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Jesus Loves the Little Children

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Amongst the rolling mountains and green bushels outside Kingston, Jamaica sits a little children’s home with the beautiful faces of children with lives and stories that are told through their precious laughs, yummy Jamaican cuisine, and hearts to praise the Lord. 

Mystery Solved

This past June, I had the amazing opportunity to join a team of SEU students to serve at the City of Refuge, a children’s home in St. Andrew’s Parish on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica. Unlike other mission trips, this was considered a “mystery trip.” All of the team members interviewed and chosen for this trip had no idea what the location was until we got to the airport on the day we departed. Our two leaders only gave us the details for packing like weather, continent, type of ministry, etc. 

Telling people about a concept such as a “mystery mission trip” seemed crazy. The long-awaited answer to where we were going was answered after our drive to the airport, and it was one of the most exciting and memorable experiences ever. 

The Culture and the City of Refuge 

Although most people may think of Jamaica as a dream vacation spot, Kingston has some of the country’s most impoverished areas. Despite their circumstances, the culture and welcoming energy brought by the people are unlike any other place. 

The City of Refuge is a place where children from infancy to age 18 have unfortunate living conditions; this can look like parents who cannot financially support their children, absent parents, and physically/emotionally abusive environments. The City of Refuge gets contacted in these situations. They house the kids by gender and age group and provide clothing, food, and fun events and activities, as well as transportation to school and church services. This gives the kids there a solid and steadier life compared to where they were before. The City of Refuge has created a great community for these children to establish a work ethic, hobbies, and ultimately a community of brothers and sisters. 

The living situations are separated into different houses with one caretaker per age group and gender. Since it is located on a mountain, you travel on steep, curvy, concrete steps that, even after running around there for two weeks, never failed to leave me out of breath. On the other hand, the sunsets after every dinner were breathtaking — warm oranges and yellows mixed with purples and pinks. The view each day consisted of fluffy clouds, bright blue skies, and fairly cool weather due to the elevation, but we also enjoyed the warm, inviting sun. 

The Ministry

This trip was heavy on kids’ ministry — running different events for them such as church, youth services, and a carnival. Unlike most teams that visit the City of Refuge for a week, our team from SEU served there for two weeks. This was a blessing. In the end, though, it made it extremely hard to say goodbye to the children we had spent several hours with daily.  

While there, we were tasked with a few different painting and construction projects. These included painting their dining area and some housing facilities designated for older girls, as well as building a storefront-type room with an array of goodies and things that the kids could purchase with “money” they earned as incentives during their programming. 

Our day-to-day schedule remained consistent. We were up by 8:00 AM for morning devotionals, each done by a different team member each day, followed by breakfast at 9:00 AM. From late morning to afternoon, we would work, have lunch, and then the evening schedule would change depending on the day. On Sundays and Wednesdays, we would run church services consisting of worship and a sermon. On other days, we could play with the kids and eat dinner with them; it was a very relational and intentional time with our whole team, the adults who run the home, and of course, the children. 

One of the Marking Moments 

One of the marking moments from my trip to Jamaica happened quite early in the trip, and I believe it set the tone and heart posture for those two weeks. It was the very first worship time we spent with the kids. This was also the first time we all were immersed in their environment, which was precious, fun-loving, and chaotic in the best way. Our whole team expanded across the sanctuary to pray before and then sit with the children. It was special because we all had very different, but divine experiences with different kids at each service. I was sitting on the right side of their sanctuary and near the front, and immediately when all of them ran in, a few early elementary boys came my way. 

All of the laughs and jumping around created a loud and up roaring atmosphere. They came over to me and instantly became interested in my hair, clothes, notebook, bible, and any extra little bracelets and knick-knacks that caught their eye. It was hilarious. I loved their chaotic, hyper energy. Then worship began. One of my team leaders, Isabelle Thomas, learned acoustic guitar for the trip, so worship consisted of a sing-along, acoustic-style, and simple setup. We sang classic worship songs and songs that their community knew well, and soon there were shouts of joy, jumping, in-sync dancing, twirling, and praising. While I was worshipping during one of the slower songs, my arms were in a constant pattern of going up and down. I genuinely was in a posture of worship. I casually looked at the young boy beside me, and he was mimicking my hands and what I was doing while worshiping. It was a very memorable moment for me, both humbling and pure. Pure because I realized how impressionable the kids were. What I was doing and saying while serving at the City of Refuge was important because the kids will remember it. Learning how to act happens at a young age and is so crucial to formative their learning and attitudes. Specifically, it’s wonderful that the groups visiting the City of Refuge can love on the kids, reflecting the love of Christ in a nurturing, gentle manner. Humbling as well because I was nobody to them, it was simply a heart of worship and the moving of the Holy Spirit that prompted this kid to mimic me. At that moment, I continued to ask the Lord to use me as a vessel for the rest of the trip, to use me to reflect Christ’s love, without the need to be remembered or given any credit — because that’s not the goal at all. Overall, these services were some of my favorite moments serving in Jamaica.

Having a Heart for God’s Children 

No matter what I was doing on the rocky, stone steps that created a maze around the whole facility, whether it be painting, singing with the kids, helping Ms. Baa (the amazing woman in charge of food), cooking meals, washing dishes, doing homework with the kids, my heart was overflowing — overflowing with the tender and soft love the Lord has for their community of people. If I am being completely honest, going into this trip, knowing it was kids’ ministry made me nervous. Not that I didn’t like working with kids, but I felt I wasn’t equipped or necessarily “called” to that area of ministry. The two weeks I spent at the city of refuge changed my mentality about that forever. 

One thing about the Jamaican kids is they LOVE hugs. Their culture as a whole is pretty physical in terms of endearment. The girls love to play with your hair; put it in braids, ponytails, or whatever their little hearts desire. As mentioned before, most of the kids who live in the City of Refuge have absent parental figures or none at all. They lack the love and affection most young children yearn for in their early years, such as comfort if they’re crying, care if they get hurt, and genuine concern for their emotional well-being. This became evident quickly when our team arrived. All the kids there simply wanted our undivided attention when it came to playtime. One time, an elementary-aged boy had fallen while we were racing around their playground. He came up to show me his wound, and I offered to go with him to clean up and get a bandaid. The idea of me accompanying him to care for his wound seemed unheard of to him. We walked up several flights of concrete steps, found him a bandaid, and he gave me the biggest and tightest hug after. 

Moments like those showed me how much these kids need nurture and care. My heart broke for the kids we worked with and still breaks to this day when I’m in times of prayer and the Lord reminds me of the impact they made on my life. I continually pray for the kids and teenagers at the City of Refuge. I pray for their futures, resources, and hearts to get tugged on by the Lord. 

I am forever grateful for this trip and if I could relive it time and time again, I would. 

By Emma Stern, Student Writer 

Learn More 

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City of Refuge

About SEU Missions

Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff travel the globe each year through SEU Missions. Each student-led mission trip has a specific purpose with one overall goal — to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.

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