Story by Heather Heiney on 08/26/2019PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. The Peterson Air Force Base Chapel sponsored a mission trip to Jamaica, July 30 Aug. 6, 2019, led by Lt. Col. William Spencer, 21st Space Wing chaplain. On the trip, we had a total of 13 people volunteer to go, 11 were active duty Airmen, spanning across eight different Air Force specialty codes, including civil engineer squadron, finance, religious affairs, public health, travel management office and cyber security. Our goal on this mission trip was to make some renovations and repairs on the Worthington Friends Church in downtown Kingston, Jamaica.
At the start of our trip, we landed in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and from there, we took a three-hour trip to Kingston, Jamaica by tour bus that was owned by Worthington Friends Church. On the way, I noticed that most of Jamaica seemed poverty stricken aside from the various and isolated resorts along the coast. There was an incredible amount of homelessness we observed, as well as worn out or ruined infrastructure and unfinished buildings that looked like they had been abandoned mid-construction. Our group on the bus discussed how we had no idea of the disarray that Jamaica was in because American tourism ads notably leave that part out. I personally compared it to conditions I had only seen while deployed as a security forces troop in Afghanistan and Jordan.
After we arrived and got settled in at the church, we began our three-day-long renovations part of the mission trip. Our team would start every morning with breakfast made by a team of Jamaican locals who were church volunteers. Once breakfast ended, we started work on the church annex. We primed, painted, caulked windows, did light carpentry, repaired concrete, and set up frames. A lot of us had no prior experience doing any kind of construction, but we each found something we were good at and completed our task as a team. All of this was done so the church could not only use this annex as a place to house other mission teams in the future, but also as a source of revenue by standing the annex up as a house for rent.
Each day ended with dinner made again by the locals. The food was incredible, and meals really felt like an authentic experience. We had fresh juices, barbecue chicken, stews, Jamaican slaw, and plenty of rice and beans. After dinner, we would get together and conclude with a devotional led by Chaplain Spencer. He would provide an incredible spiritual insight on the day and tie it in with the difficulties we may have encountered. Finally, we would retire to our living quarters for the day. The women stayed in the pastor's house, and the men stayed in a church classroom that was made into living quarters for our stay. Although we lived separately, we experienced close to the same living conditions. Jamaica is understandably humid, and most of us were not acclimated to it. We had no air conditioning, but we had a multitude of fans to circulate air, and since all the windows stayed open, most of us used sheets as our only covering to prevent being bitten by mosquitos.
On the Sunday before we left to explore the island, Chaplain Spencer preached the message at morning worship service. It seemed very well received, and the locals never took their eyes off of him for the entirety of the service. After that, we all said goodbye to the locals who graciously served us and left for the hotel we stayed at in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. The day after we arrived in Ocho Rios, we started our day of fun, exploring Dunn's River Falls, snorkeling in the ocean, being typical tourists and purchasing souvenirs to take home because our journey was coming to an end.
As for my personal take-away from the trip, I can say that I was remarkably humbled by the experience. I had no idea of the poor conditions in Jamaica, but it made me realize yet again everything we take for granted, and it allowed me to appreciate it much more when I got back. The work we did, although difficult, was so rewarding. I would constantly tell others on the team how much I enjoyed breaking up the monotony of my usual routine of sitting at a desk all day. Hands down the biggest takeaway from the trip for me was the friends I made in the fellow Airmen I volunteered with. By the end of the trip, we were more like a family. Building those relationships is what I will forever remember and cherish most about the trip. Lastly, although we witnessed so much hardship from the people of Jamaica, I have never met a group of people so welcoming, caring and hospitable than the Jamaican people. It was an honor to do impactful work in their community.