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Breaking the Chains


Editor’s Note: Inspired by recent holidays celebrating independence in Jamaica, missioner Janice Smullen reflects on the ideas of intolerance versus emancipation and how they manifest universally across all different cultures.

Jamaica celebrates two holidays in the first week of August: Emancipation Day remembered since 1834 and celebrated on August 1, and Independence Day on August 6 since 1962.  I was not out among the crowds on either of these celebrations but I did have time to reflect on the Scripture readings around that day and on the Prime Minister’s Emancipation Day speech and I thought about the patterns of servitude and freedom that are repeated so often.  

Indigenous people on every continent have been subdued or annihilated. Stories of slavery and freedom are woven throughout the Bible. A world “characterized by bigotry, hate, prejudice, clannishness, and exclusion” could be read about in a history book or the daily paper.

There are many historical similarities between the United States and Jamaican history.  The indigenous people of both were subjugated or destroyed and have South American ties. Both countries experienced Spanish rule after Columbus’ explorations of the area.  Both countries were subject to British domination and expansion and changes to lifestyles and both countries eventually gained their freedom from the British.  

Today, there are pleas in both countries for stronger families, better education, responsible lifestyles, economic justice, work availability, road safety, and affordable housing.  The prime minister’s comment that “slave society was built on division and conflict” reminded me of the media, pictures, and stories shown from the US these days.

Histories of slavery everywhere in the world provide graphic images of struggle and death.  Chains provide a potent picture of intolerance and disrespect.   

I am thankful that I am more likely to see the fruits of freedom in the people I meet here.  I see “heroism, courage, and will to move forward” in the 37 year old woman I know who has just signed up for classes toward job certification. Dignity and patience radiate through the line of people waiting for food handouts as they sing and join in prayers.  Fighters in the struggle against dehumanization leave by the busload from the hostel here to provide medical, educational, and home building assistance in needy areas.  

Statue in Emancipation Park in Jamaica

Statue in Emancipation Park in Jamaica

The August 2 scripture selection was the story of Peter being beckoned by Jesus to come to him, walking on water (Matthew 14: 22-36). Peter’s movement through faith and trust and into action is the example that I need to contemplate and embody to meet the “bigotry, hate, prejudice, clannishness and exclusion” that the Prime Minister spoke about head on.

Jesus beckoned to Peter. Jesus beckons to me by his life and his preaching to connect with those experiencing poverty.   Peter had to rely on trust, in Jesus and in himself, to be able to break free of his chains of fear.  In Peter, in me, and in many of the people I meet here, I sense the “love of freedom over the love of mere existence” from the Prime Minister’s speech; stepping out onto the unknown waters, shedding the mental chains of fear and doubt.

There will be times when I, and those that I meet, will experience doubt and fear and begin to sink.  I hope that we will be able to stretch out our hands to one another.  I am thankful for any small part I may play in building “a freshness of vision in establishing a new life” to diners at the soup kitchen or women in the prison.  I know that these experiences give me that vision.

Reflection Questions: What are the chains in your life? Are you playing an active role in trying to break free from them?

*All quotes taken from the Prime Minister’s speech

Janice has been granted the fruits of a family vocation and many community volunteer experiences during the past 40 years. Each experience has helped to build her faith in God's unending and unconditional love. She has been a CCD teacher, doula, ESL instructor, retreat facilitator, and mentor to refugee families. Now, Janice is grateful for the freedom and health and the opportunity to continue service and growth overseas. She lived most recently in Greensboro, NC, and loves to garden, sew, read, hike, and do yoga. Janice has been in Kingston, Jamaica since March 2016.