Sister Michelle Collins received a 50th Anniversary Scholarship Grant to travel to Jamaica in September. Read along with her experience!


I slept like a rock.  The rain meant a cooler evening, and the constant humming of the fan drowned out noises.  The house doesn’t have air conditioning or hot water.  A water pump has to be turned on to get running water.  There’s no internet service.  If it was on the beach it would remind me a lot of where we would stay as a family in Mombasa.

I woke up to a work-related dream…something about an honest letter from someone leaving the church being read at a council meeting, followed by some analysis of the weaknesses the letter brought up.  This is founded in reality–and part of the reason this trip is really timely.  Others in the group were already up, and over a breakfast of instant coffee and cereal, we began some conversation to frame the day.Today’s theme was service.  The question we were to ponder was: what does service following the example of Christ really look like?  We began with Philippians 2, of course, and pondered why radical service is so challenging.

And I get it.  Would we be better off if we got into each other’s lives in more genuine ways?  Ought we to be feeding the hungry and welcoming the strangers in much more intentional ways?  Do we let fear of potential danger keep us from being bold?  Yes…sure.  Or, as they say in Jamaica, “Yeah, man!”  But something frustrates me about being so quick to criticize “the church.”  I can think of times in my own life where I have walked into relationships or situations that at a great cost to myself.  My freshman roommate comes to mind.  Being in genuine relationship with her was the catalyst for so many of the struggles of college.  Then when I was in England, choosing to find ways of being in relationship with my housemates without compromising my own standards meant I took my cup of tea out onto the veranda to join those who were drinking or smoking, or that I went to the pubs with them so that I could make sure they got back to the house safely.  And the memories continue…Urban Homeworks after college, the years on Bryant Ave, and even taking this job in Florida.  And those are just my stories.  Almost everyone I know who makes up “the church” has stories like this…situations where they put themselves into relationships and experiences that end up being really costly.

I’m as quick to find the faults in congregations as the next person, but when I’m not being too critical, I can see examples of this kind of life in congregational ministry as well.  Could congregations be a tad more counter-cultural, push the boundaries a little bit more and genuinely model an alternative lifestyle?  Oh sure.  But let’s not assume that there’s NOTHING Christ-like going on in ANY congregation.  So I’m fine with asking each other what it means to serve like Jesus did.  But let’s give credit to the variety of ways…subtle as they may be…that people are already trying to do that.  Let’s not begin with an assumption that American Christianity has gotten it all wrong.  That’s a bold statement coming from the queen of pessimism over here :).

Our primary activity for the day was joining in the work of the RAISE Jamaica farm.  IMG_1649

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RAISE stands for “Restore Agriculture, Invest in Sustainable Enterprise.”  it’s an organic, sustainable farm that also supports micro-enterprise.  it has everything from bananas and plantains to goats, and the vision of the future includes fish and a community center.

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IMG_1645People from the community can go through a training/certification course on organic and sustainable farming, and then be given 3 acres of the farm to do with as they want.  When they are ready to expand and strike out on their own, they become share-holders in the farm.  It’s all very interesting and inspiring.

Our task was to dig holes for posts that would become a fence to split the goat yard into 3 sections because the current herd is too big to be kept together.  And it was hard work.  Almost right away some of us were ready with solutions…the way we would do it back home.  We would use machines.  We would run a string to mark the path where the holes would be.  We would find a way to get the work done without it hurting our shoulders so much.  But we worked with a Jamaican guy who clearly knew what he was doing, and after only 2 hours we had all the holes we needed.  Without machines.  Without a string.

After a lunch of the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich ever (food always tastes better after manual labor), we were back to work…this time putting the poles in and filling the holes up with all that clay we had just dug up.  We were eternally grateful for the recent rains, which meant is was super-humid, but not very sunny.  We finished our task just as the rain started, and walked away exhausted but feeling accomplished.

But did we serve?  We helped…true.  But did we serve in the way Christ did?  Did we exemplify what Phil. 2 describes?  What exactly did we sacrifice?  How exactly did we inconvenience ourselves for the sake of others?  To what extend did we ‘make ourselves nothing’?  We will go back to our jobs, and so will the guys who work the farm.  They will carry on the back-breaking work of farming and I will carry on the mind-draining work of ministry.  Did I serve them?  Did they serve me?  I don’t know.  Did I change my perception of service, or wrestle with the cost Jesus paid to become human?  I’m not sure.

After a break back at our house for cold showers, instant coffee and Digestive cookies, we headed down the mountain to a restaurant for jerk chicken.  Turns out this restaurant purchases plantains from the farm we were working on.  Conversation was light because everyone was exhausted, but we ended with a time of prayer for our Jamaican brother who’s acting as our guide this week.  That was service, I think:  listening to his story and then surrounded him with prayer.  Not sacrifice…but service.

When we got back, a few people went straight to bed.  Tomorrow we do some touring of historical sites and learn about the history of slavery here in Jamaica.  Our word is “sacrifice,” I think.