Journey to Jamaica

Oct 4, 2021 | Stories from the Diocese

By the Rev. Catherine Hicks

St. Peter’s, Port Royal, has been described as “a little church on the river with a big heart.” And because of its big heart, all 350 students at the Victoria Elementary School in Jamaica, will start the school year with a bookbag full with school supplies. The backpacks were presented by a mission team of seven people from St. Peter’s who made the journey in August to meet the students in person.

Back in 2019, church member Andrea Pogue, who is from Jamaica and who attended the Victoria School herself, came to the Vestry and explained that, in Jamaica, the custom is that those who can do so will return to their homeland to give back to the people and the institutions who have shaped who they have become. This way of giving thanks offers others a hope of success in their own lives.

Andrea’s dream was to give back to her elementary school. The Vestry agreed wholeheartedly to take on a project to help the school.

As the Covid rates went down this past spring, we made the decision to move forward with the project, which we had put on hold during 2020. In short order, the church members raised $3,000 and purchased enough school supplies and book bags for the 350 students. Andrea and Ken Pogue, Cookie Davis and Johnny Davis, Laura Carey, Jan Saylor, and Rector Catherine Hicks decided to make the journey to bring greetings from St. Peter’s in person, and to hand out the bookbags to the students.

At the end of June, church members packed all the school supplies and shipped them to Jamaica in advance of their arrival. We arrived in Jamaica on August 19. The next, day we made the trip out to the school, perched on the side of a mountain in the parish of St. Catherine. The yellow school buildings sit along a narrow street in a small village. In a sweltering classroom, we unpacked the crates, then filled the bookbags with the supplies.

The next morning, under an overcast sky and in the stifling humidity that indicated coming rain, parents and young children, all in masks, gathered in droves, lining up along the covered walkway that sheltered the open-walled classrooms for grades 1-3, adjacent to the classroom building for grades 4-6.

Andrea Pogue spoke to the assembled children and their parents and told them about growing up nearby, about walking to school every day from the mountain near the village, about the importance of education, about how God has been with her on her journey, and about how God is with us all. Knowing that God is with us helps us through the difficult times in our lives.

The families could relate to what Andrea was saying to them, for many of them live with the ongoing challenges of poverty. Andrea’s words brought encouragement and inspiration to them. She also encouraged everyone to find and to be a part of a faith community.

The Rev. Catherine Hicks brought greetings on behalf of everyone at St. Peter’s and the promise of our ongoing prayers for the students, their families and school’s 14 dedicated staff members.

And then for the next two hours, we handed out the book bags and school supplies. As Cookie Davis told the congregation on our return, “The happy faces of the students matched ours as we helped them to choose their bookbags.”

All of the bookbags were distributed and, with the money we had left over, the principal plans to buy a new projector for the school. The assistant principal told us that, although our partially filled book bags seemed like only small gifts to us, in the face of all the needs these students have, the bags provide tremendous hope and encouragement.

For the past year, St. Peter’s congregation has also joined Andrea’s family and others in donating money for and purchasing dinners put on by Andrea’s family to raise money to restore the family house on the mountaintop near the school where two of Andrea’s brothers still live. Part of our mission was to visit this house, not quite finished, but well on the way to being completed. St. Peter’s people, members of Andrea’s family, gathered on the mountaintop at the family home site to celebrate the progress. As Jan said on our return, “In many ways, St. Peter’s has become a part of the family as well, as we’ve taken part in building the house.”

Our trip to Jamaica occurred just ahead of the latest Covid surge. We could not have guessed as we were planning the trip that the day after the distribution, the people of Jamaica would go into a three-day lockdown declared throughout the country to slow the spread of Covid. We were thankful that Covid did not sabotage our plans to go to Jamaica, to bring the good news of God’s love, to celebrate and to make connections that we hope will endure and lead to more work with and on behalf of the Jamaican people.

This mission has also been good news for St. Peter’s. As Cookie Davis reminded the congregation, “Any of us can be a missionary!” and everyone at St. Peter’s got to be a missionary in some form or fashion in making this mission a reality. We were reminded, as Cookie quoted, that “We are the ones God chooses and sends into places of need, to do God’s work of healing, liberating, and restoring—and our weakness (or in our case our small size) is no excuse! God says to us what God says to Moses, ‘I will be with you!’ We need not be afraid. It is always God’s work, not ours.”