Called to Jamaica

Submitted by Robin May, Guest Writer

In the early morning hours of June 20, 47 members of The Crossing – made up of teens, parents and leaders – embarked on a journey to Harmons, Jamaica. Our primary goal was to simply serve the Jamaicans, and our prayer was that we would do so selflessly and humbly. With this in mind, we left in the darkness. While we were there God, in His grace, showed us His light.

God revealed Himself to some of us in a new way as we built homes for three Jamaican families. Others saw God in the faces of the elderly, disabled, or diseased we ministered to at the infirmary. Still others were touched as we helped the people of Harmons shop in the store filled with clothes, shoes and donations we brought with us from Columbia, Mo.

As we served, we purposefully studied God’s Word together and reflected on our goal of serving humbly, in Jesus’ likeness. Together, we were able to accomplish amazing things for those we served, and in the process, we found that not only did we grow closer to God, but that we were deeply ministered to as well, in far more significant ways than we would have imagined.

Won By One To Jamaica

Our first morning in Harmons, we learned about the history of the non-profit organization that coordinated our stay and our mission work in Jamaica, called Won By One, and the legacy of its founder, Henry Shaffer.

Schaffer’s work began here in 1989, a year after Hurricane Gilbert devastated the island. Shaffer, a teacher and contractor, brought his three sons to Jamaica to help with relief efforts. One of the places he visited was the small, remote village of Harmons. With a desire to make a bigger impact on a small community, Shaffer decided God was calling him to continue serving in Harmons.

Shaffer returned every year. Eventually his trips became more and more frequent and the number of people coming with him grew larger and larger. With God’s provision, this grass roots effort evolved into a ministry that now builds 50 homes a year, bringing in 700 volunteers annually to serve. Loyd Jackson and his wife, Candy, joined Won By One in 2003, and now help groups like ours travel the winding dirt roads up the mountains of Jamaica to continue working to improve the lives of the people of the Harmons Valley.

Other than those associated with Won By One, Harmons is rarely visited by outsiders. It has a population of about 2,500 people, 80 percent of which are unemployed. Many of the homes in the village have no running water or electricity, and the average annual household income is less than $2,000.

Each person in our group paid a $1,400 fee to cover the expenses of our trip, including travel costs, meals, and the precious commodities of water and electricity we used during our week at Harmony House. Those funds are also used to purchase the materials for the homes we built that week and to pay the salaries of the Jamaicans who worked alongside us. This is one of the ways, Jackson explained, in which Won By One is helping Jamaicans by giving a hand up, providing jobs for those in the area, rather than a hand-out. Won By One is now the region’s largest employer.

After learning about the area and people, our group took a tour of Harmons, walking the footpaths that wind through the hills and getting an up-close feel for the way the people of the area live. After our first morning in this paradise, it was obvious that our opportunity to serve the people of Jamaica was significant. The poverty was evident everywhere I looked. The “homes” would be considered run-down shacks – at best – by American standards. Sickly looking goats, dogs, and chickens ran wild in the yards and streets. As I took in the sights, smells and sounds of Harmons, I couldn’t deny that the reality around me left a heavy, sinking feeling in my stomach.

Perhaps even more important than the physical needs of the people, however, is their spiritual need. With more churches per capita than anywhere else in the world, many Jamaicans regularly attend church. Yet their legalistic, work-based approach to religion often leaves them missing God’s gift of grace.

Won by One’s motto is “changing lives by changing lives.” It wasn’t even noon on our first day in the country and I was already beginning to see that there were many, many lives here in the Harmons Valley that could use changing. What I had yet to realize was that God, in His great wisdom, had just brought 47 lives to the Caribbean that He planned to change right alongside the Jamaicans’.

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