Many think of Jamaica as nothing but a tropical paradise, a getaway island on which the locals must be thrilled to live.
But the youth group of Emmaus Church in Winter Garden learned firsthand that many Jamaicans face daily hardships and can have difficulties getting by.
From June 13 to 20, 12 children and four adults took the youth group’s first foreign mission trip, a week of service at the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf in Knockpatrick, Jamaica, a remote mountain village.
Pastor David Netzorg organized the trip, where Emmaus members aided construction and building painting, donated clothes and supplies, played games and created crafts with the center’s 136 children, many of whom are orphans.
“Years ago, I was youth pastor at another church,” Netzorg said. “Another friend who was a youth pastor went to a remote deaf school in the mountains of Jamaica. He said, ‘You could go up there and give a lot of help.’ They catch their own water; they don’t have hot water; the buildings are in disrepair.”
Netzorg said his first trip to Knockpatrick was in 2004, and he took children in a 2006 trip. The groups he has been with on such trips have learned basic sign language to teach the children, so they can communicate.
This idea drew much interest from his congregation, which learned sign language while it raised thousands of dollars for a year to offset $1,009-per-person in airfare and fund supplies.
“We were doing car washes, babysitting, huge yard sales, stuff like that to raise money,” Netzorg said. “We met twice a month to do fundraisers and learn sign language … and we prayed a lot that we could be safe and love people there. It’s not the safest place in the world.”
A grueling three-hour bus ride up the mountain — Netzorg’s only negative of the trip — led to motion sickness and a Jamaica much different from postcards and vacations, Netzorg said.
“In America, if you got a disability, there’s just so much for you here,” he said. “You can live basically a normal life. There, it’s not like that. They think you’re mentally retarded and throw you out, and the boys end up hard and the girls often end up in prostitution. They were pointing at me and giggling and said they’d never seen a white man before. That’s how remote it is over there.”
The Emmaus group crammed supplies into luggage and left tools, almost all of their clothes and even LED bulbs with the center, Netzorg said.
He said he saw redemption in providing CCCD manual labor, especially refurbishing the large water-catching system there, which British slaves originally had built before being freed and left to the island.
A SIMPLER LIFE
Although the physical aid is important, Netzorg said building relationships was paramount.
“Those kids, just showing them love and kindness — a lot of them have parents who won’t teach them, so we teach them sign language, and some of them look like 6-year-olds who haven’t learned before, and it’s just amazing,” he said. “When you give to people, you always get more in return. They have a lot of little kids and a lot of teens. We take our youth group, and they end up bonding with teens and kids there. It’s just magic.”
Fulfilling the Emmaus mission to love the world, seeing different cultures love each other and building deeper relationships within the youth group from long, intimate times together were Netzorg’s favorite parts.
The Emmaus group also attended deaf church services to see and partake in a different style of worship.
“In our culture, everyone wants to talk about how things divide us, but this is about people coming together to change lives, and it’s all happy,” he said. “It changes people; it changes their perspectives. We teach our team to show them and their lives respect. They have chill lives, doing simple things like climbing trees.”
The Emmaus team spent long portions of most days helping with construction and painting before playing sports and crafting, but one day was reserved for some fun.
“We did have one free day when we went to YF Falls, a series of waterfalls, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen,” Netzorg said. “We went to the waterfalls and swam all day in a tropical paradise, so that was really cool.”
By the end of the trip, the CCCD children performed a play to thank Emmaus that was so beautiful the group could not stop crying, Netzorg said.
The trip went so smoothly from departure to arriving home that Emmaus staff already is planning to take the same trip in 2017, Netzorg said.
“We had a debrief meeting, and everyone was on board,” he said. “It was so smooth, we’d pretty much do everything the same. But the group will be much larger. Everyone wants to go back, but kids are telling their friends to go and growing from there. That’s a good thing, because then we get more done over there.”
Smiles turned to tears when the youth group had to leave, and more than any other reason, the youth group wants to see the CCCD children again to deepen the relationships they formed, Netzorg said.
“A lot of the (youth group) had anxieties, some about the unknown, riding a plane, or being out of the U.S., riding the bus, safety,” he said. “Coming back, most of them thought, ‘Wow, this is the best thing to ever happen to me.’”
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].