One of the most surreal things about serving as a missionary is the different worlds that you find yourself moving between.
A month ago we had just held “The Impact of Trauma on Children” seminar, with a visiting psychologist from Canada, Jeanne Willliams. The seminar had 177 attendees and 30 volunteers from many walks of life. We had overwhelmingly positive feedback about how informative the event was and encouraging reports from many saying how effective it was to put what was learned into practice straight away with children they were working with in Jamaica.
Throughout the following week Liz and I were attending daily training sessions in Trench Town along with 5 other members of Fusion Jamaica’s team. We were being trained in play therapy skills each morning and every afternoon each trainee ran a ‘special play time’ with one of the children from our kids club. The aim was to create safe space so that these children could process some of their internal world through play each day, and by doing this we saw a wide range of feelings being processed; anger, grief, fear, feeling violated, (among many others). For the most part, this safe place was uninterrupted, but we did have to part a serious fight between one of the children and an older child who was just passing by, we also had to negotiate with one of the mothers who gave her daughter a severe beating for missing one of the play sessions, and encourage one of the other mothers not to give away the doll that her daughter had made that week (after hearing from the girl that all the other presents that she has received from Kids club were taken from her and given to her younger sister).
In spite of these challenges, every child who took part in those special play times showed remarkable signs of healing. One mother said her daughter had gained a ‘calmer spirit’, another that her daughter was ‘behaving much better’, another one of the children has been emotionally withdrawn since we have known her and suddenly started smiling, laughing and playing spontaneously with other children as she went home, and even the boy who was attacked during his play time was encouraged to think how not to let that happen again (it had started with him using the water pistol and inadvertently spraying a passer by). He was very excited when he realised that he could just move the mat away from the doorway and smiled from ear to ear the following day as he used the water pistol with no negative consequences!
We have been working with most of these children for several years, but the added element of these special play times brought a level of healing that we have not seen before in such a short time, which brings real hope for the future. The safe place for each child, facilitated by the team member, gave space for them to process life, and for God’s spirit to work in them at a very deep level.
Since then we ran a Festival in August Town, which built a sense of community more quickly than we have seen at an event like that for a long time. The police had not wanted to give permission for this festival because the community was tense with outbreaks of violence. Afterwards they thanked the local church who helped to host the festival because it had restored the community spirit and brought people together again.
After that Liz and I travelled to Canada to help run a Foundations course, while Zoë and Ollie took part in the Kids Club that ran alongside the course. This was another very encouraging week as people (including the children) felt seen and loved in the context of a supportive community, and people’s lives were touched by God’s word.
Now we are England visiting family and supporters while preparing for another Foundations course in Greece in just over a week. These changes each bring a significant cultural adjustment … from inner-city Kingston to Alberta to rural England where, in the last two days, we have been to a garden party and a village fete; complete with a coconut shy game, a flower arranging competition, and a ‘splat the rat’ game among several other very English experiences.
As different as these experiences have been and as surreal as it has been to jump between these very different worlds, the thing that has struck me most is the things that are constant everywhere. Children (and adults) thrive when we are deeply seen by others, and where we feel safe in community with other people. Many people don’t experience this very often, because it doesn’t just happen by itself; it takes love … in the form of selfless service and intentional investment in making community a safe place for others.
Communities like this have been a rare thing throughout human history. Jesus’s response was to instruct his disciples to pray for workers (in Matt 10), and then send them out as workers (in Matt 11). We do well to pray for workers, but we also need to be willing to go, sometimes out from the places where we feel safe, to be workers in the service of a wonderful harvest of healing and hope.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” ” Matt 10:36 – 38