Editor’s note: Missioner Cindy Mizes expresses hope for the children she is serving in Jamaica after she reflects on a difficult experience in the classroom.
On my first day in my new ministry as a Teacher’s Assistant at St. Francis’ Primary School, I gingerly walked into the classroom of 21 young boys (ages 8-10) not quite sure what to expect. I was greeted with sunny smiles and curious looks. Ms. Parks, the teacher, introduced me as “Miss Cynthia” and continued with the day’s lesson. This particular class of boys have conduct issues and aggressive behavioral tendencies which can be rather disruptive to other students and which can affect their ability to stay focused in class. So they are grouped together in one class with a teacher specially trained to deal with such rambunctious students. However, on this particular day, I happened to be the main distraction as the unexpected foreign visitor.
Several of the boys started asking me questions. In particular, they were curious about where I was from. I told them I was from America and I was there to help them learn. One young boy asked an unexpected question which wrenched at my heart in the saddest way. With his dark eyes full of wonder, he innocently asked, “Do you hear gunshots in America?”
I was taken back by that question, and for a brief moment, it occurred to me that some Jamaican children go to sleep to the sounds of gunfire or are ripped away from their peaceful dreams by terrifying sounds outside their windows. Sometimes, the terror occurs inside their own homes if they are victims of abuse or witnesses of domestic violence. The terror is real, and often, the only escape from their frightful reality is the safety and security of school. Some boys, however, don’t find their way to school and instead end up on the streets and homeless living a life of crime—or worse.
In Jamaica, gangs relentlessly prey on vulnerable boys and young men and seduce them into believing that, as a gang member, they will have a family for life. They falsely think that being tied to a gang will release them from the prison of abuse, poverty and abandonment. The falsely glorified lifestyle is so hard to resist when many of these young boys feel unloved, unwanted and neglected at home.
But back to my young student who asked such a startling question.
My response to him was, “Yes, there are gunshots in America.” Which is true, violence is everywhere. Maybe not as prevalent as in Jamaica where murders and other violent crimes continue to spiral out of control and where, recently, a State of Emergency for the St. James Parish (Montego Bay) was declared due to the dramatic increase of violence in that area. My curious young student probably doesn’t know what a silent night sounds like, and I am unable to even begin to comprehend the fear that may sometimes invade his sense of safety.
However, the hope of a better life for these and other young children begins at an early age when their brains are still developing and adults take the time, effort and personal responsibility to guide, teach, and mentor them towards a promising future.
My hope is that in my new ministry, with God’s grace, I can bring forth that hope in the hearts and minds of these young students and instill in them a sense of self-worth which will help them realize just how truly special they are in God’s eyes and in my heart.
Reflection question: What grace are you asking God for today?