mouths of the younger children they were feeding. Most of the children were not able to communicate with words, but they clearly made themselves understood with grunts and nudges so that I understood their needs.
I loved watching one young lady, Moya, who helped care for the other children and had fed three children by the time I had fed one their lunch! She was deaf, mute and unable to walk, but it was beautiful watching her “mother” the other children. She was giving back to the community she was part of – she had a purpose and was serving others in a very practical way. It reminded me that serving others is often simple and quiet.
Then I met Tracy. One day a caretaker handed me a bowl of rice, beans and tiny bits of meat and asked me to feed this young woman, who couldn’t walk or speak and didn’t have control of her arms and hands, yet she had the most beautiful smile.
She was so grateful for my help even though I made more of a mess than some of the children who I watched feeding the toddlers. I quickly noticed that her legs were tied to the frame of the wheelchair and that she was doing her best to wiggle out of the restraints. My first thought was that it was cruel to tie her legs to the chair. I helped untangle one foot from the straps and her leg was free which she immediately pulled in toward her body. I asked the caretaker why she was restrained, and she explained that it was necessary for her muscle development to pull Tracy’s legs back down and straighten them during the day since she remained curled at night while sleeping. Tracy laughed as I fumbled with her feet. She giggled as I struggled to tie the restraints. Clearly she was having fun as I was learning how to help her. I no longer noticed the wheelchair or her twisted limbs. I saw her smile, heard her laughter and felt her joy while I rubbed her feet.
OK. I have to pause here to tell you I don’t like feet – they’re just not my thing. I don’t like to touch other people’s feet. That day I cried knowing that I couldn’t straighten or fix her twisted limbs and I cried because God had helped me see past her curled toes and deformed feet.
Tracy taught me to just enjoy the moment. To see her through the eyes of one serving in the name of Jesus was very powerful for me and I was thankful as a volunteer on a service trip to have the freedom to tell her “Jesus loves you.” When reading about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet I’d always thought I couldn’t do that. With God’s help rubbing Tracy’s feet was a blessing to both of us.
Because Blessed Assurance is a Catholic orphanage, mass is held each day. The caretakers led the children in scripture, songs and prayer. It was amazing that most of the children couldn’t speak, but you could see them swaying to the music and grunting in unison at the traditional responses. God was being honored and it was beautiful to be part of their worship.
Each Thursday is celebrated as “Thankful Thursday” and Fr. Gerry led the mass in the chapel for the children and staff. At the end of mass, many of the staff and volunteers offered words of thanksgiving to God for the children and for having a place like Blessed Assurance as their home. We learned that most of the children were abandoned by their parents, rescued by police and brought to Blessed Assurance, or delivered by their parents in desperation. Their severe physical and mental challenges made it too difficult and expensive to care for them in homes that were already impoverished. They still thanked God.
Do I intentionally make time to thank God for the abundant gifts I’m given?
Rene’s story will continue this Thursday, so make plans to come back and hear the rest of her story!
Mustard Seed Communities have five other homes scattered throughout Jamaica for children and young adults in dire need.
Come back this Thursday to hear the rest of my mission experience!
Here’s part 2 of Sarah’s story as she tells more about her sacred echo to reach other women. If you missed the first part, you’ll definitely want to read it here. Thanks again to Sarah for being an example of a young woman chasing her passion to serve Christ from her heart and hands.
Remember at my last post, I wrote how my mom, as well as myself, became very interested in selling these necklaces to help provide a source of income for these incredible women in this small town in Uganda. I wanted to be a part of it.
So we did. We began selling these necklaces and sending the money back to the women in Uganda. We became a small part of their amazing fellowship. We sold many necklaces and kept in touch with some of the people helping with the suubi organization. After a while, her name appeared again.
Renee Bach. The missionary in Uganda I mentioned earlier in my story whom I had written a letter to a year earlier. She helped make suubi beads. The very beads I helped to sell in the states. But, once again, I lost focus on the light of Jesus in the midst of my day to day life.
A year later, for the third time, Africa arose in my life. In 2010 we hosted three beautiful girls from Africa that were traveling for the Daraja choir. They stayed with us for a few days and we all became quick friends. To this day I wonder how Violet, Emma, and Hannah are doing.
And as I mentioned at the beginning, Katie came into my life as a figure of hope in my life. That I could be a missionary wherever I am. I don’t have to go to extreme measures to show God’s love. You can show His love wherever you are in life. God has put a hand on me. For the fourth time, Uganda and Renee’s name has popped up in my life. This time much louder, much more dynamic, and in a way that I will not ignore and has lead me to taking action. I am a believer of the “sacred echo.” God will make his plan clear to you and will repeat it as many times as it takes.
Through my family friend, Ashley Howington, I received this book called Kisses From Katie. My mom read it before me and encouraged me to read it while I was away on my New York City missions trip. Of course, I stayed busy and didn’t get a chance to read the book while I was away. However, yesterday I felt a great urge to pick up this book and see what God wanted me to see.
I was instantly amazed by Katie’s willingness to give up her material needs as well as her comfort, and go to Uganda. Where God wanted her. And I want the same for my life. I want to put all of my needs last to His whatever they may be. I want to live a life of service for Him. As I continued to read the book I fumbled across an amazingly familiar name. Renee Bach. Renee was my sacred echo from God. She is also a friend of Katie’s, and works with her in Uganda. Do you know how many missionaries there are in Uganda? Renee’s name keeps me focused on what I want to accomplish in God’s name. This is just how my God works; in amazing ways. And He will not be ignored.
As I sit here and read through my journal entry from July, I feel extremely proud. Not pride in myself, but instead I am overwhelmingly proud to call God mine. Over the course of my entire life, whether I realized it or not, He has been looking out for me and redeeming me constantly. To know that God is in my heart and that I have built a steadfast relationship on someone who I could depend upon entirely brings me unspeakable joy. It is this type of relationship with God that I pray every person will get to experience.
I have witnessed His blessings in peoples’ lives around me. I have experienced His blessings in my life and my family’s life. It is a beautiful thing that has been revealed to me whether it’s through the people around me, in nature, or directly through his words. This has amplified my faith and it grows; with every prayer, every new day, and every new blessing He puts into the world. My love for Him expands everyday. He echoes words of encouragement into my life. I never noticed them before, but now I do.
As I mentioned, these echoes of God’s plan are easy to overlook in the midst of this chaotic world. If you can only take away one thing from me writing this it would be to listen carefully for your echo. It will change your life forever.