About American Caribbean-Experience

Marla’s Minute: Making Moments of Play

Summer is here, and we have started our field trips each week with the infirmary residents to the Galina Breeze Pool for physical therapy. This is always a spectacular day for everyone. I had no idea how cherished it was until recently, when we were painting the outside of the men’s ward at the Centre. Christopher, who some of you may know, asked if he could help. With some hesitation, he was given a paint brush and a little paint.

Before long, several other residents joined him in their request to paint. Soon, we were looking like salt and pepper hitting a massive wall of color. It was hard work but fun as we saw so many of our golden children participating in painting “their” wall. At the end of the day, we were all covered in paint.

That’s when Christopher handed me this simple note, as I was leaving for the hotel: “Thank you for the field trip.” At first, I thought it was the pool therapy he was referring to, but he had not been to the pool yet this year. That’s when I realized that, sometimes, field trips can be right in the yard of the infirmary. It was actually his day of painting on his wall that broke up the monotony of the day, and fresh purpose was created. It made me smile and enjoy the moment of play.

Yes, summer has begun – come play with us at ACE! It brings out the kid in you again and certainly gives all our golden children at the infirmary purpose.

Very Grateful,

Marla and Allen

Mentoring Teachers

This week, Dr. Marie, a Board Member for ACE, gave her time and talent to begin the basic teaching structure for our new school. Everything starts with a vision of what can happen when great minds come together.  These stickies are a picture of what the beginning of needs look like for our new school.  Don’t strain your eyes, as we will be publishing a list of those needs for the school so it will be more readable. Pray that we get the land we have our eye on adjacent to the Campus that ACE desperately needs.

Boots on the ground at the Green Life Farm


If you think farming is just a yard hobby, you haven’t been to the Green Life Farm with ACE. We are amazed at how just a few farmers from our community are able to turn a profit with scotch bonnet peppers. This month, our peppers are popping! So are the parents from child sponsorship programs.

One of our U.S. Volunteers noticed, when he was on the farm last year that our local staff didn’t have boots to work in while farming. Talk about meeting a need! This month, he came packing with boots, after inquiring about sizes. When the staff arrived for work, they were greeted with new boots! Instead of tattered sneakers, they now are ready for the farm — thanks to a volunteer who noticed there was a need and followed through to fill it.

Now what about the rest of us??? I’m a size 9? (smile)



I have learned a lot of things while being down here, but one of the main things is to embrace the Martha persona instead of Mary. In Luke 10, Jesus goes to Martha’s house where she quickly tries to do things for him, while Mary sits at his feet and talks. Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help him and instead Jesus says “Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42, NASB). This is such a great explanation of my time in Jamaica. I am a doer; I like to stay busy and help wherever I can. The most impact, however, is not the physical things I did, but instead the friendships and times I have been able to get to know people. I have been able to see relationships grow, myself grow, and other people grow, Jamaicans and teams alike.

We have a group from Ohio State University that has come down for the past two years, led by a past intern. This is a business fraternity and a mix of people. They may not all be believers, but they all are hard workers and have a servant’s heart. They came down this past March and worked super hard with two full days of construction and an infirmary field trip, but they loved every minute of it. The awesome part was not just the work that they did, but also the work God was doing with and through them. They had about six people return from the previous year and you could visibly see the work God was doing in them. It was such a blessing and awesome experience to sit with them and talk about what God is doing in their lives and how he is opening their eyes. It also made me realize that while not all of our teams are believers, they have an impact on the community and even better God can be seen in what we are doing. Isn’t that what we are all meant to do? Allow others to see Christ through us and bring people into the kingdom of God.

Marla’s Minute: An iQuest Graduate’s Journey 

Meet Mary Parker, or as she is known today as Mary Wagenblast, wife to a fantastic guy named Lee and mother of two boys under 10!

I have a painting hanging in my house of Mary and fellow iQuest teammates when she served with ACE in Jamaica in 2008.  It’s a funny story about this painting. You see, this team thought they would give me a unique gift to remember them for years to come.

It seems that one or two of them met this Jamaican artist while in Jamaica and hired him to paint a picture of their group from a picture someone took of them during their stay. With much glee and excitement, they turned over the cash and the picture waiting for the completion of what they thought would be a lifetime image of the best iQuest team ever at ACE.

To this day, I have that picture in my house. (The closet) The memories and the images of Mary upstaged the artist’s ability to paint her. You see, Mary has a passion for the deaf, and no artist could capture her joy and enthusiasm.


We have a deaf son named Kal who works at the hotel. He’s 36-years-old now, but he was eight-years-old when I adopted him from a children’s home in Montego Bay many years ago. Mary and Kal were friends when she was here. When I adopted Kal, there were more deaf children in Jamaica than any other country per capita in the world. Now they are all adults. And, there is nothing in St. Mary that provides a social interaction and, even more, a spiritual challenge to these adults.

ACE is introducing a ministry for the deaf called Defining Moments. Now don’t hold us to the details, but there is a need for these deaf adults to have the same social interaction hearing adults experience. That’s where Mary comes in. We asked Mary to use her passion to sign several teaching series we love that do not have any deaf translations.

Without hesitation, Mary said yes! This was a confirmation that we are on the right track to moving our deaf friends closer to each other and further along their journey to find out who loves them more than anyone: Christ.

If you want to help with this new startup outreach called Defining Moments with ACE, please let us know. We need so many items to pull this off. We’ve already been given a projector for the DVDs. If you are interested in ministering to the deaf, please contact us, and let’s see where we can go from there.

Thank you, Mary! I think this is just the beginning – and perhaps you might be part of a better painting with all our deaf friends to send me.  I promise I won’t keep it in the closet.


Marla & Allen


Dawn Wheeler, aka The Child Sponsorship Whisperer
For ACE this month, we wish to highlight some of the behind-the-scenes people who make ACE great in the view of our donors, volunteers and all around supporters.

Dawn gets asks lots of questions all day long. We thought it would be fun to interview her as if we ourselves were calling to inquire about a child needing sponsorship in the ACE program. Perhaps you may find one of your questions in the following interview. Some of our sponsors are so loyal to their children that they probably already know the answer before Dawn picks up her pen to answer.

Interviewer:  How many children are currently in ACE’s child sponsorship program? 

Dawn:  We currently have 237 children in our sponsorship program.  When I began with ACE three years ago, we had just over 100 children in the program.  Due to the dedication and hard work of our ground staff, the number of sponsored children has increased each year.

Interviewer:  If someone is interested in sponsoring a child, how can they receive information about a sponsorship?

Dawn:  Anyone interested in a sponsorship can download our APP on their smart phone, Google Store or iTunes Store. Type in “American Caribbean Experience” and download the app. Or you may go to our website – acexperience.org –  and fill out the information form for child sponsorship under the “Sponsorship” tab.

Interviewer:  How do sponsors communicate with their sponsored child?

Dawn: Sponsors may write to their sponsored child as often as they wish.  All correspondence is hand-carried to our children by a staff member or volunteer who is traveling down.  No Facebook, no text, and no hash tags, so letter writing is the best way to do this. That is also, by the way, a great way for these students to work on their writing skills. Everyone – including me – enjoys a letter in the mail from a sponsor and I know our Jamaican students love it too. And, as always, we welcome sponsors to come to Jamaica for an ACE mission trip, where we will make special arrangements for them to visit their sponsored children at their schools or homes. What a great way to feel truly connected – to receive hugs in person!

Interviewer:  What is the best part of being the Stateside Child Sponsorship Coordinator?

Dawn:  The pay is fantastic! (Just joking!) Actually, what’s fantastic is being able to share in the excitement of a sponsor when they receive a photo and information of the child that they have been matched with for sponsorship.  God is in the details – like the time a child who said she wanted to be a nurse was matched with a sponsor who is a nurse, or when a sponsor was matched with a child whose name was the same as her father that had just recently passed.  I found out this information after the fact.  It is always exciting to see how God guides and directs in this process.

Interviewer:  What is the toughest part of being the Child Sponsorship Coordinator?

Dawn:  To inform a sponsor that their child is no longer eligible to be in our sponsorship program.  The reasons that a child is removed vary from the child moving out of the area to the parents of the sponsored child not fulfilling their part of the contractual agreement (which they sign when their child is accepted into the program). Excessive absences of the sponsored child from school would be a reason for ineligibility.  Our ground staff does a fantastic job of contacting the sponsored children’s parents by phone calls, home visits and warning letters. They give the parents plenty of opportunities to correct the problem before terminating a child’s sponsorship.

One thing I appreciate about ACE is that we come alongside the parents to help and encourage them to become more proactive in their child’s education.  This is done through parent meetings and training classes that ACE organizes.  We don’t just hand them a sponsorship; they must do their part.  This is “tough love” but a love that is often necessary.

ACE is truly changing lives and transforming communities – one child at a time.

Marla’s Minute: The Will of God will Never Take You Where the Grace of God Won’t Protect You

Allen and I just came from Dayton, Ohio, where we had the opportunity to share in the celebration of life of a wonderful woman with her family we consider to be our family and many friends.

I mention this because, you see, we only got to meet Chris Guy during her fight with cancer, to which she ultimately succumbed. Most of you, by the time you reach middle age, probably will witness the transition of friends and family that seemed to be taken too early in life.

While we were honored to get to spend the day after the celebration at the Guy home, with Steve Guy and his incredible family of eight children, their spouses, grandchildren and other relatives, I realized that it’s the relationships we’ve been given during our lifetime that really matter at the end of the day.

On the way home from our friends funeral, Allen and I watched a movie called Collateral Beauty with Will Smith. One of the lines in the movie was about a woman who never had any children of her own, but the words spoken to her from a coworker reminded me of a truth. “A person might not have come out of you, but many people have passed through you.” Wow, that sort of sounds like me and this ministry! I’ve been honored to have cultivated so many wonderful relationships over the years, and the number grows with each new team that comes down, but, sometimes, I forget the finer points of relationship-building.

This past month, as ACE volunteers experienced our first thrift sale of the year, many teenagers and adults saw Marla “blow a fuse”. It wasn’t dignified for me or anyone else watching. You see, I, too, get overwhelmed and tired and, well, just fleshy at some of the worst times. This was one of those times.

As I snapped out orders to these young excited adults, I realized too late how I had bruised their perception of me, this person God had put in charge of ACE. At the end of the day – and many people later – the entire day was a huge success for all of us. But not because of me.

That night, when I was invited to attend the group debrief, I sat and listened to what God was doing all week. And none of it was about me. Instead, it was about giving until it hurt, sharing until it felt comfortable, serving because no one else would do it. The impact went on and on. In fact, none of my bad behavior had tainted the acts that God had done during that day. His hand gently touched the hearts of each person in that meeting that week. Including mine.

I was reminded again that God doesn’t make mistakes, only His followers do. It’s not so much the mistakes you make in life but how quickly you recover from them that counts. That’s what I tell my interns and staff all the time, but I sometimes forget that myself. I was awed by the love this faithful group had expressed to me and by all that God is doing at ACE in Jamaica. It was that Grace card again. I felt very humbled and asked God to forgive me (again).

Thank you, God, for a great reminder that it’s not so much what comes out of us in way of production all the time but rather what flows through us daily – minute by minute – that reflects God’s kindness and mercy. Next time, I’ll be better because of You.



God Connects the Dots Every Time

I’ve been blessed to work as the Stateside Logistics Coordinator for ACE for nearly two years, come August. Until February, every trip I’ve made to Jamaica so far has been more work-related, not with a team from beginning to end, so I was grateful to have a chance to come to the Men and Women’s Conference. There, the most extraordinary people came together to share four days of hard work, laughter and God’s blessings.

I was especially impressed with the lone teenager who came with her mom, surrounding herself with a sea of adult strangers and never blinking an eye. She was my daughter’s age, and, from the first day, I kicked myself for not having pulled my daughter out of school to experience this with me, knowing now that she would have had a friend. Every day that I watched this teen interact with school children or help on a task, I thought, “I wish my daughter were here.” Still, there was work to be done and no time for regrets.
As we came together on Sunday at church, I was pleased to hear the pastor give a shout out to ACE, telling the congregation about our wonderful conference that was to start that evening. It was a great moment when he asked Paul Jones, a member of our team, to lead everyone in song. It was a song I had never heard before, and it touched me deeply. Hearing the crowd sing along with him in unison, I truly could feel the Spirit of the Lord in the room. That moment stayed with me all week. Even better, each night at the conference when Paul led the crowd in praise and worship, that song was requested and sung, so I heard it every day.

After four days of breaking out of my comfort zone, leading small groups of local Jamaican women in discussion and prayer, hugging tons of people, and working hard with the team, I came home around midnight, exhausted and filled with peace. I said a quick hello to my daughter, who had stayed up to greet me. I told her she would have loved it, that I wished she’d had been there. She said, “I want to go next time! And you can tell me all about it tomorrow.” It was too late to go into details, so I wished her good night.

The chaos of the next morning brought no time for stories, and she rushed out past me with a “Love you, Mom! Glad you’re home! Gotta go!” on her way to school. Once she arrived, she texted me: “Sorry to rush out this morning. Talk later. By the way, I heard a song on Sunday that I loved! I thought you might like it, too. I’ve listened to it all week.” She texted me a link to a video.

You guessed it – it was the same song Paul had sung to the congregation on Sunday, the same song I’d heard all week on my head and at the conference every evening. She had been connected all along. God made sure of that. I had to take a deep breath at the wonder of it all.

Now that might seem like the end of the story, but as you know, God connects us in more ways than one. Bear with me, there’s more….

My mom had been sick and in a nursing home for the last seven years. Visits were often rushed, but I tried to slow down a bit and really have conversations with her about what’s happening outside her four walls. Her side of the conversation was usually about how sick she felt and what she wanted me to bring her from the grocery. It had been a hard mother-daughter relationship, but it was ours, and we had that unspoken love for each other.

Shortly after I returned from the Men and Women’s Conference, I visited her to tell her about my trip. I was especially excited to tell her about my God-wink (that is a term for coincidences guided by God) with my daughter and that song. She was amazed and smiled widely as I told her, and she immediately wanted to hear the song. I pulled up the link and, together, we watched the eight-minute video.

She didn’t say a word the whole time; I wasn’t sure she’d even watch the whole thing, but she did. She held my phone intently and let the song fill her room. When it was finished, she had tears in her eyes.  I felt compelled to grab her hands and say, “You know God is here with you. I know it’s been hard.” And we prayed together, mother and daughter, for the first time that I can remember. We prayed for healing and for peace. That was not a normal thing for us to do out loud, but it felt right to spend a moment with each other, in God’s grace, knowing that He was holding us both. 

I only had one more visit with my mom after that. On Holy Thursday, two weeks ago, she passed away unexpectedly.

My experience with ACE, my time at the conference, my interaction with my daughter, my attachment to a song… that became my finest moment with my mother, when we could hold hands and let God connect it all together. I am grateful for each and every coincidence that happens, every God-wink that brings my life meaning. The Spirit of the Lord will always connect the dots for us if we let Him.

Still Going Strong after 13 Years

This spring break was a good one for ACE. We had so many new volunteers that came with a fresh perspective of what we are all about. The last group that left us was one of our oldest, dearest partners at ACE: Mountain Lake Church. While we have so many partners that are precious to us, there is something special about the generations of people that flow through this church to serve ACE. You see, it all started with one person thirteen years ago wanting to expose his group to another culture. While that man is still in ministry, he has long left MLC and the original group that came is more than likely spread all over the States doing what they feel called to do, but this partner church keeps sending their best young people to serve with our ministry, thank the Lord!
Here is a great video showcasing God working through them:

Marla’s Minute | A Spoonful of Sugar

My favorite movie of all time is Mary Poppins – in full color, of course! Some of you who know me might not be surprised as I love work, organization, and using wide imagination to help the “medicine go down”!

As ACE grows closer to our 30th year of presence and outreach in Jamaica, it seems the colors of ACE are not only permanent but vibrant as if it was the first day spent on this beautiful island. You read about our seasoned medical/dental teams being recognized by name from our community healthcare locations. Smiles as teeth get cleaner with less “pullings” and more “savings” through fillings and fluoride. Sugar checks and eye glasses to see better makes seeing an ACE Healthcare volunteer a happy moment in time.

This is where long term commitment pays off in the ACE world. So many volunteers leave their personal concerns and needs at home, to join other professionals in St. Mary clinics and schools. Treating, coaching, training, and praying for students, patients, mothers, and the elderly who truly need a moment of time and care — that’s what ACE Healthcare is all about.

Thank you, long-time committers, for not making ACE another “Poverty Tourism” stop in the passport book but rather a date every year with Nationals who have grown to love you for your long-term stake in their Parish and location. We, too, have something to smile about.

Happy Spring!

From Marla, Allen & The ACE Team