March 12, 2008

the little island that changed my world...part 1

This picture is stuffed in my Bible along with a dozen other notes and photos that have great meaning to me. For some reason, this random photo is very striking for me. I will still look at it for 10 straight minutes and soak in every face and every emotion that goes along with this experience. I came across the other night as I was looking for something to blog about.

And now, I shall tell you the tale of the little Caribbean island that changed my world....

When I was 20 and a junior in college, I was enjoying life. I was loving my college experience. I was living in a dorm room with my 2 best friends. I had great classes. I was doing theater as my Christian service (CS was required by all students. 30 hours per semester. I chose to work backstage in the theater on all the musical productions. Those times became some of the best of my college life. I still miss it desperately.) I was growing in my walk with the Lord. I was learning to edit videos. I was soaking up every minute I could with 2 other friends who would leave after the first semester. I was eating at Marriott and loving being a Liberty student. I loved my independence and the person I was becoming.

I knew that there was something I was missing though. I knew that I was on the precipice of something, some experience that would help me grow in my "God and me" relationship. I knew I wanted God to expand in my life and I wanted to see Him in new ways. One of the things that I absolutely love about Liberty is that there are hundreds of ways for that to happen while you are there. There are so many different types of activities for a student to try and experience before they have to leave and become an "adult" in the working world. I wanted to take advantage of that and I knew that my junior year was the perfect opportunity.

I began to pray about what God wanted me to do. Work in a new ministry at the school? Change Christian services? Get involved in a local church ministry? Take a missions trip?

That year, I chose to take sign language as one of my electives. It was something I always wanted to learn and the class was a one-night-a-week-class that fit perfectly in my busy schedule. I really enjoyed learning this new language and was surprised how quickly I picked it up. I guess, being a visual learner, it was much easier to me than learning French in high school.
During my class, I was introduced to several people who had taken a missions trip the previous year. They worked with an organization called Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf, which is in Jamaica. One of them was this girl, who I really only by name and face only. Her parents helped run the ministry and she came all the way to LU for college. Their stories of their time with CCCD stuck with me for some reason.

Towards the end of the first semester, I really felt like the Lord was wanting me to go on a missions trip. This had been something I had ALWAYS wanted to do. We didn't do any missions trips in youth group when growing up and it was one experience that I really, really wanted to try. I began to pray about what country God wanted me to go to. LU has a entire department, LIGHT Ministries, that is devoted to short term missions trips for students. Each school year they offer about 10 different trips to countries all over the globe. I began to pray about which country God wanted me to go to. I was willing to go anywhere.

Over and over, I felt Him leading me to Jamaica. I resisted at first. Jamaica for a missions trip? More like Spring Break, baby! I must just be thinking about it because of my sign language class. But the more I prayed about it, the clearer it became. I signed up in the Light office and went to the first meeting that was held for anyone who was interested in going.

As soon as that meeting was over, I knew that this was what I was supposed to do for my spring break. I began writing support letters and mailing them out. I told my parents and my friends about the trip. When I headed home in December for my winter break, I got my passport. I told everyone at my home church about this new opportunity I was so excited about.

I never worried about the money. I knew God would take care of it. I had finally raised all my support and then I found out that the price had risen. This trip had interested more people than most trips and the organization agreed to let everyone come. That meant that they had to purchase more tickets. The new tickets had cost more, so the price went up. That was my first experience with God's provisional hand in the whole thing. I wasn't sure where this final amount would come from. I had heard back from all of the people that I had written to, so I was starting to worry that I would have to put the money up myself. (remember how poor you are in college? I was definitely in that money bracket. Poor.) I was talking to one of my roommates about it one night. I was telling her how I was starting to worry and really learning to trust God that He would supply. When she heard the whole story, she got out her check book and wrote out the amount for the exact amount I needed. Remember, we were POOR college students. But I remember she told me that she knew that God wanted her to do it and she was excited to help. I don't know that I've ever told her what a big blessing that was to me at that point in my life.

So, I had the money. I was ready to go. Our team had our last meeting and arranged our time to meet to take a bus to the nearest international airport. It was finally here. I packed up my suitcase, had my pillow as my carry-on and off to the bus I went. I just couldn't believe it was finally happening. And I couldn't believe I wasn't scared. I had one friend on the trip, but we weren't close. More like good acquaintances. Now, for those of you who know me now, I was much quieter and shy back then. Back then, the thought of being with 35 people I didn't know, in a place I had never been would have me quaking in my flip-flops. But the Lord had complete control over everything and I had total peace. (that and I had all my prayer warriors and supporters praying over me the whole time!)

Our bus ride was about 4 hours long through the middle of the night and we arrived at the airport before the airlines even opened for the morning. We camped out in the lobby of the airport, a pile of college kids with luggage, books, Bibles, pens, journals, pillows, sleeping bags and backpacks scattered across the floor. It was a sight to behold and it warmed my heart that we were all on this journey together.

The flight was fine and I will never forget flying into Montego Bay, Jamaica for the first time. The airstrip is tiny and RIGHT next to the ocean. It looked like we were going straight into the great blue deep. And the water? It looked like someone had melted down millions of brilliantly colored diamonds. It sparkled and shimmered in all its blue glory. We stepped out of the plane and into the warm sunshine and humidity (and I do love warm weather!). The whole walk into the airport (you walk down a set of stairs, out of the plane into the open air and then go into the airport gate) I had a huge smile plastered across my face and I was taking in everything I could get my eyes on. Jamaica is so striking because of it it's mountains. It's beautiful beach and then straight up into gorgeous, green, tree covered mountains.

We quickly went through customs and then climbed onto yet another "bus" (or the Caribbean version of a bus) for our 4 hours drive up through the mountains to the Deaf Village where we would be living for the next week. It was one of the longest car rides of my life. It seemed to take FOR-ever.

And the scenery on our way up....such beauty. The beaches, the palm trees...Then we left the tourist areas and I saw the real Jamaica. It wasn't happy people strolling the beach hand in hand. It was shacks with no running water. It was trash in huge piles everywhere I looked. It was stray dogs and goats and little kids with hardly any clothes on. It was more little shacks with no electricity and a water pump outside in the yard. It was people with blank stares and sad faces. Jamaica looked like some of those places in Africa that I had seen on commercials back at home. It broke my heart.

The sun began to set and I fell asleep till we finally reached the Deaf Village. It was dark outside, but the light from the buildings where we would be staying was so warm and inviting. We walked in to see the rest of our team (we had split into 2 groups to travel) who ran to give us hugs and offer us a cold Ting (the most gloriously tastey soda on the planet). We were also met by Scott, Clint and Cheryl, who would be our Jamaica hosts for the week.

Our little adventure in this whole new country had just begun.....

to be continued

1 comment:

Audrey said...

Ok, I can't wait for the rest of the story!!!! In May I will finish my degree in Interpreter Education! ASL Baby!!! I would love to go to a Deaf village for a mission trip. How neat for you.