Jamaica: Veritas: In Their Own Words–Spring Break 2017

Veritas 2017 Spring Break Team took a huge group of college students to Harmons, Jamaica where they served with Won By One.

Alex Gray, Veritas Staff, provides this guest post with student interviews and photos taken during their trip.

  • How did you see God at work during your week in Harmons, Jamaica?
  • How did God grow your faith through this experience?
  • What was one of your favorite parts about your time there?

ROSS EARLEY:
I definitely saw God at work throughout our week in Harmons, Jamaica. Aside from the awe-inspiring mountains and lush trees that cradled the valley, I observed Him expressing His creative power through the hospitality of our hosts at the Harmony House, through every single team member’s unique strength, as well as through the inspiring joy of the Jamaican people! Furthermore, I saw Him construct three brand-new houses for residents of the community using our helping hands in order to reaffirm confidence in His provisional presence in the lives of individuals both from Mizzou and from Harmons. Most specifically, however, I saw God work in the life of a woman named Gertrude Lawrence. Gertrude is an elderly woman with failing eyes at The Infirmary, who gave me the opportunity to pray Psalm 23 with her after calling me over during a rendition of “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” performed by our worship team. Before I left, she told me that she had been asking and waiting for God to send someone as proof that He hadn’t forgotten her in her illness and isolation. God used us as a team to remind Her that “though my mother and my father may forsake me, the Lord will always take me in.” Whatever side of heaven it is on, I am excited to see Gertrude again to see how she passed on God’s reminder to others in her life!

While the entire trip was a challenging but rewarding experience, God grew my faith most profoundly during the service project on Wednesday. I was asked to join group led by Big Man (A former Harmons atheist who now has more of the Bible memorized than anyone that I know. Seriously.) on a walking tour of Harmons so that we might encourage and be encouraged by the titans of faith in the day-to-day lives of our Jamaican friends as well as by the struggling members of their close-knit community. I was inspired by the vocationally diverse yet equally faithful examples we found in the village midwife, who was called by God in a vision to deliver children over 60 years ago and has yet to encounter any complications despite her lack of formal training, the village prayer warrior, a woman who implores God with a voice like an auctioneer for guidance in public affairs and blessing in private ones, and through Daphne, a grandmother who raised her ten children with next-to-no livelihood by prayer and sacrifice so that she might trade her adult life for the future of her babies… who now support her fully from the United States and have bought her a beautiful home overlooking the valley where she can serve as a leader in the church and tend to her pink flowers that blanket the front of the house! The stories we got to share with these women and the blessing of meeting champions of faith I might never have seen until heaven encouraged my trust in the Lord and His transformational plan playing out all over the world.

One of my favorite parts about our time in Harmons, Jamaica was the lack of cell phones. Our hosts at the Harmony House invited us to disconnect from our devices for the week in an effort to reconnect with each other and God’s gifts that we walk by every day with our heads down and brains saturated with information from social media or text messages. The removal of this relational obstruction (though we might not often care to see it that way) led to a shocking amount of surprisingly sincere conversations throughout the team which helped us form unbelievable unity, further appreciate God’s manifestation of Himself in the world around us, and meditate upon everything He was teaching us on the trip! I can’t recommend enough at least one day a week where phones are silenced to truly connect with others and God. ESPECIALLY stateside.

MEGAN STOBER:
The biggest way that I saw God work during my time at Harmon’s was in the people. Most people come into a trip like that thinking that we’re teaching people about Jesus for the first time. This couldn’t be farther from true for Harmons. People that we met at work sights, the infirmary, and in the community have amazingly inspiring faiths. From quoting scripture to their profound wisdom, I was blown away by their faith during severe poverty.

God grew my faith in many ways during our week in Jamaica. At the beginning of the trip I was incredibly nervous about feeling lonely during the trip. I prayed about this concern constantly during our trip down there. God answered my prayers almost immediately by surrounding me with phenomenal people that made me feel welcome and wanted there. I was reminded of how powerful God is and how well he provides for me and answers my most desperate prayers.

Another way God used this trip to grow my faith was through the infirmary. I had been on this trip before and knew that the infirmary is where I thrived. God used my passion for this place to show me some of the weaknesses in my faith. When I got there I spoke to a woman named Karen who was blind but otherwise unimpaired. The infirmary houses mostly people with severe mental and physical disabilities, so my immediate thoughts were about how sad it was that someone who is virtually unimpaired spent their days there. Eventually we began to talk about where she was from. I asked if she missed her hometown and she replied that she doesn’t miss her hometown because God has placed her in the infirmary to show God’s love to the other residents and therefore she loved that she got to live there. I was blown away by this woman’s wisdom. I am so quick to anger about the obstacles and hardships in my life. Before the trip I had just been diagnosed with lymphedema and had been questioning why God put this in my life. I then realized that God is using my circumstance to grow His kingdom in the same way He is using Karen’s. We continued to speak about her life and the other residents and she continued with her profound wisdom. She told me that when another resident, Isilda, was having a bad day she would tell her that one day we will all be restored in heaven. Karen would be able to see and Isilda would be able to use her nonfunctioning hand. I was again struck with how untrusting I had been with my health issues. I am so eager to look for earthly methods to cure my chronic illness. I had never put hope in the fact that one day I too would be restored. God used Karen to help me through this tough season in my life. A week after returning from the trip I had a doctor appointment to see if I was a candidate for a surgery that could improve my health problems. When I found out that I wasn’t a candidate, I was able to trust that this in God’s plan and that one day God, not a surgery or fancy medication, would restore me.

I had many favorite parts of my time in Jamaica. The infirmary is an experience that always brings me such joy, but another one of my favorite parts was meals on heals. This is a night that we get to go into the community of Harmons and eat a meal with a family in their homes. The family that I was with included a mother and her 3 rambunctious boys. When we got there her boys were bouncing off the ways (figuratively and literally). She later confided in us that handling her 3 crazy boys was extremely difficult and she sometimes had to resort to beating them to calm them down and get them to bed. The night started with the dinner but very quickly turned into a full on dance party. Us and the entire family were dancing around the living room until we were all sweating and exhausted. By the end of the night, all 3 boys were either asleep or in the process of falling asleep. We got to serve this family in a way that I wasn’t expecting. The mother got to have a night where she had fun with her kids and she didn’t have to worry about trying to get her 3 boys to bed. She got to have a well needed night of rest. Another one of my favorite parts of the trip was the time spent with the other people on the trip. I got to know so many people that I hadn’t even talked to before the trip. I got to come away from this trip with so many Christian friendships!
ZACH NICHOLS
I could see God’s work in the trip through the community.  The fact that around 62 college students (I think about 65 total for the trip) were willing to give up their time and efforts, especially a time that most college kids take to serve themselves on spring break, was incredible to see.  These 65 decided to serve others.  It started well before the trip too.  They took time to raise money and gather donations and met up with each other pre-trip.  The sense of community was incredible.  God was definitely building on already existing foundations of friendships and starting new ones.  I definitely feel as if I came back with 2 more brothers in Christ.  It was clear to see that God is constantly working in Jamaica, bringing that community closer as well.

This is a tricky question for now.  I’m not sure how much my faith grew on this trip. (Definitely not to say that it got worse).  I wasn’t one of the trip goers that would wake up in the morning and get into the Bible or let alone have a deep, intimate conversation regarding faith with someone in free times of the day.  But I would say it grew in witnessing God is capable of anything and everything.  Witnessing what God is doing physically and spiritually in Harmons has strengthened my faith in him.

My favorite part of the trip was honestly the first full work day where me and Andrew Phillips worked at “The Pit”.  It was one of the few days that I felt that I actually connected with one of the Jamaicans. His name was Mackey.  Slowly throughout the day he was opening up more and more.  That may have been due to the fact that he was stuck with the most talkative people on the trip, me and Andrew.  I also really liked the first few mornings we held worship.  Sometimes I just get a tingly feeling down my back and then all over whenever I (attempt to sing) worship with others.

KYLA DROZT
God doesn’t work more when we’re in Harmons, somehow we just take back and are placed in an environment where we can see him working differently, and we are less distracted from our daily diversions and idols. We travel to a community where people are stripped of so many of these things that we struggle with, and it completely changes their faith. People walk down the street praising God out loud, every single point in their life they find themselves being able to find God’s purpose in. I was nervous even after going last year about the trip just filling our own mission trip savior complexes, and went out of my way this year to ask the locals about how Won-By-One has worked in their lives.
It was amazing to hear how much Won-By-One has impacted their lives and the community. They view the organization as operating like a government for them. They brought up over and over and across multiple accounts how important it was to see how our culture worships God differently, but that it was not more important than them being able to show us their different aspects of their faith as well. It’s so cool seeing God’s glory through multiple lenses, and we have that exact effect on each other. I have seen people come back over the past two years with a huge spark in their faith, and that spark and those experiences help them minister to others in unique ways once they’re home.

God has expanded my perception of who he is over the past two years of going to Harmons. It’s so possible to be present with God while we’re here, but there’s something so unique and easy about seeing God work in different environments when you’re stripped from distractions and obligations we get wrapped up in here. I came on the trip last year as a brand new Christian, and this week worked wonders in shaping my faith. I began to see God as omnipresent, and out of the lens of just my own life and how he works in it. If you really step back for a second and reflect on the fact that the same God that has planned your life out and knows you and counted the hairs on your head did the exact same thing and had the exact same dedication to billions of other people, there is no way you cannot be amazed. I am constantly blown away by the power of our God, and I am so thankful for the Harmons trip for revealing these truths to me and shaping my faith in these ways.

My favorite part of the trip this year was visiting the infirmary. Last year, this day was my most life changing experience. It was impossible for me to even fathom denying the existence of God when I had spent the day with people who were suffering from extreme mental and emotional pain and often could not even talk or remember significant details of their own lives, but who could recite verses solely from memory. It was a reflective day and one that I’ve looked back on multiple times over the course of the year. The infirmary has a reputation for being a hard day because of the shock experienced from viewing struggles that are so different from your own.

This year, it was so far from what I had expected it to be. I went back the first morning with just returners, and we spent the entire day with a group of women who I talked to a lot last year sitting outside on the porch. When the other group came later in the day, I got caught and overwhelmed in this moment where the entire porch was filled with such a genuine and happy laughter. One group was dancing to Jamaican worship songs with some of the women while our group was singing songs and painting nails and passing around a harmonica between a couple of the women. I was sitting on the edge of all this so I could see all of it transpiring, and I was just in awe of how God chooses to work in us and work in these ladies. They have such different lives and challenges but are so grateful to God about where they are at, and are just as excited to worship the same God as us. It completely changed my “I feel sorry for them” perspective I had the year before.  JAKE JOHNSON
I saw a group of around sixty college students give up their spring break of partying on the beach or relaxing at home to go to a foreign country and help build houses for people. I saw people from two different countries having conversations about life and Jesus. I saw a handful of people (some of which were new Christians) grow tremendously in their faith. I saw joy in the faces of Jamaicans and Americans.

The area that I felt the most growth in has been trying to follow the example of Jesus and putting others before myself, even if it seems like that will bring me the least amount of joy. As a college student and young person, I’m not responsible for anyone else, so it is easy to be in a mindset of looking out for just myself. For an entire week, though, we spent our time putting others first. And because of the way that we spent our week, it was one of the most memorable and enjoyable weeks that I’ve ever experienced. To most people that seems counterproductive; that doing things for others is a great source of joy.

I think that one of my favorite things that we did while we were there was when we ate dinner with families in the community. We went as groups of four or five, got on a bus, and were dropped off at houses. It sounded super intimidating and I had the expectation of an awkward, conversation-lacking meal. What ended up happening was we had a delicious meal with a fun family in a house hidden in the hills. We talked about America, Jamaica, school, dancing (which turned into a dance move exhibition), and at the end of the meal, I found it hard to stop smiling.   MEGAN ELLIS
One of the purest times I felt God’s presence, was our worship in the mornings. Danny Gray on the guitar and Dan Ratigan on the drums- our little fellowship crying out to God. Through the days, we got to speak with the families we were building the houses for. They told us that they had prayed for this house for months, years even. We were a blessing and answer to their prayers. I’m not sure if anyone has ever told me that I was an answer to their prayers before… it was definitely an odd experience. But seeing a real-life miracle occur in their lives with the gift of the house was a heart-filling thing. On Tuesday, we were at the site of Miss Priscilla’s new house. Her daughter, Somoya, came home from school and we instantly became best friends. She was probably around 8 years old and was so excited for her new home. We jumped, laughed, and played and it was pure joy. After a while, Som (her nickname), told me she needed to talk to me about something and pulled me away from the group. We went and sat down by the road where she told me she had to tell me a story. I wondered what it could possibly be. Instantly jumping in the air and with the most excited voice, she went into the story of David and Goliath. She told it as if it was a NY Times bestseller, the most exciting adventure story, adding in her own details and reactions. She was so excited to share with me a story about how little David beat Goliath with God’s help. Hearing even the smallest child being so thrilled about God and his Almighty power was amazing, and something I hadn’t expected.

God also worked among our group of students. He built an unbreakable bond among us. I have never grown so close to anyone so quickly as I did that week. I love each and every student that I traveled to Jamaica with, and my faith grew immensely simply from their presences and love. I’m not sure I could’ve done it without them. You come home from a long day, physically and emotionally exhausted but filled with God. Although most of us probably would’ve gladly went straight to bed, we sat together over dinner discussing what we’d experienced through the day and how God was working through us. Talking through it helped SO much and hearing other’s experiences is something I will treasure, forever.

The people of Harmons live with an unspeakable, incomprehensible faith. Due to the trials they face daily, they know that there is no possible way for them to keep on without faith that God will carry them through. In America, we’re so surrounded by DIY’s on how to improve your life, we never have the chance to fully give everything over to our Father. We’re so set on fixing our lives up and then comparing them to the lives of our friends to see who’s “doing better” in life. When in fact, nothing material in this life matters in the end. Being surrounded by a people who depend solely on God to face each day was the most overwhelming experience. It hit me, in waves, how colorless and empty my faith was compared to theirs.

Throughout the week, I surrounded myself in fellowship, the Word, and prayer, desperately seeking that faith. Jesus came quickly and filled me wholly. He’d been there the whole time, but I just hadn’t allowed myself to give myself over to him. I think I didn’t know how. That’s one thing we’re not taught- how to give up control. We’re taught to always keep it together, work til the timer goes off, never give up. God asks us to let go of all of that and trust absolutely in him. That’s something I struggle the most with… Since Harmons, my faith has grown tremendously. I seek every day in an entirely new light, working to share God’s love through loving people. My anxiety levels have decreased and I am truly happy with where I am at in life, every day, surrendering all to Him.

The most impacting moment of my trip occurred at The Infirmary. Before we arrived, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I can be a rather emotional person when I see others in pain, so that part was a little daunting. When we walked in, we were greeted with smiles and hugs by some. I was very nervous and after initial greetings, I walked quickly to find someone to sit and talk with. I had my bible, but wasn’t sure what I was going to read to them, if they wanted me to read. I figured God would just take me wherever He wanted me to go. I sat with one of the first people I came upon. She couldn’t walk or speak, and I’m not sure if she really knew who I was. When I sat with her, she got very excited, grabbing my arms and hands and nodding her head. I spoke to her for a while, and then felt compelled to read my bible. The second I began reading, her whole body stilled. Her hand touched the page of my bible and she turned her head to hear exactly the words I was reading.

I read some verses I’d had highlighted from John, Psalms, and Ephesians. I read as many verses as I could find that I’d highlighted, but it didn’t seem to be enough. I decided to flip through my bible. I came across two verses that I hadn’t even known I’d had highlighted that shook me to my core. The first was Hebrews 13:1-2. “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The moment I read this, I had a feeling of certainty come over me, that I was in the presence of one of God’s angels. I held her hand tightly and could barely go on speaking. It’s not an easy feeling to explain, feeling as if you’re in the presence of an angel. It’s scary, and joyful, and humbling. I sat quietly for a few moments with my head bowed, and then felt compelled to continue reading. The next couple verses were from Isaiah 40:29-31. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” WOW. The second I began reading this, I instantly started to cry. I was overcome with the strongest feeling of the presence of God that I have ever felt in my life. I had a clear vision of this woman standing with God. She stood up and hugged him and they walked together. In that moment, God was sitting there with us, giving us both reassurance of the life and healing that will come after this life of pain has ended. I will never forget that feeling. It is something that I don’t think I will ever feel again until I see God face to face. I have never experienced something so true and real. I fervently prayed and prayed and prayed as tears continued streaming down my face. I know that I will see her again someday, walking and talking with Jesus.    CHRISTOPHER KURTZ
Relationally, I saw God doing tremendous work on the trip this year. I believe this was the biggest trip Mizzou had ever taken and the way God brought us together was awesome. There were a lot of people that already knew quite a few others going into the trip, on the other hand there were also people that knew maybe 1 or 2 others. When you take 64 people on a trip I’d think it would be really easy for people to stick with who they already know and feel comfortable with. However, this didn’t happen at all during the week. Something about serving with others brings you together in a way only God can do. It just blows my mind to see how God does this year after year. 64 people with completely different backgrounds and stories, having only met days ago, yet they can converse like they’ve known each other for years. It is so cool to me when you come together with that same common belief in Jesus how easy it is to grow relationally. When you grow like that with each other, vulnerability just seems to come along with it too. All fear of being judged and putting up a wall, to look like the best version of yourself at all times, just sort of fades away. These people had only met days prior and they were giving testimonies of their life stories to each other. It is not easy to pour out your life story to people. These weren’t the life stories we usually give others either. The ones with only the parts that make us look good included. They were really vulnerable stories about all of the screw ups our lives and what we’ve done with them. The testimonies people were giving were not easy things to share in privacy with others, let alone in a group setting. The relational growth that comes out of people coming together to serve the Lord is one of the coolest things you’ll ever experience–that’s how I saw God at work in Harmons.
My faith grew throughout the week in the vulnerability I was able to give others. I like to tell myself I don’t care what people think because I am only living for the approval of one person (Jesus), but a lot of times I catch myself subliminally leaving little details out of stories to make myself look better. When you don’t have to face the fear of being judged and looked upon differently it is easy to open up to others. God helped me in that throughout the week and I’ve been working on translating back to the U.S. is EVERY situation, not just with close Christian friends. When you put down the front it is easier for others to put down the front and I’ve been trying to keep that on my mind since I got home.

One of my favorite parts about my time there was seeing Jamaicans I had seen previously. It was my third time back, so I have formed friendships with quite a few of the locals. I love going back and being able to pick up where you left off with them and the ability keep getting closer year after year is really cool.   TAYLOR WASHAM
During our week in Harmons, God revealed himself to us in so many ways. He is amazing!! He used our leaders, Anna, Chris and James to lead us humbly and show us the way. He revealed himself to us through the hearts of the people in Jamaica and through our Veritas crew. I was able to go to the primary schools for a couple days where a small group of us taught music, PE, and the Gospel. The Lord gave us energy and love for those kids!! We were able to meet and pray with the teachers of the school, which was a humbling experience for me. God showed his amazing power to connect people from around the world! He is so good!!
God grew my faith as I really had to rely on Him to provide energy for me when I became tired, especially staying energized with those awesome 1st-6th grade kids at the school. I was reminded that when I am weak, He is strong. The week encouraged me as I was given a perspective of hope and the purpose of life. God filled my cup just as I think He filled the cup of everyone on the trip and in Jamaica. I am so thankful!
One of my favorite parts of the trip was being at the school and talking with the teachers there. I was able to teach one of the teachers about what a quarter note is in music because she humbly came to me and asked. I was moved by her ability to humble herself in front of her students as she shared something that she did not know, but she wanted to learn. As I study to become an elementary teacher myself, she reminded me of the kind of teacher I want to be. Someone who is a constant learner and lives in humility and shows her students that type of love and humility. It was a wonderful trip! God was and is and always will be amazing!!

KEEP SCROLLING…there are amazing photos ahead!!!

   

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