Fusion’s work always starts with small communities of people praying for, and getting to know their communities. This helps us know others in the community who are serving, what is already being done, what are the needs, and gives us a sense direction for how we can focus our work.
In Jamaica, this began in 1998 with a Jamaican Pastor (the late Rev. Bobby Wilmot) welcoming a British missionary (David Campbell) to come and partner with him and his church community in Trench Town; praying for and reaching out to young people in the community.
Our research into the community at the time highlighted the significant youth population, and the needs facing children and young people.
Here is a small (up to date) sample of these findings:
- 33.5% of the population of Trench Town is 14 years old or younger.
- And 54.6% of the population is 24 years old or younger.
- 44.8% of the households heads are unemployed, and 62.7% of household heads have no academic qualification
- There are high levels of unemployment especially among youth, limited opportunity for training and employment, poor parenting, poor conflict resolution skills, high incidences of violence, and 34% of children living in West Kingston have all the indicators of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), which affects their capacity to learn and develop.
(These 4 percentages are from the Trench Town Summary Profile, Social Development Commission, 2021 https://sdc.gov.jm/communities/trench-town-summary-profile/, The list (4th bullet) is adapted from Social Development Commission, Trench Town Community Priority Safety Plan, 2015, and the numbers on PTSD are from Dr. G Shetty, presentation on the Impact of Trauma, 2019)
Our research back in the late 90’s showed up slightly different figures, but revealed similar trends and issues, so we realised then that our work in West Kingston would have to focus on children and young people.
In 1999 we started running activity-based programmes for young people, offering positive activities like basketball courts, clubs and a league for under 14’s, as well a drama club for youth. The clubs used a character development curriculum, and we also began organising outward bound trips and camps to help the young people broaden their horizons.
Through this connection with children and youth we became increasingly aware of the number of parents and caregivers who were not well equipped for the demands of parenting, and the crippling impact of social cohesion being so low in their community. We connected with Fusion Australia in 2003 (through a conversation with an Australian missionary, Marty Woods, in an airport check in line) and as we got to know Fusion over the coming months we realised that the ethos of Fusion was a great match for the issues and needs of West Kingston.
The facet that Fusion Australia brought was showing us ways to train and involve the young people we were working with in having a positive impact on their community. This changed so much for us, so we adopted the Fusion name and worked to adapt their youth and community approach within the West Kingston context. Young people began to work alongside our team in putting on a range of community building events for the wider community throughout the year; community festivals, marches, plays, dances, and prayer marches featuring the prayers of the children. One of these events has been the annual Advent Pageant, where children dressed as angels, wise men and shepherds have followed Mary and Joseph on a march through the community in search of a room at the inn where Mary can have her baby. This has brought the message of Christmas to life in the streets of West Kingston each year; involving children, parents, residents, the police, soldiers, local shopkeepers and several churches. (This ran every year until 2019, and will be back as soon as Covid restrictions allow).
From 2007, in response to further research that revealed a trend of issues affecting children from a much younger age, we developed “Mango Tree Kids Club” after-school programmes for primary school aged children. We continued our work with youth, while involving the children and parents as well in the initiatives to strengthen community cohesion.
Then in 2008 we began working more intentionally with the parents, running a parenting programme for several years. With changes in our team and our support network we were unable to sustain a regular parenting programme, but we kept the children and youth work going, sustaining weekly contact with an average of 120 children and connecting with the parents and many more community members of all ages through regular community events for the next 12 years. (When the pandemic began we maintained contact with many of the children and their families through food package and prayer outreaches, grocery vouchers, back to school support, and Christmas Gift programmes.)
While many children responded well with the input from the after-school programmes, others continued to remain in negative cycles, or withdrew from our programmes after being affected by trauma in their lives. These children clearly needed something else as an intervention. Through connections with Fusion Canada we met Dr. Jeanne Williams and were introduced to “Restorative Play Times”, where parents or children’s workers could be trained in some of the basic practices used in child-centred play therapy. In 2017 we brought Jeanne to Jamaica and ran the first training for volunteers and the first set of “Restorative Play Times” for the children who most needed help. Through this approach we saw a level of emotional healing in these children that was beyond anything we had seen before.
Because of this we have continued to partner with Dr. Williams, who visited Jamaica each year (until 2020) to train local workers, and we have continued to offer these play times to children who have been affected by trauma.
At the beginning of 2018 we realised that we had to make a more significant adjustment to the way we had been doing things than any of the previous ones … because the work itself had subtly become central to our identity, nudging Jesus from that place. Inspired by similar stories from many places around the world, where others had been re-prioritising Him at the centre of their communities, we found ways to do things differently. We began to have our team connect in twos or threes where discipleship could happen more naturally, spent regular time in fellowship, made time to engage with God’s word together, gave more time to prayer, and shared regular meals together. As we did this, new life overflowed from our hearts, into our lives, and into our service in the community. We began to experience many stories of God’s timing; bringing provision right when it was needed, bringing new partnerships that were perfectly timed to address issues in the community, bringing training opportunities that equipped us for exactly the right next step etc. etc. … each one affirmed a simple truth: His presence at the centre is the life-source for everything else.
Having re-focussed around this truth helped us pivot into the new challenges and opportunities that the Covid pandemic brought. We could no longer run our regular programmes for large numbers of children, or the community programmes that brought large numbers of people together. Instead, we were able to run food package and prayer outreaches, back to school assistance, helping to install internet access points and provide tablets so that children who would not otherwise have access could attend school online, running a literacy mentoring programme, and making training available online.
So, where have we come from? A short answer would be: we have come from a grass-roots journey on the front lines, one could even say the trenches 🙂 , and that has taught us everything we are saying about being Christ-centred, outward-looking community.