Editor’s Note: Lay missioner Brandon Newland shares how he acted as a bridge-builder between two ministries where he serves in Savanna-La-Mar, Jamaica
Even though there was no Bible study over the summer, I still wanted to stay involved with the students as well as keep them connected to the church. I invited the children to join me during my twice-weekly visits to the local infirmary, and 14 girls and two boys responded.
The infirmary is basically an old hospital that houses about 25 women and 50 men who suffer from a large range of afflictions such as severe mental deficiencies, paraplegia, and diabetes.. Year-round I deliver food and help to feed the patients. Many are bed-ridden; the majority has no family to rely on and has almost no visitors.
I tried to prepare the children for what they would see, smell, and hear. Of course, you can never fully prepare children for this, but I hoped they would respond maturely and still participate. It was a bit of a slow start. Many of the younger children were too scared to approach some of the more infirmed patients and often complained about the smell of urine.
After our first trip, though many seemed a little disillusioned, when I cautiously asked if they would like to come again I received a surprising and resounding, “Yes!” Each new group I brought (I only bring about five at a time) had a similar initial response, but always wanted to return. I could not have been more proud of them
During these seven weeks, we met Joyce Lee, a woman who only wanted a songbook, “My current book is out of new songs,” she claimed. Her current songbook was an old advertisement sheet from a newspaper, so the girls found her an old psalm book. Her face lit up like the sun when they gave it to her. The kids sang a few songs with her and teased her a bit for not actually reading the words but just making it up as she sang.
The kids came a long way over the summer and showed great maturity and empathy. Many times, when I heard a kid complaining about the smell, another kid would snap back and say, “You will be that way one day, so you better be nice to them so they’ll be nice to you when you are old.” (Paraphrased from patois, the local dialect).
The kids chose a pen pal to write to when they returned to school, and now it is such a joy to see the patients’ faces when I deliver them a letter. Hopefully by exchanging letters they can carry on a relationship that will last throughout the school year and beyond.