Base Airmen take leave for humanitarian mission to Jamaica

  • Published
  • By 88th Air Base Wing Chaplains Office
  • 88th Air Base Wing
When most people think of the island of Jamaica, they might imagine swaying palm trees, white sandy beaches and laying beside the blue-green ocean in pure relaxation. 

Recently, 14 active-duty and Reserve Airmen and their spouses went to Jamaica, but vacation was not their objective or their experience. From July 7-14, this group of men and women took leave time in order to live among the Jamaican people and build a home for a needy Jamaican single mother and her two small children. 

Sponsored by the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Chapel, the group participated in a life-changing humanitarian mission trip that not only involved the physical labor of building the house, but also included identifying with the poor by living as they do. The group traveled to town of Cascade in the mountains of Jamaica, where the famous "Blue Mountain" coffee is grown, and lived among the coffee farmers and residents of this impoverished area for the week. 

"Our goal was to build a small, two-room house for a deserving single mother, but we left with more," said Chaplain (Capt.) William Spencer, the team's leader. "We built relationships with the people we ministered to and offered hope to the region through our effort." 

When the house was officially completed after four days of construction, the group gave the house to the family. It was then that Chaplain Spencer made it clear who had done the work. 

"We let it be known that we were active-duty and Reserve Airmen from Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, who had taken time off work and raised our own support in order to participate in the trip," he said. "The men and women of Cascade, Jamaica, now know that the people of the United States Air Force care about them." 

While the team labored in Jamaica, they were privileged to eat and live as the Jamaicans of the region do, the chaplain said. Curried goat, fried plantain and rice and beans were main staples of their diet, and water and electricity were scarce. Several days were spent without power, and when water did run it was cold and merely trickled out of the faucet. 

Most group participants, however, deemed their situation a privilege and "an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime learning experience," according to participants. 

"Despite my initial nervousness about living with 25 people in a two-bathroom house with only a trickle of cold water and a chance of electricity, I quickly redefined my idea of 'normal' living or living by my American standard," noted trip participant Capt. Jennifer Diercks. "In just a few short days, I felt like a member of our host family and began calling their house my home. 

"I quickly realized I did not miss all the "things" from my American home that I did at first, and I began to appreciate so many aspects of their way of life. Each day spent in Jamaica was so rich, full of purpose and accomplishment." 

The trip was God-centered, others-focused and taught everyone on the team about sacrifice, according to Heidi Spencer, wife of the chaplain. 

"We sacrificed for each other, sacrificed for the women for whom we built the house and, most importantly, witnessed true sacrificial love from the Jamaicans for our team members," Mrs. Spencer said. "The family we stayed with was so generous - sharing everything they had with our group. From their food to their beds, there was nothing they had that they weren't willing to give up for us. It taught me about God's sacrificial love for us, and I will be forever changed and humbled as a result of this trip." 

"In Jamaica, God was at the center of each day," Capt. Dierks said. "I focused my attention on the needs of others and realized I hadn't been worrying about my own needs at all. I felt incredibly full of life, energy and ambition. 

"I realized that it is not the 'stuff' we're surrounded by every day that makes us rich, but the purpose that fills our days. I now lift my head up and ask God to guide me in whatever purpose He has set out for my life, and I can't wait for the next opportunity to serve."