LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR CHRIST TO WORKRiverchase church builds relationships in Jamaica
Written by Heather Jones Skaggs
Photos by Dawn Harrison and Contributed
In September 1988, Hurricane Gilbert hit Jamaica causing billions in damage and 45 deaths. The Category 3 hurricane intensified to a Category 5 as it ravaged the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico for nine days. But from loss, there is hope. In 1994, members of Riverchase United Methodist Church began working to rebuild churches in Jamaica that were destroyed by Hurricane Gilbert. The focus was building, but the missionaries soon began to see that the needs extended to more than just the rebuilding effort.
What began as a mission trip to help fix buildings ended up forging relationships between people and countries that had been apart for over two decades. “We are in the same communities working with Jamaicans – not just helping in recovery and rebuilding efforts,” says Dr. Donnie Cantley, founder of Isaiah 6:8 Jamaica Ministry. “We are developing relationships, understanding needs, giving and ministering to the people of Jamaica.”
For church member Claire Anderson, serving in Jamaica was a life-changing trip she almost missed out on. “The summer after our high school graduation (2015), my best friend saw an announcement in the church bulletin about a mission trip to Jamaica, and she encouraged me to sign up with her, so I did. This was not something that I would have done on my own at the time, so I felt a little nervous,” Claire recalls. But after her friend was not able to make the trip, Claire began to have serious reservations about going. “My first thought was ‘I can’t go by myself. Not to a foreign country,’” she says.
“God knew that going to Jamaica was going to change my life before even I did.”
After a lot of prayer, and with some trepidation, Claire says she realized this was something God insisted that she do. “Even though I was scared going to a foreign country with people I did not know, I followed God’s call and went to Jamaica with Isaiah 6:8. God knew that going to Jamaica was going to change my life even before I did.”
Many churches in Jamaica that the missionaries serve have minimal to no programs for children. Part of IS68’s mission is to bring vacation Bible school to the children of Jamaica. The ministry is very mobile with its Bible school program and has the ability to bring the Gospel to many remote locations.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
On Claire’s first trip to Jamaica, the team ate at the home of a local woman, Audrey and her daughter Tamalua, both schoolteachers in one of the poorest areas. “They welcomed us into their home with open arms, and I quickly became friends with them. Throughout the week, the ladies and a few teens my age helped us with vacation Bible school at different locations. Audrey makes (in American dollars) $120 a month – full time. She goes day in and day out teaching these kids and shining the light of Christ to these kids,” Claire says. “It is amazing to see women like Audrey and Tamalua, who have very little and come from such a broken society, serving God with all their being.”
What Claire says she learned from her first trip was the picture of what service was. “They think I am the one helping them because we are the ones that come down with Bible school supplies, food, money and clothes, but in my experience, God used them to show me what it is like to live a life truly serving Him.”
Claire found her call in Jamaica with Vacation Bible School. “After my first week with the kids, my head hurt from my hair being pulled and braided in every direction possible and my body was exhausted – but my spirit was full,” Claire says. “The kids there so desperately want to be loved. Getting to love on them and tell them how loved they are by their heavenly Father is an experience I cannot even describe.”
On her second trip, Claire, now a college student at Mississippi State University, says she is reminded why we as Americans should not take anything for granted. “Something that really stood out to me my second summer was when one of the little girls needed a Band-Aid for a cut. You would have thought I had given her an iPad or something. It made me realize how much we take for granted – something as simple as a Band-Aid.”
The overall mission of Isaiah 6:8 is the mission common to all Christians – to glorify God. “We do that by demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by providing clothing, food and occasionally housing to the extremely poor people of the area,” Cantley says. Along with vacation Bible school, Isaiah 6:8 works in many other capacities. “We have a breakfast feeding program in a special needs school, we distribute food boxes to the elderly and we help support ministry to an indigent nursing home. We engage communities by building, maintaining and helping support preschools and kindergartens in impoverished neighborhoods as well as help build and maintain churches.”
Claire set out on her third trip to Jamaica in July with a small group that included her mother, Cantley, and Terry Fry. Claire organized the Bible school before the trip and will take it to five different locations. “The past two years the focus was on the Bible school for the children, but this year I am excited to focus on teens because they are the ones who will lead the younger ones year round when we are not there,” Claire explains. “They all love Jesus and have so much potential to be impactful leaders in their community.”
Isaiah 6:8 continues its work building and nurturing relationships with the Jamaican people. “They need people coming there to teach them the truths of the Bible, as well as being an example of what it looks like to love Jesus and follow Him, Claire says. “They need friendships with people who will encourage them. They need hope; hope that can only come from Jesus.”
The greatest need for the mission teams Claire says is support, prayers and volunteers. Cantley agrees. “Terry Fry and I are the main leaders of Isaiah 6:8, he says. “We are an extremely lean non-profit with no employees and are volunteer based.”
Although her friend never went to Jamaica, Claire says God worked through her friends to get her on her first trip. “If I never went to Jamaica, I would never have seen the work God needs done there or formed the lifelong friendships centered around Christ with the people there,” she says. “I am able to go now and lead vacation Bible school with no fear, not because I have confidence in myself, but because I have full confidence in God. If you feel God sparking something in you to go to Jamaica, I strongly encourage you to act on it even though it is scary. It could end up changing your life while ultimately changing the lives of others.”
Those wanting to learn more about Isaiah 6:8 may visit Isaiahsixeight.org or Is68jamaica.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.