After traveling to Jamaica, I witnessed firsthand what it means to be deeply thankful. Our youth group flew to Jamaica to join a group of local church members in hosting a Vacation Bible School for the children in the area and to bring much needed supplies to this church in a poor area of the country. We were excited to help.
As we prepared for the trip, we didn’t pack our bags full of clothes and personal items. Instead we limited our own belongings so we’d have more room for crayons and construction paper and writing paper and paints and scissors and glue and glitter and smocks and balloons and candy and other fun surprises.
Poverty In The Middle of Paradise
As we landed in Jamaica we climbed onto a bus and began to make our way to the small church. As we drove I took in the beauty of this island country. The surrounding waters were crystal clear. The landscape was lush and green. I could understand why this was a premier vacation spot. I could also see that we were driving into one of the poorest areas of the country. The roads were unpaved. The houses, if you can call them houses, were badly deteriorating. The streets were filled with trash and waste. In some places the smell was overwhelming. The adults were selling their items at the market places along the road. They even approached our bus in hopes of a sale or two. The children playing in the streets were dirty with bare feet, which is one of the ways they contract diseases. I could not help but feel compassion for these beautiful people.
As we arrived at the church we were greeted with big smiles, generous hugs, and a beautiful Jamaican accent. What a delightful little building they had built for their place of worship. There was a large room in the middle which was used as the sanctuary. There were two side rooms that ran the length of the sanctuary, but were not as wide. These side rooms were used as classrooms for the children.
As we were getting ready for the next day, all the children from the area began to gather at the church. They asked, “What are you doing?” They touched our hair and our skin. They looked curiously at our supplies. We invited them to come back tomorrow to see just what we were doing.
It was precious to hear several of the children say,
“Do you mean I can come?”
“Yes, you can come play with us all week.”
“Can my sister come, too?”
“Yes, she can come, too.”
“Can my brother and my friends come tomorrow?”
“Yes, everyone can come tomorrow. We want all of you to come.”
“We will. Thank you!!”
The next morning as we drove up to the church, many children were already there. We thought we were early, but they all beat us there. We began unloading the vans and the children immediately wanted to help. They wanted to carry a bag and hold my hand as we walked into the building. I quickly learned that they loved touch.
They Broke Their Crayons
The side rooms filled quickly. In fact, the rooms were so full that we were pushed all the way to the back wall with barely enough room for us and our supplies. I didn’t mind at all.
The children there were so well behaved, but the church still insisted that we have church members in the classrooms with us as we taught the lessons. I didn’t understand why until we brought out the crayons. When the children saw the crayons, they stood up and pushed in even closer for a better chance to hold one of those coveted colors. I watched as some of the children broke the crayons in half so they could share with another child. I stood there amazed.
The whole week was so incredible and it went by way too fast. We saw people’s lives changed including ours and we developed friendships with so many. During our stay we had a chance to visit some of the most beautiful places in Jamaica, like the Dunns River Falls and the breathtaking rainforest. Even with all the incredible beauty of this country my most vivid memories are of the precious people of Jamaica who demonstrated so much thankfulness even when they had so little.
I learned a lot about my own thankfulness that week. It has become a thankfulness that runs deeper than any day on the calendar. It’s wider now than just where I live. It’s what I learned from the amazing people of Jamaica and the people here who love and care about me that makes me the most thankful. I’m blessed to be on this Earth with such strong and brave and resilient people.