Lori (not her real name) is fifteen, and attends our youth programme every week. She is normally quick to laugh, quick to get involved in all of the activities, and also keen to hear the testimonies and things that are shared from God’s word. Last week she responded to an opportunity to pray at the end with one of the leaders, and was sincere in committing herself to God and His will for her life. But last night she turned up early, looking stunned and in disbelief. Her close friend from school, also fifteen years old, had died that morning in terrible circumstances. The girl’s mother and her were victims of an arson attack on Sunday, and (as far as we know) it seems that the culprit, who locked them in the house and then firebombed it, was the stepfather. Four days after the attack, Lori’s friend died of her injuries. 

Loosing a close friend like that is a lot for a 15 year old to deal with, and Lori is clearly struggling to process something that, as yet, she can barely even believe has happened. Two other girls in the youth programme are also friends of the girl who died so are likewise grieving. But even while processing so much, Lori and both other friends of the girl who died will be helping out as leaders at our Advent Pageant on Sunday. They had been selected as leaders for the event and came to the training last night, but even though I gave them the option to step back if they felt they needed to, they all said that they wanted to continue as leaders. They will be serving younger children, helping them to get in costume, supervising the march, and running the Festival activities afterwards; as together we share the hope of Christmas with their community. 

The quote above was said a few weeks ago by Tara, who, along with her husband Adrian, have been here in Jamaica for 5 months. They are helping out a lot, and have been taking on increasing responsibility as Liz and I prepare to be away next year. In a moment of realisation about how challenging life is for the young people we work with, Tara said: “It’s never not hard, is it?!” She was not complaining, just observing how different it is to the life they had come from. I was actually very encouraged by those words, because it means a lot coming from someone who has served alongside us for months, and whose commitment is increasing along with their appreciation of the cost.

For Lori, for Adrian and Tara, and for all the volunteers whose sacrifices our ministry depends on, the sadness at the hard things we face is met by a deep conviction that the world should not be like this, and a determination of spirit to live for the light and not let the darkness win. And that is what the Bible calls hope.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16 & 17