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.
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.