Big Change = Discomfort + Fear, Then Trust

We were inspired to become a nonprofit when we realized we had reached our full growth potential in not being one. It was somewhat of a painful transition, as we were comfortable (that’s the worst, and when change will hit you hardest!), and were at a point where we could have continued business-as-usual and been mediocre in our efforts. Realizing that, there was no question that we were going to have to get uncomfortable to grow as an organization that serves others.

A little background – before our official launch as a 501c3 organization in 2017, we were sponsored as a “project” within a church since 2009, where they handled all the nonprofit paperwork and requirements for maintaining a 501c3 status so we didn’t have to (Nice!). They also sent us to attend missions team leader trainings and gave us airtime to share our experiences in Jamaica with the congregation. During that time, we ran a number of mission trips to Jamaica to rebuild homes, refurbish the Bluefields Community Center, and more. All the while, we were building relationships with the people of the Bluefields, Jamaica community, and THIS is the most important work that was being done!

Fast forward to 2016, and although all those dry, legal paperwork requirements were handled, operating as a “project” caused limitations in our growth because of a few factors:

  • Competing for attention with all the activities, budget items and other missions and work that were happening within a busy church environment.
  • Leaning on the same church audience to travel with us or donate to us, effectively tapping into the same people, year after year, month after month.
  • People outside of “The Church Proper” sometimes weren’t comfortable or willing to volunteer or donate to a religious organization (honestly, I sometimes have trouble with doing this, too.)
  • Our approach of ongoing, community-partnership-based international missions work generally didn’t fit into “the box” of a typical Christian mission trip and created some discomfort with it not being the norm. (See also: this fantastic article about the White Savior Complex)

As we contemplated moving away from the church and all the comforts there to stand on our own, there were many unknowns (and fear!) to contend with. How would we go about becoming a 501c3? (A: We got help) How would we have the time to run a business and work full-time at another job? (A: It’s worked out amazingly.) Where would the donations come from if it wasn’t from people we know? (A: People we don’t know – who’d have thought?)

Taking that first step forward got the ball rolling and we haven’t regretted a single moment. We found support in early 2017 from the Greensboro, North Carolina startup community and joined the Launch Greensboro program, which resulted in getting help to achieve our 501c3 status and a solid foundation to starting our nonprofit. We joined forces with Brandon Ward, who’d traveled often with us in the early years, to become our third co-founder to balance the work. Volunteers have come out of the woodwork to help us with all kinds of things (we’re so grateful to all of you!). We have seen interest from people within our own neighborhoods but also from across the country and beyond, ultimately resulting in personal donations of a few dollars on up to corporate donations of thousands.

In 2018, we were officially official, and in those 12 short months, we were able to achieve so much as a team personally and professionally. Most importantly, through the programs and projects we’ve completed in partnership with the communities we serve, we’ve been able to impact many lives for the better. What we’ve learned from this is not to fear change – but to embrace it! And…hold on for the ride.

Comment below about a time YOU faced a big change. What did you fear? Why did you need to make that change? How did you get through it? What resulted from it?

8 Tips to Try Next Time You Travel

Over the years, we’ve learned a few things about traveling, although we still can end up trying to get on the wrong plane (ahem…featured post image…not naming any names…)!

While we’re gearing up for travel season, we thought you’d enjoy a few things we’ve learned about moving from place to place, along the way.

  • Take a picture of your passport, other ID and insurance cards, and keep on your phone in the event of a lost or stolen document.
  • Buy your favorite snacks from the grocery store and pack them in; airport snacks are getting better, but are $$$!
  • Jackets and hats (and neck pillows!) don’t count as luggage. Wear them onto the plane and save space in your suitcase.
  • Spring for the preferred seats towards the front of you have a short layover so you can get off the plane faster and not risk missing your next flight!
  • Look at all nearby airports when booking your flight. If you are willing to travel to them you can save some costs. Sometimes, you could save by arriving at a different airport than you departed from, using a one way rental car or Uber to get you to and from the airport.
    Challenge yourself to only carry on your luggage, especially when traveling to warm countries for two weeks or less (no bulky coats!). Invest in a travel pack (about 40 liters is a good size) that will fit as a carry on. Minimize what you take, and roll your clothing!
    • It’s important to stay hydrated while traveling. Bring a refillable water bottle but empty it before security. Many airports have water bottle refill stations in the terminals.
    • Some airports have “fast passes” that allow you to skip the customs lines upon entry to or departure from a country (looking at you Club MoBay!). Plus, better food and adult beverages than you can get in the terminal!
  • How about you? Comment below to share your favorite travel hacks!

  • Episode 50: Jah Works

    Big Up to the AJAAGWIABM (whoa…So. Much. Acronym.) for hosting the Jah Works team for their 50th podcast event, where we answer the burning questions about what we do, how we do it, and why it’s important.

    Oh, and find out what Megan’s favorite Jamaican snack is too! Before ya tune in, throw us a comment with your guesses!

    A Jew and A Gentile walk into a Bar . . . Mitzvah

    In this installment the professor and the pastor interview the folks from Jah Works, not the band by the same name, but the 501c3 non-profit organization that connects people in the rural community of Bluefields, Jamaica with access to basic needs, education and employment, in order to build sustainable communities. They also create jobs in the tourism sector by regularly hosting small groups of travelers to the area to provide them an immersive experience, along with an opportunity to give back to the community. For more information visit www.jahworksexperience.org, visit them on Facebook and on Instagram @jahworksexpeirence.

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    Oh, Little Town of Bluefields

    This is a guest post from one of our travelers, Cali B.

    When I got back from my first Jamaica trip in 2015, I spoke often of Bluefields and people would always ask me, “What is it about this little town that you love so much?!” I guess through pictures and my stories it just seemed like another small, less established town that we had stumbled upon in our travels. It’s really hard to translate into words all of the things that popped into my head, so my answer was usually “the people, the views of the crystal blue ocean” —common answers that were true, but not the whole story.

    Then one day at work it hit me. All of the memories started aligning and I knew why I was so attached to this little slice of paradise located on the Southwestern shores of the country: Community. Okay, you’re going to need some background for this one…

    When I’m not constructing water catchment systems with the Jamaica team, I work for a prestigious land developer in Raleigh—Newland Communities. I’ve been there since I graduated college, and our goal is simple: create healthy, thriving, beautiful neighborhoods for people to live in. We pore over the amenities we place to encourage homeowners to meet neighbors, feel a sense of belonging, and use spaces to create life long memories with those around them. I’ve experienced first hand how the environment you are in shapes your entire well being and affects quality of life.

    We do exactly what Wolde and the rest of Bluefields is trying to do : build a better community.

    Since teaming up with Wolde, we have refurbished the Community Center, where residents of the town come together for educational classes, social events, and charity work. There has also been great progress made on how fishing is regulated, so that the reefs are protected and the town has a sustainable export to bring in money. Residents of Bluefields are coming together and thinking of innovative ways to protect and serve the people around them. Needs are being identified and growth is being made. When you hear Wolde talk about his love for Jah, love for people and love for equality, it ignites something inside of you that you’ll take with you from then on.

    The work we do in Jamaica is an extension of what we do in our daily lives back stateside. Many team members are socially active, bring awareness to injustices and give back to our own local regions as much as we can. We love people and we love the feeling you get when you are a part of something bigger than yourself, a part of making places better for generations after.

    A lot of prayers, hard work, hope and perseverance goes into the Bluefields community. I think we’re all ready to bring back a little of that spark with us again.

    Shooting Stars

    This is a guest post from one of our travelers, Cali B.

    One of my very fondest memories of Jamaica happened about mid-week of our trip. It was after a long day of roofing, and I remember a few of us had this ritual of sitting out on a wall overlooking the ocean— the day’s sweat still glistening off our foreheads— and having a moment of solitude together.

    On this particular night, after the last bit of light left the sky we decided to take a walk on the beach. We ended up sitting in an old abandoned canoe, and I remember Brandon saying, “Look for a shooting star, you’ll never see one quite like you do here.”

    I had never seen a shooting star before. So there I sat : pitch black all around me, on completely foreign ground, hunched in a rusty canoe, eyes to the sky—and I waited. It didn’t take long before I saw the burst of light fly across the black night and fall toward nothingness.

    Now believe me, I know how the tale goes, and I’m completely testing fate by telling you what I wished on that night but I feel it needs to be said. That night, I wished with everything inside me that what we were doing mattered and that it wasn’t in vain. Thousands of people take mission trips to Jamaica every year but I wanted our little group to really make a difference. To really show the humanity and integrity of this world.

    See, the hardest part for me in all this wasn’t the laborious days or homesickness or even the cultural differences. It’s hard helping one family, and then seeing five other families that need help too and not being able to do as much for them. It’s building a roof on a house for a man but seeing his children without shoes or books and knowing that if you could only go back home, you could pile up those Nike’s you haven’t worn in three years and bring them back and their feet wouldn’t hurt. It’s hard seeing the scarcity around you and having to “choose” who needs essential items more and what you have the budget and time for in just a short week.

    I made a wish that night and my heart has been pulled back to Bluefields ever since. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about our time in Jamaica and the relationships we cultivated there in such a short time.

    Do I think we’re making a difference, that our small endeavors are strengthening a community? That we are leaving this world better than we found it, and serving our brothers and sisters like we were put on this Earth to do?

    I do, but most importantly: Jamaica has served me.

    Reach out to a team member today to learn about how you can join us on our mission.

     

    A Laundry List…

    At our last speaking engagement to share stories about Jamaica, we also read aloud this list of “things” we were able to do, donate or accomplish during the trip. As you read through this “laundry list”, think about it as people’s lives who are touched – not just “stuff” that happened.

    So, for every item below, remember that AT LEAST ONE person was shown love, given hope, prayed over, etc. I estimate at least 3000 people will feel the effects of the recent work we were able to accomplish either directly or indirectly. All because of our readers’ (that’s you!!) continued prayerful and financial support, which enables us to “go forth” and show Jah’s love to people!! Awesome!!

    • VBS Day 1 – 105 children, 15 workers
    • VBS Day 2 – 120 children, 15 workers
    • Snacks and lunch for all at VBS
    • 1 suitcase of school supplies
    • 1 suitcase of VBS supplies for church
    • 1 suitcase of children’s books
    • 1 suitcase of children’s and adult clothing
    • 2 first aid kits
    • 22 Bibles
    • 2 pairs of workgloves to local farmer
    • 4 pairs of workgloves to Community Center
    • 1 basketball
    • 3 pairs of tennis shoes
    • Supported (5) artisans by purchasing their handmade carvings, jewelry, paintings, soaps and cloth goods
    • Stayed locally in a family-owned guesthouse
    • Ate locally at small establishments for lunches – Delbert’s, Robert’s, Prince’s and Omar’s
    • Employed six for a week’s work – Decieta (tour guide/chef); Mike (security); Chevie (security); Keith (driver); Veda (chef); Jen-Jen (chef);
    • Put up (7) anti-child abuse signs in the community;
    • (2) $500 university scholarships,
    • (1) $300 secondary school scholarship;
    • $600 for school needs
    • $500 for materials to finish work at Community Center

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    Not listed here is the actual refurbishing work we did at the Bluefields People’s Community Association’s Community Center. More to come on that project soon! Stay tuned!

    The Sabbath, Pt. 2

    We entered the white-painted concrete block sanctuary and took our seats on a few rows of wooden pews under the vaulted ceiling, spotted with fans lazily circling through the air. The sound of chickens scratching and clucking drafted in through the open windows.

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    In addition to the greeters, a mixture of parishioners had arrived early to prepare the space for worship. Wall fans were turned on and up to ‘HIGH’. The microphones, bass and keys were ensured to be working and at the right level (loud!). Finally, communion was readied and placed properly on the altar.

    As time approached eleven o’ clock many more had filtered into the church and found their seats as we settled in for a time of authentic worship with our new brothers and sisters in Christ.
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    Praise and worship was, as it is supposed to be in Christian life, first. One of the songs sang was ‘Father Abraham’, which is commonly a favorite of Jamaican children and one they taught us on a previous trip. Not only does it tell the story of all of us being “Sons of Abraham” but comes complete with multiple movements of hands, feet, head and more throughout the song. Which we did. In church. We got DOWN to some Father Abraham and became children of God all over again by losing our inhibitions of looking silly in front of others because of how we chose to worship.

    Being our second day in Jamaica, we were still getting acclimated to the cultural differences within our shared community and were appreciative for anything that reminded us of home. During the Passing of the Peace, the part of church dedicated to fellowship, every person in the church spilled into the center row to greet one another with the love and peace of Jesus Christ! We were humbled to receive such a heartfelt welcome into a new church and mingling with the good people we meet. Later, in our daily time of group devotions, the team would remark about how much they felt “at home, even in another country” after that moment and that they would carry with them the drive to connect with others, whether meeting them for the first or hundredth time, as sincerely and lovingly as we were welcomed and loved that Sunday morning. It reminds me of the end of Psalm 23…surely goodness and love will follow me…
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    The Sabbath

    Today is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it! The morning began with us gathered around the table to finish breakfast and wait for the time to begin the short walk to church.

    As we started our stroll, taxis pulled over to let parishioners out at the front door to their churches and the sea reached far and endless to our right. We were on our way to Belmont Missionary Church, within the community of Belmont, Westmoreland, Jamaica.

    We turned up a road that may have been paved at one time but now was mostly dirt. Winding up the hill, passing a few old and faded shop fronts we were immersed in this little neighborhood.

    “Good morning! How are you this morning?” from the woman and young girls in the house on the left. We confirmed we were heading the right direction and “yah mon, jus round de bend…” came the response. Continuing we came up on the church and were immediately and warmly greeted by Michelle and Carol, two of the women of the church.

    To be continued…

    Don’t Worry, About a Thing!

    These are some thoughts from a past traveler as we neared the time we were leaving for the 2012 mission trip. It’s always at about this mark that worry starts to creep in for all of us as we try to wrap up all the little details to get us off the ground and to Jamaica. Read these words, and remember that Jah is in control, in all areas of your life. He’s got “it” so you don’t have to!

    Bluefields Bay
    Bluefields Bay

    “I knew I belonged on this particular trip when the first team was sharing their experiences with the church. I was new to this church, but somehow I knew that I would be going along on the next mission trip. I told my husband that day, “I’ll be going with them the next time they go.” When I attended my first meeting and learned about the financial contributions I was very worried. Financing would be the only thing to prevent me from going along. The team leaders encouraged me not to let that stop me, so I committed whole-heartedly.
     
    The first couple of financial commitment dates rolled around and miraculously my totals were always met through fundraising and donation letters. The totals were always met a little early so I never had to even worry about it. But that wasn’t the case as the last few deadlines approached. The worry set in. This is where I experienced God.
     
    Every single time that I had a “worry-day” I would hear the same song multiple times each day and in different settings. The first day it happened, I woke up with an unusual amount of stress. I decided the best way to deal with my stress was to put my iPod on shuffle and clean my house. When your iPod is on shuffle you’re not supposed to hear the same song twice. Well, I didn’t hear the same song twice – I heard it 3 times within 1 hour! And before you start to wonder… I only have it downloaded one time.
    What is the song? ‘3 Little Birds’ by Bob Marley.
    Of course it had to be a Jamaican song, what other kind would be so meaningful for a Jamaican mission trip? The lyric that sticks out to me is, “Don’t worry about a thing. Cause every little thing gonna be alright.” Once I was tired of cleaning I turned on the TV so my son could watch cartoons. Naturally, the song is also playing on TV. Later that afternoon I took my son to the library to see a balloon artist. Half way through her presentation guess what song she started to play? You guessed it – ‘3 Little Birds’.
     
    From that day on, any day that I became stressed over my financial commitment I would hear this song.
     
    Then last week I know my total due going into our last fundraiser and I know that it is due the next day. Stressed doesn’t really define my feelings because I had no idea where I would get my balance from if we didn’t raise it. But I kept reminding myself that I didn’t hear that song so many times for no reason, so I just let me faith take over. I stopped worrying about where the money would come from.
    We didn’t reach our goal that night and as soon as I learned that the worry started to creep back in. That is when I got the email from one of the team leaders saying someone had anonymously taken care of my balance. I’m still speechless about how this makes me feel. I’m just overwhelmed! And grateful! I knew God wanted me to know not to worry – that it would all be alright….and it is. Not only did one person answer God’s call to make sure I was taken care of, but others did as well. In turn, I was able to pay it forward. That made me feel amazing!

     
    It’s awesome so see and feel God at work! I’m anxious to see what God-experiences I have while on our mission trip. I know we are going to have some!”

    Things we Know

    We met as a team this past Saturday, for the first time since our initial interest meeting last September. The main purpose was to get a good game plan in place for the next 6+ months we have until arrival in Bluefields, since there’s tons of work to do before that time.  For a moment before we started to get into all the tactical details of fundraisers, packing and communications, we spent some time learning a bit more about each other and why we feel called to serve in Jamaica. Some of the team have been on past mission trips with the team, and some are total newbies to the whole “mission-work” thing. So cool. We recounted times we had spent working with others in various capacities – telling stories of “God-moments”, things that were inexplicable, stories of found love and faith-sharing between people from different cultures, backgrounds and races. It was awesome to see how the Light truly shone through all of our teammates. What a great blessing as we start this New Year together.

    Things we know:

    • God’s with us always.
    • It’s been easier to see God at work when we had less resources and therefore less distractions.
    • We all have trouble with trusting His path for us, but try to have faith it will all come together in the end.
    • We love people. We get aggravated with people sometimes, but we love them.
    • You gotta have a sense of humor in this life.
    • We will have to pack extra tissue on the trip, because one teammate has, in her words, “crying incontinence” and this is easily spread through the rest of the teammates.
    • We are counting down the days until we can be on Jamaican soil once again (or for the very first time!).
    • There are always unknowns!

    Be Blessed, thanks for following along on the journey!