Jamaica mission trip leads members to look at home differently

A group from Faith Lutheran Church in Little Falls traveled to Jamaica in December and January to serve the boys at Sunbeam Boys’ Home near Spring Village. Pictured are (from left): Shadime King, Adam Kleve, Heather Klever, Akeem Gibbs, Makyla Klever, Gene Hyatt, Jade Prendergrast, Nate Bjorge, Dwayne Bloomfield, Austin Visker, Victoria Whittington, Kaj Bjorge, Brooke Shelstad, Emelio Brown, Maureen Miller and Omar Facey.

By Jennie Zeitler, Correspondent

For the 10 members of Faith Lutheran in Little Falls who journeyed to Jamaica in December 2014, it was a journey of the heart. They went to serve the boys at the Sunbeam Boys’ Home near Spring Village in the interior of the country. What happened to many of them was a changed view of their own hometown and how to serve those in need wherever they are.

“Doing a mission trip allows us to return to our home community and look at it with a different perspective,” said Heather Klever. “It doesn’t take long to see that there are families and individuals right here in Morrison County who are hurting and need help as well. Sometimes it takes something as radical as an out-of-country mission trip to see what is right in front of us.”

Five youth and five adults went on the trip: Austin Visker, Brooke Shelstad, Kaj Bjorge, Makyla Klever, Victoria Whittington, Adam and Heather Klever, Gene Hyatt, Maureen Miller and Pastor Nate Bjorge. The team left Dec. 26, 2014 and returned Jan. 4.

“As a Lutheran Congregation in Mission for Christ (LCMC), we place a strong emphasis on mission work, beginning locally and spreading internationally,” said Nate Bjorge. “We support missionaries and mission congregations in several countries.”

A number of individuals and families from the congregation have taken mission trips abroad, but the trip to Jamaica was the first team trip undertaken by Faith.

“It was God’s timing that everything fell into place to go now,” Nate said. “Nothing builds relationships better than spending time together and we were able to interact with the boys for a week. Without church support, the home could not remain open. A trip like this really opens eyes and hearts to the needs of God’s children.”

It was the team members’ hearts that were touched most deeply by the week’s experiences.

“They were so accepting right away,” Austin said.

“We spent so much time with them,” said Kaj.

“…and did so much with them,” Victoria said.

“As a mom, it was heartbreaking to think that most of the boys didn’t have parents, or if their parents were alive, they would never see them again,” Maureen said. “They are starved for love and affection and we were only there to offer a few days’ worth.”

Travelling to a different country was also a challenge.

“The hardest part was being out of our element,” Brooke said. “We were put in situations which forced us to rely on each other more.”

Some of the activities the team members enjoyed doing most with the boys included making tie blankets (with materials brought from Little Falls), playing soccer, playing basketball and just talking to them. All team members agreed that having the boys teach the team their ways was the best thing.

“The poverty in Jamaica is overwhelming, with 70 percent unemployed. The boys at the home are fed three times a day, compared to most Jamaicans who eat once a day. This moves them into an ‘upper class’ lifestyle,” said Maureen.

Since returning home, the team members have been looking at their lives and the people around them differently.

“I’m a lot more grateful for small things,” said Victoria.

“I’m more accepting of different people, people with different backgrounds,” said Brooke. “Maybe they just need someone to listen and be there for them, support them.”

“I view people with greater value,” Kaj said. “There are reasons why people do certain things.”

“I feel like we don’t need as much stuff to be happy,” Heather said.

“When I looked in my refrigerator, I knew I could go to the grocery store,” said Gene. “I could buy whatever I want there. There are so many people everywhere who can’t do that. I renew that in my mind daily.”

“Spending the week surrounded by boys who literally have nothing was very humbling,” said Maureen. “Seeing how they can be so happy and thankful for what they have makes you want to rethink your attitude about ‘having more’ and definitely makes you want to minimize.”

Heather sees another benefit of the team making the trip as the group, as they got to know each other better.

“At each team meeting before the trip, everyone moved a little closer together each time,” she said. “We can see each others’ strengths and weaknesses and can fill those holes for each other. I see that carrying on as we’re home and we support each other.”

“It was a very good learning experience for the youth,” said Adam. “We hope to draw more youth for a trip next year.”

“The long-term expectation is that this experience will stir us to be ‘serving’ members of our own society,” said Heather. “This will no doubt be only the first of many team mission trips this congregation will support.”

“I plan on going back,” Gene said. “I’d like to do it every year.”