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.
Marla and Allen
While the art camp was going on in Galina, a special project was being created with more garbage and trash and whatnot from the shores of our beaches in St. Mary. On the first day, the youth and volunteers went out to the beach in Port Maria to collect what would turn out to be a beautiful art piece for the Infirmary garden.
It’s amazing how plastic, board, glass and all those things that are thrown into the sea can actually be crafted and magically turned into art. With a small presentation, the arbor was placed gently in the infirmary garden for all to see and enjoy. Even Alrick thought it was something worthy of getting his picture taken with.
Sometimes, the simplest things make the greatest gifts.
Ever hear the phrase “When it rains it pours”? That’s how I feel right now with our vehicles. Earlier this year, we were in desperate need of a school bus for our children. God was so great to fulfill that need through you, our faithful supporters. Our children enjoy the safety of transportation all year long.
Well, our 1992 red Pickup truck has finally died… The old girl has finally gone on to truck heaven after serving us well. The engine ran well, but the body gave out. “Bondo” can only work so many times. (Sounds like me when I look in the mirror.) Now, the white 2005 truck has begun a slow death, racking up costs that soon will outweigh the value of the vehicle. We’ve been waiting on parts for over four months now to repair the struts.
As you begin to think of how you want to invest your year-end giving, would you please contemplate sending ACE some financial funds? If everyone would consider sending a donation of $500 or more as a year-end gift, we would have all the funds we need to purchase at least one “newer used” truck to put us in a good place for the 2017 year. We ask that you prayerfully reflect on this need for ACE, and perhaps you will be able to meet this financial challenge.
As Thanksgiving comes to America, we in Jamaica wish you all the best time ever with your families. We pray for America as great changes are coming in 2017. Just never forget…. God is not asleep at the stick. He is very much involved in our future both in Jamaica and America. Happy Thanksgiving friends. We are grateful for you.
So many times, our infirmary friends ask us to send them a picture of themselves with a volunteer friend. And so many times, our wonderful volunteers forget.
But this month, thanks to our friends at Franklin Road Academy in Nashville and Cokesbury in Knoxville, our infirmary patients were beaming….
Marla had the joyful experience of sharing the pictures with about ten residents and, wow, they were happy! Giving full smiles with or without teeth, you could tell they were so excited.
Thank you, friends, for taking the time to write the notes and send the pictures. It’s just another way you make the lonely feel part of a bigger family.
Mr. Matthews has joined the ACE team on the ground as our Farm Manager and Garden Box Coordinator. So far, we’ve seen the farm expand 300%. We now have 6,000 Scotch bonnet pepper plants in the ground growing. With Mr. Matthews’ connections, we hope to sell all of the peppers (300 peppers average per plant) to none other than the hot sauce company here in Jamaica.
That means our farmers will get increased hours from three days a week to four and even a possibility of hiring a fourth farmer who is currently unemployed. Now that’s a HOT story!
We will keep you posted and thank you, Mr. Matthews, Mr. Myers, Easton, MacGyver, and Lorna for the hard work!