Friday, April 26, 2013

Jamaica: ONE LOVE

Twenty-six countries.  Nineteen months.  Countless flat-tires, car breakdowns, sleepless nights and moments of roaring laughter.  One heart.  One vision.  ONE LOVE.

It’s hard to believe that our wild journey throughout Latin America and the Caribbean has finally come to an end after nineteen intense months.  When I joined the Iris team in September 2011, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  My planned eleven months on the road quickly turned into nineteen, and I’d be lying if I said the journey wasn’t far more than I bargained for.  I was stretched in ways I never dreamt possible; sometimes the process was so painful I thought I would burst.  But in the end, I don’t regret a moment of it.  I have more trust in God than ever before.  I have renewed faith for impossible things.  I look at the future with hopeful expectation.  I am honestly in awe of Jesus.

Despite the challenges of the past year, the victories far outweigh them.  Besides going through my own personal transformation, I saw God do things in front of my eyes for others that I’d only read about before.  Collectively, my teammates and I saw cancer healed, deaf ears opened, blind eyes healed, the lame walking, limbs growing out, backs healed, and people set free.  Sure, I missed a real bed, hot showers, friends, family, normal food, and the distant memories of a routine—but no, I wouldn’t change the past nineteen months for the world.  The things sacrificed cannot even compare to the things gained.

As my teammates and I approached the end of our trip, I prayed that God would give us an exciting ending.   Though exhausted in every way, my teammates and I were determined to finish well.  From Cuba, we flew to our twenty-sixth and final nation—the beautiful island of Jamaica.  During our final hour, God still had some surprises up His sleeve for us and gave us a perfect ending for a wild journey.

Personally, I was elated to finish our time in Jamaica.  I’d been dreaming of visiting this island since I was a little girl, and reaching Jamaica seemed like the prize at the finish line of a very long race.  While planning for the Caribbean leg of the journey back in December, the Lord had told me to simply dream with Him.  Along the way, He met every dream, fulfilled every promise, and surprised me with unexpected gifts. It seemed only fitting that entering our final country was a fulfillment of a lifelong dream.  Being in Jamaica was like a physical manifestation of God’s promises. 

Right away, I fell in love with Jamaica.  The crystal-clear beaches, friendly people, delicious jerk chicken, and unique melody of the Patwa language—it was just as I’d always imagined it.

We began our time in Jamaica just outside Montego Bay to volunteer at a children’s home.  Days later, we worked our way to the sleepy beach town of Negril and ended our trip in the capital city of Kingston.  Through a complicated chain of events, we got connected to a Bethel Church team who was headed to Kingston the same week as us.  Every spring, Northern California’s Bethel Church (the church to which Iris Ministries is officially “married”) sends teams all over the world for short-term mission trips.  Because Iris and Bethel are closely linked, Iris’s Heidi Baker had visited Bethel Church at the start of our journey to officially commission our trip to minister in Latin America and the Caribbean.  It seemed significant that we’d begun our journey with a blessing from Bethel; and now, nineteen months later, we’d come full circle and ended with Bethel.

Partnering with Bethel seemed like a divine connection, but I was unaware of just how much had happened behind the scenes to connect us.  Upon arriving in Kingston, we met with the Bethel team as well as the local pastors who were hosting us and sat in awe as we listened to God’s divine hand in it all.  Unbeknownst to me, the Jamaicans had been dreaming of having people from both Bethel Church and Iris Ministries visit their island congregation for a long time.  The pastor who invited my team to join them in Kingston didn’t initially realize we were from Iris Ministries and freaked out when he found out that Iris and Bethel would both be at his church at the same time.  Meanwhile, one of the leaders of Bethel was receiving words from the Lord about Jamaica, even having a dream that revealed who her co-leader would be.  A Jamaican woman from the Kingston congregation had a dream of a large group of white people standing on their stage and didn’t know what it meant.  And my team weaved our way into this church through a friend of a friend of my parents who just-so-happened to go to Christmas dinner with one of the pastors this past Christmas.  The pastor normally spent the holiday with a different family but decided to change things up this past Christmas.  The connections made at that dinner were what introduced my team into this beautiful web of Jamaican and Bethel brothers and sisters.

I quickly realized it was no coincidence that all of us were in Kingston together. And as I heard the expectancy from the Jamaicans and the Bethel team, my expectancy grew as well.  I knew God was going to do something great in Jamaica.

We began our time in Kingston with a healing conference at the church, and right away God began to move in a powerful way.  From the first night to the last day, God healed and freed many people.  To be honest, I hadn’t seen an unusually large amount of healings throughout the other islands, but the Holy Spirit broke loose in this place; and people were getting healed left and right.  There were so many testimonies that I gave up trying to record them all.  Here are just a handful…

One man in the congregation had a friend who was stuck at home with a sick daughter but wanted to be at the conference.  As people were healed of various ailments, they marched to the front of the church to share their healings.  This man started texting his friend the testimonies. As she read the stories of healing on her phone, the Holy Spirit invaded her home, touched her daughter, and the fever left her body. 

Natalie received a word of knowledge that someone in the congregation was allergic to water.  She saw a picture of itchy irritated skin from the allergy.  As she shared the word aloud, I wondered if it was even possible to be allergic to water and where she’d gotten this idea from.  Yet sure enough, the following day, a man from the congregation grabbed the mic to share his healing testimony with the church.  “I was allergic to water,” he declared.  “Whenever I showered or got sweaty, my skin would feel itchy for twenty to thirty minutes afterwards.”  I looked at my teammates in disbelief.  This was real.  The man went on, “But I’ve been dancing around the church, getting sweaty, and I am not itchy!  I’ve been healed!”

On the first night of the conference, I prayed for a young man who had problems with heart palpitations and shortness of breath.  On my way home that night, I just-so-happened to bump into the young man in the parking lot.  He approached me and exclaimed, “I’m so glad to see you!  I need to tell you something!  I’ve been running around and around, and I’m not short of breath!” He was grinning from ear to ear.  This was good news.

Another young Jamaican man named Matthew, who helped serve as a chauffeur for me and my teammates, shared an amazing testimony with us.  Matthew explained that just getting to the conference was a miracle in of itself.  Though born in Kingston, Matthew had been studying in Montego Bay (several hours away), as well as spending time in the Cayman Islands where his family lived.  He was scheduled to start an internship back in Montego Bay after visiting the Cayman Islands, but he ended up taking a little detour to Kingston.  He needed to help with wedding preparations in the city, and his internship was pushed back two weeks.  He knew the Lord had brought him back to Kingston for this specific time, and he had come to the conference with high expectations. 

Matthew had been in a snowboarding accident five years prior while attending boarding school in the states. He had three herniated disks, which were extremely painful.  After the accident, Matthew had to throw away his dream of becoming a professional soccer player and dealt with depression as he couldn’t do the physical things he used to.  He had spent a long time rehabilitating his back and doing physiotherapy.  Doctors warned him that if he didn’t keep the muscles around his back strong, he would be at risk for paralysis later in life. But Matthew no longer has to fear such a thing, because during the conference, God completely healed and restored his back.  All pain left; all disks were restored. Matthew is now able to bend over and do things he couldn’t do since age sixteen.

But my favorite healing testimony belongs to the Jamaican woman who hosted Aleeza and me.  Betty had worn glasses for over a decade but wasn’t even thinking about her eyes at the conference.  In fact, when Betty stood up for prayer, she asked God to heal her back pain.  Yet, as people prayed for her back, she received a surprise she hadn’t asked for.  Her eyesight was unexpectedly restored.  She was so shocked she could see without glasses that she completely forgot about her back.  Realizing that her vision was the same whether her glasses were on or off, Betty started telling everyone around her what had just happened.  She shared the good news with Aleeza and me as we got into her car to drive home—the first time she’d driven without glasses in years.  “We’re your guinea pigs!” we joked. “Betty, you better really be healed if you’re going to drive right now!”

Betty, Aleeza, and I laughed the whole ride home.  Every time we stopped behind another car, Betty read the license plate numbers aloud and asked me to confirm the accuracy.  With every correct answer, we erupted into more giggles.  Betty was so surprised that her joy and laughter was contagious.  God is just cool like that.

After the conference, the Bethel team split into two ministry groups--one heading off to the countryside, the other stationed in Kingston.  After many changes of plans, we Iris five were asked to stay in Kingston with the city team.  One morning, Nick, the leader of the city team invited us to visit their host house to pray for us.  We gladly accepted the offer.

We were driven up to the beautiful mountain home where the Bethel team was staying.  The view was breathtaking, overlooking the city and the ocean.  Nick said his teammates wanted to wash our feet and pray for us.  As they prayed for God to bless us for the sacrifices we’d made, so much was going through my head.  Tears began to flow from my eyes remembering the past nineteen months of my life—remembering the pain of being separated from friends and family during crucial moments, the devastation of being robbed and watching my teammates get robbed, the discouragement of illness, the frustration of endless car breakdowns, the nights sleeping on the side of the road, the moments of paralyzing fear and the reality of just being plain exhausted.  People often ask to hear about the glory, the healing testimonies, the stories of adventure—but most don’t acknowledge the pain and sacrifice that come alongside those stories.  As the Bethel team prayed for us, I felt tears begin to trickle down my cheeks.  Our trip had been amazing, but it hadn’t been easy.  And someone noticed.  Someone cared.  Someone took the time to stop for us.

As the five of us—Alan, Roberta, Aleeza, Natalie and myself—sat there receiving the blessing of having our feet washed, I couldn’t help but to think about the many people who weren’t sitting there with us.  I couldn’t help but to remember the beautiful faces of my teammates—my family—who had gone home after the completion of South America and not returned for the Caribbean.  I couldn’t help but to mourn the loss of their presence for the final leg of the journey.

I remembered that Natalie had told me many months ago (long before we separated in South America) that the Holy Spirit gave her the number seventeen and told her seventeen people would finish the trip in the Caribbean.  While traveling with just five people, I figured that had simply been a mistake.  However, in Kingston, I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to count the number of people on the Bethel team standing beside us.  I asked Nick how many people from his team were left in Kingston, and he said that after many rearrangements, they were a team of twelve.  The twelve Bethel members plus our Iris five formed a final team of seventeen.  We had become one unit; and just as Natalie had heard many months prior, we finished in Kingston with seventeen people.  So many hard changes had tried to come against the vision in our hearts, but when God says something will be done, it will be done.  When God says seventeen, it will be seventeen.  Though it was hard to lose such a big portion of our team, God has such a beautiful way of redeeming things and accomplishing His purposes. He is truly awesome.

I wanted God to give me a very exciting ending to our story.  He gave me a finish beyond my wildest dreams.  Not only did we see miracles in Jamaica—eyes healed, lungs healed, deaf ears opened, herniated disks restored, etc.—we saw God’s divine hand wrap up our entire journey into a beautiful time of redemption and restoration.  He gave us new stories, new testimonies, and new friends.  We saw God’s blessing, His honor, His grace, and His complete control of everything.

The phrase “one love” from Bob Marley’s famous reggae song has become an unofficial slogan of Jamaica, and I can’t think of any better way to sum up the story of Iris Latin America.  In Jamaica, the phrase “one love” refers to a universal love for all people.  No matter what your color, gender, beliefs or ethnicity, you shall remain under the covering of “one love” for every person.  After visiting God’s children in the largest cities of Latin America, in indigenous tribes in the jungle, on the streets of red-light districts, inside prisons, in orphanages, on farms in remote rural villages, and everywhere in between, we saw the true “One Love” moving and breathing upon all of them.  We saw God’s love for all His children—from the fairest ones to the darkest ones.  We saw God’s love for the jungle chief, the prostitute, the prisoner, the orphan, the mayor, the rich man and the poor man.  We saw no bounds on God’s love. 

I love to share cool stories and testimonies, but there is something that I feel is far greater to share—LOVE.  The greatest miracle we can ever experience is the raw, unconditional love of Jesus Christ.  Everything else is meaningless without it.  I have traveled the world and been privileged to see many things and many nations.  And my best testimony, my journey’s greatest conclusion, my favorite memory is love.

Thank you for reading and for following this journey.  May God bless you and fill you to the brim with His beautiful LOVE!

submitted by Caitlin Scudder

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