Elizabeth Chapel group returns from Jamaica with lessons of their own

This Article Originally Appeared on The Gallia Home Town Herald

While the reasoning behind a recent mission trip to Jamaica was to lend assistance and support to a pastor there, the young men and women who visited came back with lessons of their own.

A group of five from Elizabeth Chapel Church in Gallipolis, traveled to Kingston, Jamaica at the end of June in the hopes of lifting up local preacher Owen Watson, who the church has been sponsoring for many years.

Associate pastor Alfred Holley, who served as pastor of Elizabeth Chapel for over 40 years, met Watson as a young man while visiting Jamaica on a crusade. Watson, at the time, planned to attend college to become a pastor, but wasn’t sure at the time how he was going to afford the cost.  That’s when Elizabeth Chapel stepped up and funded not only Watson’s education, but also sent money to help with living expenses throughout the years.

According to current pastor Randy Carnes, who was one of the five that traveled to Kingston, pastors in Jamaica are required to have a college education due to the multitude of duties they are expected to perform, ranging from serving as a “mid-wife”, to ambulance driver to counselor.

Watson currently pastors three churches in Kingston and Carnes said about visiting him, “We found out he’s way overworked and has way too little money. That’s an understatement.”

Part of Watson’s duties include serving as counselor to people who live in an area where crime is rampant.  One of the stories Watson shared was of a man who was abducted, robbed and had both his hands and feet bound before being thrown in the river to die. The river, however, was not deep enough and the man escaped.  Two of the men who had abducted, robbed and attempted to kill the man were local police officers, still in uniform.  Police corruption, according to Carnes, is commonplace in Kingston.

“According to Owen, you don’t know when to go to the policeman and when not to because there’s as many dishonest ones as there are honest ones,” said Carnes. “Some of them worse than the criminals.”

Watson was also counseling a family whose four year old had been beheaded by her stepmother.

“This is the kind of stuff he deals with every day,” said Carnes.

The deeply impoverished area affected all those who traveled with the group in varying ways.  For Carnes, who has been on mission trips before to other countries, it was Watson’s commitment, the condition of the churches and the people of the community that most affected him.

Carnes said none of the churches had air conditioning and at least one church’s roof was so badly deteriorated you could see the sky through the holes.  It was nothing to find animals inside the church and everyone in attendance, with the exception of Watson, traveled by foot – one of the reasons three churches are needed in the area.

“They just come and worship the Lord,” Pastor Carnes. “No frill, no thrills. It’s pretty basic.”

Hymnals and Bibles are hard to come by in Jamaica and are cherished by those who live there.  The group took three suitcases of Bibles with them when they left for the Mission Trip to hand out and, with one church having no hymnals at all, they hope to send those in the future.

While American pastors work hard, Carnes said, “I realized…I think all of us have come to realize, God has to be giving him strength to do all that he does. He does more work in one day probably than five pastors do here put together.”

One thing is for certain, said Carnes, the money they are sending is not enough.  When the group arrived, they learned both the Community Center, where Watson counsels and aids area youth, and Watson’s home were both without electric.  While the Kingston congregations do attempt to help raise funds to pay Watson, pay the bills and make repairs to the church, there isn’t a lot of extra money to go around in a country where, if you’re lucky enough to have a job, your pay is taxed 60 percent by the government.  Any money Watson is able to spare, even if it means he forgoes electricity in his own home, is given to those in need in the community, said Carnes.

For the five young adults still in their 20s, the trip was more than just an eye opener for them about poverty; it affected them each differently in their personal lives.

For 25-year-old Sara Beckley, who is a Social Worker, it was the realization that, though it may not be perfect, America is in a better place than Jamaica in terms of finances and safety.

 “We just have it really well over here I think,” said Beckley.

How much the people appreciated the Bibles and how difficult they were to find also stood out in her mind.

“It was definitely an eye opener. I find myself thinking of ways of helping more. How can I be a little more creative to stretch resources, so I can send more? And also, my social work practice, I have more to compare to now,” said Beckley.

Tessa Queen, a 23-year-old math teacher, was very interested in how the educational system works in Jamaica and was looking forward to connecting with the people.

“I always love making relationships. I always want to be in their lives and be able to help them. More is what I’m after,” said Queen.

Queen said education in Jamaica is not free and many do not attend school.  For those who are able to attend, their futures are predetermined by testing.  She knows some American students who take education for granted and is looking forward to sharing her experiences with her own students.

Queen was also affected by the treatment of those with disabilities and the number of children who call the streets home.

“The handicapped are treated like dirt. They’re pretty much out to fend for themselves. They couldn’t care less whether they live or die” said Queen.

One moment stood out in her mind, when a child living on the streets approached them at an intersection to ask for money. Queen said Watson took that opportunity to witness to the child and tell him to go to church and still gave him what he needed.

Despite their poverty, however, Carnes said the Jamaican people are extremely clean, using the Bay daily for baths.

Jeremy Queen, 28, was most impressed by how thankful the children were for just the simple things. In addition to the Bibles, the group also took with them toys to pass out to the children. One boy told Watson it was his birthday. Queen said when they presented the box of toys for him to pick from, he chose instead, an O.O. McIntyre Park District shirt.

“That was all he really wanted,” said Queen.

Having had experience in the emergency services field, Queen said he realized how well off America is in terms of law enforcement and safety.

“I brought back just to be grateful for what we got. The extra things are just blessings,” said Queen.

Throughout his life, 23-year-old Tyler Bass had seen commercials and programs showing mission trips in impoverished countries.  He decided he wanted to see for himself.

“I was quite shocked honestly. The TV actually made it better than what it actually is,” said Bass.

Bass said his definition of poverty was widened by the trip.  Where government assistance is available in the United States, Bass said the people of Jamaica don’t have that option.  He said some of what many would consider run-down houses here do not compare with what they saw in Jamaica and that many of the people sleep wherever they can and bathe in the Bay.

“It’s made me look at a lot of things I do every day. I take a lot of stuff for granted. Over there, it really opened my eyes to what another country has to deal with and what people have to do just to survive. It really makes me think of all the things I can do different to help people that are poverty stricken,” said Bass.

As a whole, the group agreed you have to see it with your own eyes to fully appreciate the poverty in the area. 

“I think we will all agree, the photos don’t do it justice. You have to look those people in the eye. You have to see the look on their faces. To see the hopelessness,” said Carnes. “I would look at Owen and he would be explaining things to me and I could sense the hopelessness.”

According to Carnes, the North American Free Trade Act all but destroyed Jamaica’s economy.

“They used to sell bananas, sugar and coffee to the U.S. and Canada until the North American Free Trade Act. Now they buy it from Mexico,” said Carnes.

During their travels on the island, they passed closed sugar plants which, at one time, employed hundreds. In addition, like America, Carnes said many jobs are pulling out to go to other countries for cheaper labor, though Jamaicans only earn about 600 American dollars a year.  In addition, the island is located just south of Cuba and is a direct pipeline for the South American drug cartel, so the crime rate is high and government there is corrupt.

“And he has to try to minister to people under all those circumstances,” said Carnes. “He has hope in Christ, but he knows Jamaica’s never going to get any better. The only hope they have is really from churches here.”

Carnes said he hopes to get other churches in the area on board to help sponsor Watson.

“Owen could leave that country any day, with his education and make a lot more money somewhere else, but he chose to stay there and serve those people,” said Carnes. “To know you could leave that and better your family by a lot and still stay, speaks volumes about him as a person.”

After the group returned home from the trip, they made a presentation to the congregation of Elizabeth Chapel Church, who subsequently voted unanimously to take funds from their own building fund and send enough money to Jamaica to fix the roof that was deteriorated on one of the churches.

“We need a lot of things over here, but they need a roof. This isn’t a luxury. This is necessity. I was very glad it was unanimous. Not even any discussion. Just, here’s the need, let’s sent it to them. That told me a lot about the people here too. I was glad for that,” said Carnes.

Money isn’t all Carnes is hoping to send to Watson in the future.  It is his hope he will be able to organize a group of pastors to visit the Jamaican churches, as according to Watson, the Jamaican people will come to church to hear an American pastor preach, even if they don’t regularly attend.

“They think we have all the answers. We can point them to someone who does have the answers, (but), we don’t have the answers,” said Carnes. “If they’ll come to hear American preachers, then we’ll take American preachers. If that’s what it takes to get the word of God to them, then that’s what we’ll do.