Piece of the Puzzle

Piece of the Puzzle

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I left my heart in Jamaica

I've often heard people talking about having an experience that is THE defining moment in their life. For me, I feel as though it has been this mission trip. I don't possess the words to adequately express what it did for & to me, but I know it's life changing. The work God began on that island is going to change the course of my whole life. My hubby keeps teasing me saying that my Grinch heart grew into a Who heart! LOL! Whatever happened, a part of my heart is still in JA!! And its attached to an awesome 10 yr old boy! Adopting "our son" from the City of Refuge is just the beginning of this new & amazing journey that God has me on. I can't wait to experience it!!

Leaving Jamaica - Nov. 12 - 13, 2010

I woke up before my alarm on Friday morning. As much as I was feeling like I was going to miss the home, I really wanted to get back to my own home & family. We had quite a powerful prayer time after breakfast. The group prayed for me - asking for God's guidance & provision in regards to "my little boy." Even thinking about that now causes tears to well up in my eyes. We had the most amazing, compassionate, & thoughtful people on our mission team. I know that there has been a bond created between us for a lifetime.

We loaded up at 9:30 to head back down the mountain. The trip down in the daylight was actually WAY better than the trip up in the dark. I was actually able to hold a conversation rather than just sit on the bus white-knuckled & fear-struck the entire time. We spent the day shopping & touring & eating in Kingston before our flight home. We spent time at Port Royal and the fort there, then went to an indoor flee market for a few souvenirs. I introduced the team to Beef Patties & CoCo Bread (YUM!). Dinner was likened to the Last Supper. With 19 of us sitting around a long oak rectangular table in a small restaurant on a banana plantation. As dinner wound down, the conversation subsided - everyone taking inventory of the past week and reflecting on the time that we had together, knowing that we would soon be back in America, back to our own individual realities.

We boarded Air Jamaica at 8:00 pm for the long journey home. Of course the trip home was filled with a serious of "unfortunate (comedic) events", but we had come to expect the unexpected and had learned to lean on each other through those challenging times. At 1:45 pm the following day I was back in Sacramento, back in the arms of my hubby & on my way to see my girls.

After a LONG, LONG (non-military) and very HOT shower, I sat down with me family to share stories, pictures and video about the trip. The last picture on my camera included the boy I felt God had spoken to me about adopting. As a family, we just sat looking at that picture talking about the possibility of our home and our hearts expanding to include one more child. While the girls excitedly chatted about all the things they would do with their new brother, Fil and I exchanged looks over the tops of their heads, knowing that we are in for another one of God's awesome journeys.

The best gift of all - Thursday, November 11, 2010

Today was the best day in the classroom or maybe I was just more sensitive & sentimental. I tried to create a permanent imprint on my brain of every smile, every hug and every silly saying today. I can't believe how connected I've become to all the children is such a short time. It's hard to believe I've only been in the classroom for 4 days.

I spent all morning with the thought of adoption circling around in my head. I just couldn't shake it, so I figured the best thing was to just find out if any of the children were eligible for adoption. If none of them were, then I hoped it would quiet the voice that had been nagging me since yesterday. I know that if we were even to pursue considering it, the child would have to be a boy younger than Jelly Bean. I first asked the "Mr. Steve" who was leading our team in the absence of the COR missionaries. He told me he thought a couple of the kids might be eligible and said he would check with the missionaries. He also suggested that I talk with two of the house mothers, so I did. She thought that there were some children that were complete "orphans" and eligible for adoption - they were all boys under 12. WOW, all boys and all younger than my youngest. I couldn't believe how all my "stipulations" were lining up with the children who could be adopted.

At dinner I was sharing with one of our team members that I was feeling led to pursue adopting one of the children. We began talking about the expenses of an international adoption, which of course I have not been planning for!  He then offered to help with funds if Fil & I were actually able to adopt one of the children.  I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't control the tears which began to stream down my face. It's feeling like God is putting all the pieces into place for this to happen.

This was certainly not what I had planned when I left home almost a week ago. I left home with the thought of bringing gifts and service to the City of Refuge and I'm beginning to feel like I'm going to be given the best gift ever.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Constructing the City - Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010

Breakfast was early today, because the cement has been delivered to start pouring on the roof of the 2nd story of a new building. Since we had a while before school started, me & another one of the "classroom" helpers decided to go down to the construction site to see what we could help with. We got to try our hands at bending rebar (sp?) to be placed on the roof before the cement pour.

Working construction

The roof to be cemented

There were about 25 or so Jamaican day laborers on the mountain today to help with the job. They seemed to vary in age from late teens to 40 something. Some had boots and gloves, some just wore their regular sneakers. No one wore construction hats & there were no code inspectors or CALOSHA requirements to adhere to, no union to ensure adequate breaks.

 With limited tools & no advanced machinery, it was incredible what they were able to accomplish. The structural supports in the building were made of bamboo stalks that the men cut down with machetes. The ramp to the 2nd floor was made of a few pieces of plywood, bamboo stalks and a couple of 2 X 4's.
Running cement up the ramp

There were no cement trucks to speak of. The cement was mixed on the ground, dumped into wheelbarrows & run up the ramp to the second floor.  It was back-breaking work that went on for about 10 hours that day.
Mixing cement

Our crew on the roof

After school, I went to help the other ladies unpack the clothing and toy donations in the store room. This is where I got to meet the house mother over the boy's home, Ms. Sherine. She's been here since the City of Refuge started and truly has a love for the boys she lives with, as well as the entire place. Her husband works around the property and they have a 4 year old daughter. I felt an immediate connection with her and she and I chatted for hours while we worked.

After dinner, there was Wednesday night bible study with the older children and staff. Ms. Sherine's husband, Everton led the singing tonight (he also led on Sunday morning, as well). At the end of the message, it was prayer time. 3 of the older students, latched on to me so we could pray together. Their requests were so honest and simple - prayer for their families & to do better in school.

My Wednesday night prayer team

We learned about sponsorship today. Each of the children need about $150/month in sponsorship support to provide for their daily needs & to establish a savings account to help them transition from the home when they finish school. All three of the children who prayed for me tonight still need sponsorship. The directors ask for $25/month from the sponsors, so each child needs 6 unless each sponsor contributes more than the minimum.  I know that I can't leave here without at least sponsoring one, if not all three who prayed with me tonight. I'm also feeling a draw to find out about which of the children is eligible for adoption. Fil and I have talked about it for a while, maybe this is to be the time.  WHOOO! That's heavy duty stuff.

Falling in Love - Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I am falling in love with this place! The kinder students cheered when I walked into the classroom this morning. I got to teach the bible story lesson and the writing lesson today. I also was able to help scaffold some lessons for the group that I'm working with. The biggest challenge today was keeping the kids out of my lap and in their seats while they were working!

My favorite time of the day is the school "break time" from 10:00 - 10:30. It's equivalent to our recess and snack time. As I sit on one of the 100+ steps, I get various "visitors" to my lap and under my arm.
Break Time!

The children have all kinds of questions about my family, living in America, how long I'm staying, and whether or not I have bubble gum! I'm offered snack by a dozen little dusty hands. The big girls share their goodies with the younger ones. The little boys try to out do the other boys in relay and chase games. As I look out over the mountaintops in the backdrop, I offer a silent prayer for the future of these children.

Playing Jacks during break
When kindergarten lets out, I head back down to one of the children's homes and ask the house mom if there is something that I can help with.  I spend the next hour ironing school uniforms for the woman who works in the laundry room.  When the older children are finished, I help Akiem with his social studies homework and then go down to the construction site to check out what the men are doing.

Ms. Baugh, our resident cook, is in the kitchen when I get back upstairs, so I wash up and help her prep for dinner. She reminds me of my mother-in-law, just a sweet & kind hearted soul. She and her husband both work for the City - he runs the construction crews. My second favorite time of the day is meal time! Good home cooked Jamaican food - yum!!

Posing with Ms. Baugh

I finally got to Skype my family tonight.  YAY! I am really missing them in the evenings. It was good to see their faces and hear their voices.  Trying to fill them in on everything that's been happening over the past few days is hard. It's especially hard to describe the feeling of being here, of interacting with the children, of getting to know the staff, of feeling somehow now permanently tied to this little city atop the mountain.  Tomorrow breakfast is at 6 am, so off to bed I go.
The City atop the mountains

Back in the classroom - Monday, Nov. 8, 2010

I woke up thinking about FRESH clothes!! After my "military shower" (wet, turn off water to soap, rinse), I got to change out of the clothes that I had been wearing for over 48 hours. As a side note, the City doesn't have a regular water system as we are accustomed to.  They have a collection system which is dependent upon rainfall. Because there is a need to bathe over 60 kids a day and launder clothes and bedding for all of them, we have to be extremely frugal with the water.

The cottage where we slept

I spent most of the day working in the kindergarten classroom. The teacher, Ms. Pinnock, has just been teaching at the school since September. Her class is comprised of students aged 5 - 8 yrs old. In America, the older students would be in a special education program, but they don't have one here. So, the teacher is essentially teaching a general education kinder class & a special needs class at the same time. There are two other classrooms on site. A 1st - 3rd grade class and a 4th - 6h grade class. The older students (7th - 12th) attend school down in Kingston.  Because of my background in special education, I worked with the small group of students in Ms. Pinnock's class who were academically delayed. The class was especially challenging, not just because of the wide array of needs, but also because there were a lot of behaviors. The children are from environments where they have experienced severe neglect and abuse. The teachers here are amazing! They not only have to try and provide an appropriate educational environment, but they also have to try and work with all the emotional issues that the children bring with them.

The kinder classroom

School was out for the kindergarten students at 1 pm, so I went down to the green house to see my little Kemar again! There is something about this little guy that just pulls on me. Maybe it's his little hands wrapped around my neck the entire time that I'm holding him. :0)

I spent the rest of the afternoon with the other ladies on the team separating all the school supplies that we brought. We also organized the director's office for her so that we could get all the supplies labeled and put away. Earlier in the day, when I was in the classroom, Matthew walked over to me and asked me if I had a rubber! I about fell out of my chair until I realized he was referring to an eraser. I made a point to get a few out of the supplies we brought to take to the teacher the next day.

The "women" of the Harvest mission team!

The men had spent the day working at the construction site. By the time dinner was over, everyone was exhausted. I had hoped to Skype my family, but the internet is still down from the Storm last week. So I guess I'll head to bed, too

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Meeting the children of Refuge - Sunday, Nov.7, 2010

I got up at 6 am Sunday morning (3 am California time & my body felt like it!) to be ready for breakfast at 7. I certainly didn’t need a whole hour because with no luggage it didn’t take long to just put back on the same clothes that I had been wearing since Friday afternoon (eeeewww).  But I had plenty of time before breakfast to just take in the surroundings. We were literally atop the mountain – 3500 ft elevation. Kingston could be seen miles and miles and miles below. Seeing the road that we had traveled to get here, made me appreciate having come up in the dark!  It was a very narrow dirt road that wound it’s way up the mountain side. There were no retaining walls to speak of and the drop off was very steep.
The winding mountain road

But the mountains were just beautiful, full of lush green trees. All around the property are bamboo, banana, palm, and papaya trees.  Our cottage sat on one of the highest points on the hill, with the school, the children’s homes, and the construction site further down the hill. I was told there were 132 steps from our landing to the bottom of the property. I foresee a major quad & glute workout heading my way.
The view of the MP from down the hill

Breakfast was held in a large multipurpose room near our sleeping quarters. The same room served as the sanctuary, so after breakfast we moved the tables out the way and set the tables up for church.  And church we had!! There was no praise team, drums, piano, guitar or horns, but the voices of the children singing praise songs was the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard. I don’t think I’ve ever seen children so young with such a heart for worship.  It was amazing! After the formal service, we had a chance to interact and meet the children and their “house moms.”  The children who came to service looked to be from about 5 yrs to 17 yrs and every shade of brown you can imagine. My heart was so full, I thought it was going to burst. All too quickly, it was time for the children to head back to their homes for lunch, but we were promised “play time” with them at 3pm.  We were also promised our luggage which was found that morning!

I couldn’t wait until 3 o’clock to hang out with the kiddos!  I almost ran down the hill at exactly 2:59 to maximize the time I could spend with them.  The children are split between 3 different houses. The younger girls live in the “blue house” which is closest to the multipurpose/dining room. Next to that is the green house where the older girls and the toddlers live. Further down the hill is the yellow house where the older boys live. Each house has a kitchen, several bedrooms filled with bunk beds, a main living/play area and a large bathroom. The homes are all supervised by “house mothers/parents” who care for all the children.  During the afternoon playtime, most of the kids hung out at the green house because it has a small outdoor patio area.  One of the house moms brought out balloons and the kids just went wild with excitement. It was amazing how something so simple could cause so much pleasure.  The children played with the balloons with unabated joy for the entire 2 hours. As I watched them play, I reflected upon the contrast with children at home in the states. I don’t think our children would be so content with something so “common” – no batteries, no electronics, no bells & whistles – just a plain inflated balloon.

While on the patio, my heart was stolen by little Kemar.  When I first saw him, I thought he was 9 months old. When the house mom told me he was about 2, I couldn’t believe it. His legs and arms were about as thick as my thumb, his 12 month old clothes were too big for him. When I picked him up, he wrapped his arms around me and snuggled into my neck like I was a familiar comforter. My heart melted and I wondered what had caused him to end up at the City of Refuge. What circumstances had caused him to be tiny - it had to be more than just a possible premature birth. I wondered what each of the 65 children had encountered at such a young age to be placed in this home. When 5 o’clock came and the children retired to their homes for baths and dinner, I didn’t want to leave. I knew then that Friday was going to be a hard day for me.

We had night service with the older children at 7 pm.  It was a more informal gathering. We all sat in a large circle in the MP room. Each of us had a chance to share a prayer request with the group. Most of the children wanted prayer for their family and for the needs of the City of Refuge. After we went around the circle, we had individual prayer time. However, it turned out to not be “individualized.”  Two girls immediately grabbed each of my hands and asked if they could pray with, and for, me. To be prayed for by a 10 and 12 year old is an awesome experience. These girls were just amazing little prayer warriors.  We then all came back together for one more group prayer before we ended for the night.

Before going to bed, I spent some time sitting on the veranda off the MP room looking down on the lights that were sparkling in the city of Kingston. Being so high up in the mountains, it did truly feel as though I was that much closer to God. I wasn't sure what I would experience over the next week, but I did know that I was in for a life-changing week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

City Upon A Hill - November 6, 2010

The team finally headed out of the Jamaica airport around 5:30 pm. We were met by “Steven T” an older, white man from Atlanta who is coordinating our visit with his wife, Diane.  Our driver was a Jamaican man named Paul who has a van & works as a “driver for hire.” As we pulled out of the airport, it felt very strange to be driving on the “wrong” side of the road. I didn't realize that Jamaicas drove on the right-hand side of the road. It felt very strange. We were all starving so Steven T said we could stop in Kingston to get some food. YEAH, not 10 minutes out of the airport & we were heading to get some Yardie food – or so I thought.  Of all places, we pulled up to Kentucky Fried Chicken for our first meal on Jamaican soil.

I knew the City of Refuge was in the mountains outside of Kingston, but I didn’t know it sat atop a mountain outside of Kingston. The drive up to the children’s home was one of the scariest 40 minutes of my life. We were on a narrow, one lane dirt road that had signs of flooding from the recent storm that served two lanes of traffic. Our “experienced” driver took the turns through the mountain as though there was not 6 inches separating us from the cliff’s edge and a one-way ticket to meet our maker. Oncoming traffic seemed to play this crazy game of “chicken” to see who would pull over first. Combine this with the fact that oncoming traffic was on the “wrong” side of the road and I’m sure you can understand why I was silently crying out to Jesus for the duration.

Just when I thought I was going to be ill, Diane points out a series of lights just ahead in the distance & tells us that we’re looking at the City of Refuge – the city upon a hill.  We pull up to the property which was once a hotel/resort about 60 years ago. The entire property covers over 26 acres of lush, green, beautiful mountainside. There was no doubt that God had his hand all over this place.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The first 24

The first 24 hours of the trip have been quite a tumultuous turn of events.  There have been so many highs and lows that my head is completely spinning. My family drove me to the airport around 5pm to see me off. We were pleasantly surprised at the check in to find out that we didn’t have to pay for our luggage (WHOOO HOOOO!) and the airline was going to check our bags all the way to Jamaica. What a blessing. But just as quickly the mood changed, as I looked over to see tears streaming down both of my girls’ faces.  Despite feeling confident that this is what God had called me to do, I knew this was going to be one of the hardest departures of my life.  My resolve crumbled as my oldest looked at me through tear-filled eyes and said, “please don’t leave me, mommy.” And just as quickly, I wasn’t so sure that I should make the trip. Thankfully, Fil was there to save us all from our emotional selves. He reminded all of us of the purpose of the trip and told the girls that I was going away for a short time to help other little girls who didn’t have a mommy.  We all tried to stop our chins from quivering and put on a brave face as we parted ways.

Momma Graham
By 6:00 pm, all 11 members of our team were gathered at the departure gate. There I was with 10 relative strangers getting ready to travel across the country on what was surely going to be a life changing adventure. Little did I know at the time that the travel itself would be it’s own adventure. We boarded the plane & I silently thanked the Lord when I realized that I had an aisle seat where I got stretch my recovering foot AND no one was sitting in the middle!  That silent happy dance was cut short when the captain announced that there was a mechanical issue with the plane and we would be departing 15 minutes late. Fifteen minutes became 60 minutes and when we arrived in Phoenix we had missed our connecting flight to NYC.  So, off we headed at 10:45 pm to Charlotte, North Carolina! From Charlotte, we caught the smallest, most uncomfortable plane I’ve ever had the displeasure of  riding on to NYC. Except for being seated next to a 6’ 8’’gentlemen who took up so much space that we were shoulder to hip to knee the entire ride, the flight was pretty uneventful.  Once in New York, we had a 3 hour lay-ever ‘til we boarded Air Jamaica!!

Even though I’m only Jamaican by marriage, there was something about boarding that plane that felt so familiar. It was like I was returning home, though I have never been to Jamaica before. Maybe it was being on the plane with so many people who looked and  talked like my “family”, that brought on that feeling of familiarity.  We landed in Jamaica at 4:00 pm (Jamaican time) – almost 20 hours after we left California.  As we all exited the plane, we grabbed a few carts and skipped over to the baggage area.  As the next few moments passed, we realized that we were the only travelers left at the carousel without our luggage.  After an hour at the claim area, the only thing we knew for sure was that our luggage was not in Jamaica.  Of course the natives kept telling us it was “no problem, mon” our luggage would arrive eventually.  Customs was quite a short & easy process since we didn’t have any baggage to inspect and by 6:00 we were in the van and on our way up the hill to the City of Refuge!  PHEW – what a busy 24 hours!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Leaping out of the boat

I'm not usually one to get too far out of my box, but I've found that when I do, I go all the way. Today I find myself preparing to take a mission trip to St. Andrew, Jamaica (just outside of Kingston). I'm leaving the country with 10 complete strangers to spend 8 days in the mountains working at an orphanage.  To add to the "adventure", there is currently a Tropic Storm warning for the area where we will be.

So, I have my suitcase, my duffle bag full of donations for the orphanage, my portable DVD player charged, my SKYPE account set up so I can chat with my family, my waterproof boots, my camera, and my box of Celebrex.  I think I'm just about ready!

I look forward to sharing the adventure with you!

Momma Graham