Update from Jamaica: Celebrations, Symbolism of the Flag & Seeing Young People Serve their city

August is a wonderful time of year for Jamaica (especially when Jamaican athletes are competing). It is also when Jamaica celebrates two significant milestones in her history; Emancipation from Slavery on August 1st, and Independence as a nation on August 6th. Before Emancipation took effect (1834 - 1838), slavery had been a legal practice in Jamaica for 333 years, and independence was the continuation of that journey of the restoration of dignity for the Jamaican people … a journey that continues today. For all individuals, families, communities and nations; our past, and how we relate to it, significantly shapes how we interpret the present and approach the future. The challenge that Jamaica faces is also faced by many people: how do we relate well to our past if it is, frankly, a bit messy?

The Jamaican flag was designed as a symbol of this process of looking back on the past, a past with some profoundly painful history in it, and seeking to make sense of it in a way that gives hope and direction for the future. The black represents the darker times of the past, and the recognition that dark times will come in the future as well. The green represents the abundant and continuing wealth of natural resource, and celebrates this provision as a symbol of hope. The gold emblazoned across these colours in the shape of a cross is no coincidence either. The colour was chosen to represent light; sunshine again is an abundant gift to all Jamaicans regardless of class or wealth (sometimes a bit too abundant at this time of year!) but initially this light was to be represented, along with the other colours, in three horizontal stripes. The committee responsible did not approve that design, so the current flag was then drafted by a Scottish Missionary (Rev. William McGhie), who took it from the St. Andrew’s cross on the Scottish flag; putting the gold into a cross to represent how much the light of the message of the cross had shaped Jamaica’s history. The flag was then adopted and has since become one of the most recognisable national flags (thanks in large part to Jamaica’s athletes). The cross reminds us (as does the Jamaican flag) that God is not distant from our pain, but shares in it, conquering the darkness with the light of his love and by doing so; transforming our relationship with our own history, so that it can be used for his purposes of healing and life. I start our newsletter like this because the stories I will share are all a continuation of the message of the cross transforming our own lives, and the lives of those we have the privilege of serving here in Jamaica.

Young people being a blessing to their city:

When young people serve a bigger vision for a stronger community, it helps both the community and the individual young people to see themselves in a different light. One of the ways we do this is through community festivals, and this summer one of the biggest building societies in Jamaica invited us to partner with them for an event in Emancipation Park (a large park in the centre of the city). Many of the team were young people from our youth work, together with some people from the “Love March Movement” (a group of young Christians who seek to encourage marriage and healthy families in Jamaica), Jamaica House of Prayer and volunteers from a number of churches, so we had a good team. The event went well and afterwards the organisers were very positive about the contribution our team had made, saying it was very engaging and creative and that they would like us to do more events with them. Many of the people who came that day were surprised and encouraged that the team had so many young people from the inner-city, and gave them a lot of affirmation for their positive contribution. It was a joy to see again the impact of equipping and releasing young people to serve a bigger vision.

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