Yesterday I helped to run a training day for a group of 20 people wanting to explore how they can help their communities come together. I was able to share a bit of my recent experience at a festival in Jamaica.
When i was there a few weeks ago, we had a week of training in which we took a group of 30 people on a personal and group journey that culminated in a community festival at Majesty Gardens. As you know from my last blog, this was my first time in Jamaica, i was struck by the incredible natural beauty of the place – i only caught glimpses of it as we journeyed between Kingston in the south east and Duncans in the north west of the Island. Travelling through the lush, precarious mountains, traversing huge rivers in deep valeys, running along side the beautiful coastline, was incredible despite multiple near misses on the roads and passing several serious road accidents. It would have been nice to have the space to enjoy the beauty more, but alas time (and possibly my nerves!) did not permit.
Majesty Gardens is one of the rougher communities in the suburbs of Kingston. It’s very similar to Alexandra, Johannesburg or Nassarawa, Kaduna. Similar chaos of homes and shelters, brick and corrugated iron dwellings, open sewers, fine cars and barefoot kids, the beautifully dressed and the unkempt; yetwithall it is home to and loved by members of the Fusion team in Kingston. Each year the guys run a foundations course in January and the participants become the team for a festival at Majesty Gardens.
At the end of the festival it was moving to hear team members who have grown up in Majesty Gardens describe with tears in their eyes the meaning of the festival and what they had seen take place during those few hours in their home town. For me it was a reminder of what can take place when a small group of people love Jesus enough to band together and reach out to others, willing to make the effort to bring another reality into being.
I noticed what seemed to me to be a unique harsh edginess amongst the young people and kids at Majesty, you saw it in their interactions with each other, their keenness to see what they could get away with and a flavour of violence that laced their presence. So, into that imagine the significance of helping a child learn to walk on stilts, looking into their eyes and giving quiet words of encouragement, seeing their face erupt into smiles and reflecting them back. Or sitting on a door step with a bunch of young boys, at the end of the festival, just chatting about this and that, answering their questions about places they had only every heard of. There was a young boy about 10 years old who was deaf and dumb who spent the afternoon being carried on a team members back or learning to walk on stilts, relishing being smiled on and looked at in the eye. One of our team spoke in amazement about his next door neighbour, with some level of intellectual impairment and who was not known to have engaged in conversation with anyone in the last 12 years – at the festival this man was engaging with the team and others and even spoke over the microphone.
Something significant happens when a bunch of mates gather and create a safe place where others can come, where the forgotten ones are seen – life and joy are wooed and slowly emerge. In some places it happens quickly, other places like Majesty, the change takes years, but if we will just hang on… it comes.