Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wave your Flag, God's Beauty Banner

Oh, sweet Jamaica, land of wood and water, you boast of your beauty: the palm trees, hills and the sea. One look at your landscape, and one cannot help but be love-struck. Yet I am perplexed by the paradox... Picturesque villas and resorts line prime beachfront property... People come for pampering, yet that postcard picture is just that: a snapshot of Beauty. Beauty lives as God's mark on the land, yet that picture doesn't tell the deep complexity that is Jamaica.  A history of people violated, systems failed or corrupted, and sadly the aftermath in which fatherlessness and poverty continue to hold people in bondage.


2.7 million people on a small island, smaller than Minnesota. 1 million are living at or below the poverty line. 1 million of anything is a big number in my mind. This is one million people. People who get hungry just like everyone else. People who get tired just like everyone else.  So, what does that look like?
Where in MN, the minimum wage is over $9 per hour, the Jamaican minimum wage is about $1.25 USD per hour. That is less than $4,000 USD per year for full-time work. And everything is more costly on the island than in the states. A regular gallon of milk costs $10. At nearly a day's wage, a gallon of milk is a luxury. A gallon of gas is $5, so transportation is a hurdle. For some, having to drive or get a cab from any distance to go to work will leave them with maybe just enough for an evening meal.

Where "private poverty" is defined as not having the means to live above a minimum standard, "public poverty" refers to whole communities lacking basic amenities and infrastructure like piped water, toilets, electricity, roads and sanitation. Everyday life filled with more work.  HARD work of getting water and fuel for cooking, solving the problems of eliminating waste, having to trek through the bush to get to the nearest road... to wherever you need that road to take you.

Dr. Alonzo Smith, of the American Counseling Association, recently shared at a Psychology conference at the Northern Caribbean University. He talked about "intergenerational poverty," which stems from a breakdown in family structure and lack of consistent education.    

It is estimated that 80% of children on the island are born out of wedlock. Most live in single female-headed homes without the presence of a father figure. Without the strong Dad hugs, the deep-voiced "I love yous" or whiskery kisses. Without the means Dad would have provided.  Without a partner for Mom, to share her work-load. 60% of kids between ages 9 – 17, have experienced a family member killed. Murder comes as the thief, stealing family members, breaking families, and sometimes snuffing one's will to keep going. So, it isn't a surprise that families find themselves unemployed and homeless. Children find themselves being raised by staff at children's homes.

Staring at my computer screen, numbers invade.
40-50% of kids from children's homes and foster care never graduate. 
66% of those who age out of the system are homeless, in prison or dead 1 year later. Can this be? My eyes are straining from reading. 
I close my eyes.
I don't need to see more numbers, or search out more statistics,  to believe in this phenomena; there is a multiplication of lack, a reproduction of empty and broken. Cycles spin, and the dizzy can't get off this ride. It holds hostage, until dizzy is normal. My heart tells me "open your eyes to see more than yourself."
All those numbers have names. Every name has a story. A real-life, heart-aching and trying-to-survive, trying-to-just-breathe story...  and maybe it's a "What-about-me-God?" story, until they stop talking to God altogether.

"O," who is now an apprentice in our New Life program, remembers he was a child when he heard the news of his dad getting killed. He was sent to live with his grandparents, as his mother grieved and struggled to get work and make money. He did eventually return to live with his mom and younger siblings in her little shack, but the house became completely infested with bugs. While he and his mother both tried to get work, he was limited by his lack of education or training.

Shortly after moving to Mobay, we met a young lady, "S,"  at church. We started inviting her to dinner with our family on Sundays. And over time we heard more of her story. She remembers as a small girl being left on a curb with her brother... LEFT ON A CURB to be found and picked up by anyone who wished. She knows that her father had been murdered, and that her mother left with a man to go to England.  They ended up in a children's home. When she and her brother were about 8 & 9, they were split up; she went into a home for older girls, and he went into a home for boys. After running away, she found herself pregnant at age 15, with her brother already in jail. Neither graduated from high school.

Another young man we met upon first moving to Jamaica was "R." He grew up in a boys home, unable to be adopted as a child, but at age 21 was living with some fellow missionaries on our campus. He was helping Paul set up his woodshop, and wanted to be part of the skills training. As a new Christian himself, he wanted to share with his brother all about his new life. When he made the trip to Kingston to see him, he ended up being shot and killed.
The cycle spins. In four years, the numbers of names grows, the names of those with stories of spinning... The dizzy ones who desperately desire something, someone, to disrupt the multiplication.  Orphans reproducing orphans. Kids are literally aging out of children's homes,  living on the streets with no resources to find their way in life.

For those of us who have experienced the blessings of family and provision, I pray that we would all feel the burden of responsibility to use that privilege to advocate and fight for those who have not. For those of us with time, will we let the clock tick with the ones who wish to tell of losses, and grieve with the broken hearted?  Will we share our knowledge, will we use our skills ... will we spend resources God has given us to give gifts of opportunities? Can we spend our own lives planting seeds of hope? Oh Father, can we break the bondage, can we boldly live to bandage the wounded and weary, with our own broken loving?

Jamaica, land of wood and water, wave your flag, God's beauty banner. All you weary ones, you are not forsaken, not forgotten. We are brothers. It's time to bring the Kingdom.

Psalm 82:3 tells us to "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed."