Tired

Sorry for the lack of entries lately. It’s been a crazy end of the semester ad my brain is tired. I don’t have anything to say, so I don’t want to waste your time talking about nothing.

I did finally (3 months late) post the second half of my photo gallery from Jamaica on the Photo Gallery page. So if you’d like, you would be more than welcome to check them out.

Peace.

Jamaica: Economics

In my last post, I mentioned that Jamaica’s economy is mostly based on Tourism. Tourism is by far the biggest revenue-earner and export for the country. The trouble with a service-based economy is that Tourism is incredibly volatile, even more so than oil prices. When times get tight and people with discretionary income feel like they need to tighten their belts a little, vacation plans to far away places get put on indefinite hold. The recession here in the United States and the recession in Europe have had a huge impact on the Jamaican economy. The chief source of taxable revenue has severely decreased, making it impossible to fund projects and programs that the people have come to depend on.

As I have reflected on all that I experienced one my visit, I find myself asking. “What does God’s justice look like in the midst of the economic reality that Jamaica is in right now?” Distribution of wealth and unemployment underlies many of the challenges I saw there.

“Doesn’t Jamaica have other things to offer beyond Tourism?” one might ask. Indeed, there is more to the puzzle than Tourism.

Bauxite is another big part of the Jamaican economy. Until recently bauxite was a close second to tourism on the list of top exports and employers in Jamaica. But in that lies another huge challenge. Jamaica has no domestic source of energy. Electricity is generated by burning imported fossil fuel. Back in the day, when oil was cheap, this was not a big deal. But now that oil prices have gone through the roof, both gasoline and electricity has become very expensive. The result is that Jamaican bauxite is so expensive to produce, that it cannot compete on the global market. The exports of bauxite have tanked and many bauxite plants like this one have closed and laid off thousands of workers.

A closed bauxite plant in Nain, Jamaica. The locals are hopful that the plant will reopen this year.

The result of all of this is that the Jamaican government has had to borrow an obscene amount of money to keep things going. Currently, they have a national debt that is 130% of their GDP (the monetary value of a nation’s entire economic activity). FYI: The Untied States’ Debt-to-GDP ratio at the close of 2011 was 100.3% Even with so much money being borrowed, Jamaica can’t fund everything that needs funding.

All of this was hard to see and hear. It’s easy to become discouraged. The problem is so big. But God is at work in the midst of this and after meeting with a number of brilliant people there who have a lot of hope for Jamaica’s future, I found that I am hopeful too.

How is God at work in all of this? First, God has blessed Jamaica with an abundance of sunlight and wind. I had a fascinating conversation with an economics professor who told me about how Jamaica is making a huge push to invest in solar and wind power. If the sun and wind can be harnessed to provide electricity, Jamaica would have a renewable domestic source of energy. This would be a blessing to the whole nation. Bauxite plants would be able to produce bauxite at a competitive price. Jamaican bauxite would be competitive in the global market and more plants would reopen, putting people to work. Also domestic electricity would be much less expensive to produce and powering homes would become more affordable. God is in the midst of this new effort in the persons who are developing the solar panels and wind turbines, and in the persons who are rebuilding a shaky relationship with the International Monetary Fund seeking a financing arrangement  for making this vision come true.

Also God is working in Jamaican agriculture. Jamaica is famous for Rum, but the island has great potential to yield crops of many sorts that can be exported. Until recently, farming was not a priority on any kind of scale. Now there is a push to maximize agriculture. This would also create jobs and produce goods that can be locally consumed at a lower cost and be exported.

My final thought on all of this is that for the most part, these new possibilities for growth in Jamaica’s economy are means to bring more resources into the hands of the poor. If the new efforts and their rewards are not reserved only for the elite, the severe gap between the haves and the have-nots will shrink. With new sources of revenue, the programs developed to help people will have more resources to do their work. That is my prayer, that those who make these things happen will do so with hearts tuned to hear and have compassion for the ones who need these efforts to succeed the most. I pray that God will work in the hearts of the IMF to broker a just arrangement and for the success of these endeavors and most of all, for everyone involved to see one another through Jesus’ eyes.

Jamaica: Initial Thoughts

I am now back in the United States after thee weeks in Jamaica. My apologies for not writing sooner. There was a lot going on while I was there and taking it all in was a full-time job.

“What were you doing in Jamaica?” you may ask.

Well, I went there as part of a class for school.

Team Jamaica 2012! We're pretty awesome.

The seminary that I attend requires all MDiv students to take a January class called “Alternative Context” or “Explorations.” The purpose is to spend three weeks in a place that is not our normal paradigm. We send teams to rural West Virginia, Central Europe, and a number of seldom-experienced places in the Atlanta area in addition to Jamaica. I chose to go abroad, because I cherish any opportunity to visit other countries, whenever they come.

“You’re so lucky! You got hang out in the sun and on white sand beaches for almost a month!” you might say.

Well, that’s where you would be incorrect. Yes, there was a lot of sun. But we spent all but one weekend in what one would call, “Real Jamaica.” Jamaica’s chief money-maker and #1 export is tourism. Their economy is a service/tourism based economy.

There was a lot of this sort of thing around:

Little Ochi: The place to go for the best fresh seafood you'll ever have!

But Jamaica is also poor country. They are in a difficult situation of being wealthier than Haiti, Sudan, Darfur and other deeply impoverished nations, but also a lot poorer than anyone in the “First World.” Since tourism is their main source of revenue, their economy is less stable than economies that are based on the production of goods and the recessions in the USA and Europe have taken a major toll on the Jamaican people.

That said, there is a lot going on there. Jamaican Culture is rich and growing. This is Jamaica’s 50th year being independent from Great Britain. One of the themes that kept coming up as I observed and listened was that of Jamaica developing and fleshing out a national identity that is free from European influence and rule. Jamaicans are asking what it means to be truly Jamaican. They have heard what The Spanish, English and American cultures have labeled them and they are enthusiastically redefining themselves in their own terms.

We saw many community churches of many faith traditions all over the place just like this one.

An Anglican church in the little town of Nain

Jamaicans for the most part seem to be holding onto their faith in Jesus Christ. Caribbean Theology is a growing and exciting discipline of study. People all over the Caribbean region are asking “Who is Jesus to us?” and “How do we worship and encounter the living God.” I had the honor of meeting some brilliant people who are pursuing Jesus in an authentic, whole-hearted way that is distinctly Jamaican as well as ways that are distinct to each of the many other nations in the Caribbean.

I will have much more to say in the way to personal reflection in the days to come. I beg your patience. There is a lot to process.

I will leave you with this tidbit: Jamaica is far more beautiful and captivating than any of the travel adds could ever communicate, but you can’t stay in the tourist “Safe Zones” to experience it. It’s the Jamaican people and culture that make this nation so wonderful. God is up to something there. Jamaica has its challenges, just any nation does, but there are wise and gifted people there and many who are strong in prayer. I feel honored to have been a guest there. I hope to return some day.

In Jamaica

Well, as some, but not all know, I am in Kingston, Jamaica for most of the month of January.

I would love to have this be a travel blog for the next few weeks, but internet is extremely hard to come by in the places I am staying. I’m in “Real” Jamaica, not the resort towns most people think is Jamaica, which means lots of poverty and lack of internet.

I look forward to posting lots of photos and writing after I get back to the States, but I won’t be able to do that here very well. So please have patience. It will be worth the wait.

Also please pray for me and my colleagues that we will be able to see what God is up to here in Jamaica and that God would encourage us as and reveal Himself to us like we’ve never seen before. I would also covet any prayers for our hearts being reshaped to mirror God’s heart and for this experience to help each of us to perceive our own ministry calls more clearly.

Thank you. Catch ya on the flip-side.