Last week, ACE was asked to attend an award ceremony in Kingston hosted by the Local Government for the Poor. ACE received the award for all of St. Mary for our consistent commitment and service to the people of St. Mary Infirmary.
This was such a surprise, since we don’t think of it as serving the underserved but rather spending time with those we love. ACE is at the infirmary three or more days a week, 52 weeks a year, with or without volunteers. Through your generosity, ACE has given to date 4,967 adult diapers and 200 bed chux to the infirmary to ensure the residents’ needs are taken care of.
This year alone, ACE brought 5,460 meals of patties, hot soup, and specialty items. We have taken 25 – 40 residents at a time on 32 mind stimulation and physical therapy field trips, including Galina Breeze pool parties, afternoons at the beach, craft activities and dance classes in the park. We shave, we cut hair, we clean, we help the staff, we spend time with the residents… we simply love them. They are family to us.
We are grateful to receive an acknowledgement from the government, but we already know in our hearts that this is where we need to be, and we thank the infirmary residents for rewarding us every day.
We are also proud to report that through ACE, 8,229 dental/medical/chiropractic patients have been seen and treated. This includes patients from the government clinics in rural St. Mary as well as our own Wellness Center located in the Llanrumney commercial building. There are now lots of healthy people walking around with pulled teeth, clear lungs, lower blood pressure, and overall wellness.
Most Americans never think about the fact that Thanksgiving is not a holiday celebrated in Jamaica. In fact, it’s only been the past few years that the local restaurants advertise a special meal to tourists for this day. ACE was fortunate enough to participate in what we would call a real Thanksgiving event just days before we sit down to a marvelous dinner with family and friends.
Mr. Irons is a relatively new resident who has some unknown sickness. Since ACE visits and feeds our infirmary residents three times a week, we see new men and women arriving quite often. As we got to know Mr. Irons a little better, we began to talk about simple topics like his family, where he is from, what he used to do, etc.
As the conversation went on, the question came, “Do you have any children?” Almost immediately, tears began to stream down his face as he began to cry. We sat and waited. The answer was soft, but we could still understand him… “Yes, I have four boys, one 16 and the others are triplets, they are 10.”
He paused. “And I long to see them.”
Speeding forward and with a little detective work, we located the family. They live in the Highgate area with their mother. With the mother’s permission, we picked up the boys and brought them to the infirmary to see their father, who undoubtedly looked much different to them. He was overcome with the joy of seeing his sons. The time was short as children are really not supposed to be at the infirmary, but the visit was good.
As we dropped the boys off at the taxi stand and gave them some taxi and food money, my mind still needed to sort out what had just happened. Did we do the right thing? Was it worse to not see each other in the condition their father was in, or was it what was needed to remind them that their father loves them and misses them? We’re not sure, but the last words the oldest son said to us as he got out of the bus were, “Thank you. I will come back next Friday.” And for that, we are thankful…
Thanksgiving comes in many different size packages. Find the joy where you least expect it.
I know that we are not supposed to have favorites when it comes to family members, but really and truly, I think that is just a myth someone made up. We all have certain people we just like or love a little more. And I guess I’m no exception.
I enjoy going to the infirmary alone on Saturday evenings with a big pot of coffee, condensed milk, chocolate, and a dozen cups. It’s this time of the week and day when I can see God at His best in me. I’m a member of what I call the “Old Men’s Club”. Granted I’m a little old, but being a woman, I suppose it’s good enough for me to stay in the club. After all, I have the coffee. Most of the time, we all hang out on the back veranda of the men’s ward and talk about life, the good, the bad, and the best times. Today was no different except for the fact that my favorite person in our little coffee club has throat cancer.
Ever since July, I’ve seen him losing weight. He complains about the food (which, who doesn’t) and, really, I kind of ignored him. Then, two weeks ago, he didn’t seem himself and asked if I could get him to a dentist to look at his tooth. Being the Doctor Wannabe that I am, I got my flashlight and had him open his mouth for me to check. No tooth. In fact, nothing. He insisted it was his tooth. I called our local dentist and asked if he would stop in and see my friend. He did and returned with a message I wasn’t prepared to hear. While he’s only giving an educated guess, he’s seen it before and suspects it’s cancer.
I know that sooner or later, we all will die, and I also know that this body is just an encasement of our Spirit, but when I told my friend what it might be, his answer was something I didn’t anticipate. He looked up into my eyes and said, “It’s okay. I know, I’m ready, and will you be back next Saturday with more coffee?” It took everything I had to answer him without a tear. I read him Romans 8, verse 1: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He liked it and asked if I would read the last part of that chapter, verses 38 and 39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I kissed his head and did the normal, “See you later, alligator,” and left. What a guy. No wonder he is my favorite at the infirmary. He has no fear, no fret – just loved me and my cup of coffee. Thank you, Lord, for these moments. It’s really what life is all about with You.
Marla & Allen
All of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books were created right here in Jamaica (only one was written in Barbados), and there are many nods to Mr. Fleming around this area. In fact, this month’s mind stimulation trip with our Infirmary residents was at James Bond Beach. This is a small quaint beach near Galina Breeze Hotel at which the creator of 007 used to be seen with his beautiful women enjoying the clear waters and warm sun.
We brought our own beautiful women and 007 men! That’s right, Cokesbury UMC and our friends picked up these residents we call family and spent an incredible day dancing, eating fish and chicken, and laughing in the small waves by the shore. I think Mr. Walker, our resident with MS, enjoyed it the most — he won the sunglasses! Are you nervous about spending time with our Infirmary Seniors? Don’t be – just come down and you’ll see how these field trips connect us to the simpler moments in life, where we all just want to have a great time with friends!
We can dance, we can play, we can sing…. so the storyline goes! With a very successful Christmas party and art camp, ACE finished the year with a bang in Jamaica.
Last year, if you remember, Sondra from First Christian Church from Stillwater brought her team of young adults to Jamaica and launched the first ART camp for students on school break. It went so well that we had to do it again. This time, however, we had another longtime friend of ACE add her team to the mix – Tina and her students from Rebel Ministries. From Art Camp to the Christmas party, we were absolutely in awe as both leaders and teams came together to give our sponsored and non-sponsored students a great week of fun.
Speaking of the Christmas party, ACE tried something this year that wasn’t exactly a spiritual part of ACE – Santa Claus! Here is where middle-class American thinking met Jamaican traditions. When our sponsored students walked in and saw this brown-skinned man with a white beard in a red suit sitting by their presents, hesitation grabbed them. They stood and stared, wondering who this person was and what was he doing at their party.
While the experience went well, we quickly learned that Christmas without Santa will do just fine next year. Let’s keep the reason for the season and not add to the story. It was another learning moment for ACE and our volunteers, and, ultimately, a good time was had by all! Thank you, Child Sponsors, for sending your love. Perhaps you can come down sometime and enjoy the moments you create for your students and us with your support!
The infirmary has always been one of my favorite ways that ACE is able to minister to the forgotten. We are there as a staff every week and are able to build relationships with the residents. Many of them aren’t able to communicate clearly, but we find our ways. One of the residents that I have gotten close with is Cassandra. She is one of the bedridden residents that can’t really speak clearly and doesn’t seem to have mentally developed completely. Nevertheless, I always share a smile with her and help her with the soup and water that we serve each week. She has started to call me Mummy, and I’m learning different ways that I can communicate with and understand her.
Over New Year’s, we had a team here to put on a music, dance and art camp for the local students while they were on holiday from school. The infirmary residents always seem to liven up when music comes to the infirmary, so we didn’t miss a chance to bring some guitars and drums while we were serving at the infirmary. When the musicians arrived to the women’s ward, I was helping one of our volunteers serve Cassandra. As we were listening to them sing for another resident, Cassandra began to say Hallelujah. I smiled and asked the guys if they knew Hallelujah? They did, and so did Cassandra. She wasn’t so familiar with the verse, but once we got to the chorus she was singing along… Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
I was moved to tears and had to walk away for a minute. Looking back at the lyrics now, I’m struck by this line: “I’ve seen joy and I’ve seen pain. On my knees, I call your name. Here’s my broken hallelujah.” Truer words cannot be said for Cassandra and for the rest of the residents at the infirmary. These are people who have seen terrible pain and they continue to experience it, and yet there they are bringing joy to myself and hundreds of others.
I will never forget hearing Cassandra singing the chorus for us that day. Needless to say, she still calls me Mummy… and sometimes she calls me Hallelujah.
It’s true! American Caribbean Experience is thirty years old this year! For some of us, that’s a scary thought – when the ministry grows up, the founder grows older. Regardless of the aging process, life is very good for all of the hard workers God has used to get us to this point. We hope that the passing years have produced wisdom in understanding God’s heart so we can continue to meet the needs of the Jamaican community He has assigned us to serve.
We’ve said this many times before, but turning thirty reminds all of us that ACE only works well in meeting the spiritual, physical and mental needs of the many when volunteers are committed to long-term investment. As a ministry called to help in a developing country like Jamaica, we are very aware how God has used our U.S. and Canadian volunteers to assist us in work where we need the help most – working alongside our National families. Your time and support have sustained us for decades, and we thank you!
It’s going to be a fantastic year! ACE is celebrating with a big event in the U.S. (more to come)! We will see the beginning of some long-awaited programs that have been announced in the past and are now coming into play. We have new faces, new talent, and the same great attitude our staff and friends have had for these thirty years, so celebrate with us! When a wonderful ACE memory comes to mind, share it with us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. We would love to hear from you!
Thirty years doesn’t sound that old – we think we are good for another thirty! And we hope you’ll stay along for the ride!
Feeling younger everyday –
Marla and Allen
Today, both worlds came together in my car. The world of middle class and poverty class. You ask, “Your car?” Yes, let me explain…
During the summer, we had our interns shave faces and cut hair for the men and women residents at the Infirmary. It was great, but it was time for more grooming at the Infirmary with our October team of adult volunteers. With shears and razors in hand, away we went. Residents loved it, we loved it and the one-on-one time seemed to be better medicine than anything else.
Then the word came from my family in the States that my biological father had been put in a memory care facility close to where we have our townhouse in Atlanta. Since I haven’t had a close relationship with my father for decades, thoughts ran through my head on the ride up. What am I getting myself into? Is this going to be long term? Will he still be the same person I remembered as a young adult? Even though I had seen him briefly between the years, if anyone has ever read the book the Mango Tree Gospel, you will understand what I’m talking about.
As Allen and I pulled up to the nursing home and walked in to sign the book, too many things seemed very familiar. As we were directed to my father’s room, we were very much aware of the odor, the moans, the wheelchairs everywhere, and the blank empty look on so many of these once active adults, all looking into space.
There was my father, who I remembered as a strong, tall, outspoken man, sitting in a wheelchair. He was not sure at first who I was. He smelled and had not bathed in a few days. I quickly started washing down his legs that were dirty and talking to him the way I would any of my infirmary friends. He smiled and began to come alive.
We decided to get him a shave and a haircut. With it being Sunday, all the barbershops were closed. The only place open was good ol’ Supercuts. Away we went. He felt pretty good about the whole event. And so did we.
As we dropped him off at the center and got back into the car, I realized that death is certain and, for the most part, we have no way to determine how we go. It just doesn’t matter if it’s poverty in Jamaica or middle class in America, the outcome is all the same. It’s that last breath that we take going into eternity that will matter.
Make a difference now whether it’s at the infirmary in Port Maria or the nursing home where you live. Get out there and make that time between living and falling away a happy moment for those needing your smile and touch. Even though all of time had lapsed between then and now, just like the infirmary, Daddy was glad someone came to see him. Thank you all for caring for our “least of these” in Jamaica. It truly makes us all smile.
This month is all about our golden friends, the infirmary residents, as we had one of our fall medical teams return to serve with ACE in our St. Mary clinics.
Before the official work began, the ACE volunteers were able to enjoy a big Jamaican Holiday called Heroes’ Day (compare this to our U.S. Presidents Day). In honor of Heroes’ Day, ACE decided to take some of the infirmary residents to lunch and a celebration of the day with sightseeing, great lunch on nice table cloths and fine china. Minto and Jamaica music brought out the dancers in the residents as well as the Americans. What a great time! The stars really came out for the moment.
Not sure about you, but we felt there were many heroes that day. Thank you, infirmary residents and ACE healthcare team – let the music 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.