A group of Providence juniors and seniors flew to Jamaica over spring break, March 3-14, as part of their cross-cultural graduation requirement called the Avodah Immersion. The Avodah Immersion is a short term mission trip in a different cultural context. Justin Bleeker, Director of Student Life, who led the group in Jamaica, said of his desired goals for the trip, “I will say that we desire that the trip challenge students’ cultural views and perspective, to help them gain a broader view of the church, and to gain knowledge and interest in the work of missionaries to the point of considering a call to missions as a vocation or supporting and sending missionaries.”
The immersion cost $1600, and was funded by generous donations from churches, family and friends of the students who attended. The remaining balance was paid by the student.
The six students, along with Bleeker, arrived in Montego Bay on Thursday, March 3, after about twelve hours of flight, with two layovers in Chicago and Miami. They stayed with their missionary contact, Billie McKillop, who works for Ministries in Action. Ministries in Action is a interdenominational missionary organization that plants, disciples and serves churches in the Caribbean, South America and North America.
The first church they stayed at was called Sharon Gospel Assembly, pastored by Phillip Cardis, in the small inland town of Contrivance. Here they helped to build a multi-purpose building for the church.
On Sunday as they were driving to church, Cardis told the group on the fly that he had several jobs for the students. He needed someone to preach, someone to lead Bible study, someone to read a passage and someone to teach Sunday school. It was very surprising for the group, because they only had about ten minutes to prepare. Marie Bosma, junior, said that it is common for them to ask visitors to teach at their church services. Brett Tyler, a junior, preached on Philippians 2 and 4.
After their time in Contrivance the group moved on to a larger city called Hopewell, which is near Montego Bay, where the group made a stop. They stayed at Hopewell Missionary Church for the rest of the trip, where Ronald Webster was the pastor. On Thursday, March 10, they split into groups of one or two students and a few people from the church to evangelize door-to-door. They handed out tracts and talked with people about the gospel.
Tim Vander Mulen, a junior, said, “Most people were willing to talk, but it was hard to get them to accept what we were saying. Most people would say that they are Christian, but they don’t really know the gospel.” Jeff Munive, a senior, agreed. He said, “Christianity is so woven in the culture of Jamaica, when you give the gospel, they feel they’ve already heard it.” Bleeker said that their understanding of the gospel is very moralistic. Munive found that older people were more willing to listen, while the younger people put up a strong wall when they were spoken to about the gospel.
The following day they did a service project at the Hopewell church. They helped to construct a bathroom in the church, by tearing down walls, painting walls, moving furniture, etc. On Saturday they visited a popular tourist site called Dunn River Falls. The waterfall is gradual, so people are able to climb up and down it, and it leads into the ocean. They spent Sunday at Hopewell Missionary Church and on Monday they flew back to Los Angelos.
After thinking about his experiences in Jamaica, Vander Mulen feels that he learned what joy and contentment in Christ looks like from the church members there. “They had a genuine joy for the gospel and for their lives and Jesus.” Munive’s witness was similar. He noticed that they boasted and rejoiced in the Lord, and the result of this was a love for others. The churches welcomed them like old friends, even when they had just met.
Munive was very impacted by this chance to see the Kingdom of God at work in another culture. “For me, as I would plan on going into the mission field one day, it opened my eyes to see the unity in diversity of the global body of the church. There was a lot of teaching that I didn’t agree with, but seeing the missionary, Billie McKillop (who is PCA), that he had his differences yet his heart was still set on working with the Jamaican church. This is so vital–to not major the minors especially when trying to support churches down there. It was amazing to see that God’s kingdom is bigger than we think. It’s not exclusive to reformed Christians or to conservative Christians. As imperfect as the diversity is, there still is a unity that transcends all the differences that unites us under Christ. It reminds me of Paul as a missionary writing to different churches of different cultures and dealing with different doctrines but he still calls them ‘saints of God’.”
Munive’s contemplation is much of what the Avodah program tries to teach. Christians have a faith that transcends cultural differences. Munive also noted that for the most part their doctrine was very solid, but their worship leaned in a Pentecostal direction. It is probable that this has to do with the culture of the Jamaican people. The group observed that Jamaicans are very passionate and expressive, and therefore it was not unnatural for them to dance, or cry out during worship.
The missionaries in Jamaica continue to struggle with sharing the true gospel to the people of Jamaica. As Jamaican culture is very “Christian” in name, it can be challenging to share the gospel with a people who believe they already know it. Christianity is so weaved into the culture that they do not have a separation of church and state.
Although the Avodah Immersion program is only in its infancy stage, the trip was seen as quite successful by Bleeker. He says that it will take time for the students to process and continue to contemplate and learn from their experience. “I am grateful for the students who participated in this trip: their positive attitudes, critical analysis of the experience, and desire to seek truth during their time in Jamaica. It was a great blessing to have the support of the Providence community, family, and friends behind us as well.”