The Faces of Jamaica

About 8 years ago, I took a vacation to Jamaica. After going back a second time for a mission trip, I am not sure I could ever vacation to Jamaica again. (Keep reading)

The tale of two Jamaica trips...

The last time I went to Jamaica, (we'll call that trip "Jamaica A") I stayed at one of the Sandals Resorts. I remember landing at the airport and getting onto the shuttle with a bunch of other tourists. The next couple hours we cruised down the coastline highway drinking Red Stripes and listening to Bob Marley. I remember looking out the window and seeing some of the impoverished Jamaican families living in shacks and run down old homes. At that time, I was about 9 years removed from the last mission trip I had gone on to Peru. In fact, I was about 9 years removed from living out my faith in any kind of meaningful way entirely. I was living for myself and whatever made me feel good at the moment. So when I saw the conditions and how much they resembled past mission trips I'd done, I just did what anyone on vacation would do. I said "wow look at them--that is sad" and then buried it deep down so I wouldn't have to deal with any feelings of guilt while I passed right by them on my way to the resort. Eventually we pulled up to Sandals and we came up to a massive gate. It slowly opened, we drove through and then the gate closed behind us. And the people in need that I saw were closed off behind me. I no longer had to "deal with them" causing me any guilt for all the fun I was going to have. I was free to just enjoy myself.

We spent a lot of time poolside, drinking unlimited mojitos and eating as much as we wanted. We got to do a zip line and some waterfalls too and sure those were cool. Then on the last day we sat on the resort's man-made beach watching and laughing as pasty white northerners would run into the water only to find out that the floor is made of sharp rocks and not sand. We'd laugh as one by one they'd go running in and then slowly (and painfully) walk back out shouting "ouch-ouch". Yeah it was funny, I'm not going to say that wasn't a memory from that trip I enjoyed. But....THAT was the highlight for us. Sitting on a fake beach drinking beer watching drunk tourists cut their feet. Eventually the trip came to an end, we got back on the bus, and came back home to Florida. Was it fun? Sure, it was fun. But 8 years later, it did absolutely nothing to change any lives. Now that trip just rings a bit hollow.

Now let me tell you a little bit about "Jamaica B."

Last week I went back to Jamaica but this time, it was a much different story. 21 people (including myself) went to Jamaica, and 21 people had their lives changed forever. Not one of us came back the same person we were before we left. Instead of watching drunk tourists running around a fake beach with mojitos in their hand, I watched the people on my team step out in BOLDNESS and love and care for the men, women and children of Jamaica with a passion! The very people I turned my back to 8 years ago. Far more rewarding than any vacation experience could ever offer. And on top of that, I witnessed first hand bravery like I have never seen before as people on my team pulled together and helped one another work through some of their deepest most painful struggles. Many late nights with a lot of tears. And it was absolutely BEAUTIFUL. I cannot even begin to put into words how incredibly PROUD I am of each and every one of them. On behalf of my AMAZING co-leader Jenn Heller, I just want to say to you all, Adrian, Arden, Aruna, Ben, Brenna, Caitlin, Carrie, Diana, Diane, Doug, Hailey, Kaylie, Leslee, Lori, Matt, Mike, Michelle, Ryan and Sharon......WE ARE SO PROUD OF YOU!! I am absolutely honored to call you my friends.

I'll let the images tell the rest of the story. We worked hard but we had a lot of fun too. Take a look at some of our shots from the Eleven22 Jamaica B mission team. And if anything in here tugs on your heart and you want to know more about what these kinds of trips are all about, just ask. The door is open any time. You just have to take that first step of faith and walk through it.

Want to see last year's trip to Panama? Ok. Go here:

The Faces of Panama

Where to even start with this one...

It really is not going to be possible for me to fully describe to you what this trip meant to me and the 37 new close friends I made in Panama last week. The only phrase I can think of right now is, the unexplainable undoubtedly bumped into the undeniable. People's lives where changed. Including my own.

Mission trips are not easy. You have to put yourself in a position to be vulnerable and uncomfortable. Sometimes to extreme levels. There really is no way around it. But for those who really dig deep and find that place of true surrender, the payoff is pretty remarkable. I watched people on my team find that place in Panama last week. Some even to the point of sobbing with tears. And they were some of the most beautiful moments I have ever seen in my life. I'll say it again, people's lives were changed!

To everyone who shared in this incredible journey with me, I whole heartedly love and respect each and everyone one of you. Thank you for these new memories that I will cherish forever. And thank you for touching my heart the way that you did with your passion and courage. And for those who supported me both financially and through donating supplies, I want to say from the bottom of my heart I can't thank you enough.

This trip had a little bit of everything from feeding the poor to construction projects and even a music school for the kids. Some of the photos are fun and laid back but some are pretty intense. Hopefully they serve as a friendly reminder for you as they have for me to always stay thankful. Just a couple of days ago I was standing under a home that was literally a big tent made out of bamboo shoved into the mud with a plastic tarp for a roof. It was not much bigger than my living room and FIVE different families lived under it! Sure makes me feel silly for ever complaining about my own house.

Ok so, come along with me for a glimpse into The Church of Eleven22, Panama 2016. If anything tugs on your heart give me a buzz and let's talk more about some of the things that happened on this trip. Gloria de Dios!