By Ellen Nimmo
Normally, this time of year, I’d be a few days into drinking “Mystery Juice” with my evening meal in a small village called Harmons, nestled in the May Day Mountains of Jamaica’s interior, the rainforests of Manchester Parish. But, as the saying now goes, but COVID.
Some years back the company I work for decided to start offering Service Trips as part of the company culture, as part of enhancing lives, as part of participating in community and, sometimes, growing in faith.
It’s not like Veterans United is the only company in the history of histories to have done this sort of thing, but it is certainly my only experience in corporately sponsored, supported, and encouraged trips into the hearts of places and cultures starkly different than our own.
Most would say it is a good thing. It’s a damn good thing. In my opinion. Sorry for the force there, but trips like this one do that to you. They ratchet passion and belief.
Which brings me back to “Mystery Juice.” I’d like to tell you exactly what it is and why I’m missing it so much today, but I can’t. Not in precise terms. Which is what’s so great about going to Harmons in January. You just can’t quiiiiiiiiiite put your finger on what it is you’re tasting, but it’s mysterious and there’s a hint of sweetness that lingers.
Could you get a mix of water and whatever quasi-Kool-Aid is laying around back in the US of A? Sure you could. But you’d struggle to enjoy it. And we do struggle, don’t we? To enjoy what is already available to us. It’s as though we must be plucked from our comfort to discover it wasn’t truly comforting after all. The mystery of a different culture, its different rhythms and viewpoints gives the powdered punch its flavor. A new appreciation comes, a new taste for old things. That’s what going to Harmons is like for me.
Even the not-so-early risers seem to greet the morning sun with a new vigor in Harmons. A new yearning for the rays which come in quietly, settling upon us through the screened common area, warming sore muscles, twinkling atop coffee, rainbowing through water bottles. Alighting faces revealed by the now absent shadows of phones and television screens, illuminating pages of books and journals which hold thoughts only a soul could have.
As the day unfolds you’d find all manner of mysterious sweetness. Arriving in surprising cups, overflowing in hidden vessels. The soft hands from cubicles across the sea rise up to shovel dirt, mix a crude cement, haul water, cut wire, read to children not their own, sing songs, hike up hills, taste a gift of fruit hospitably given by generous locals, hold babies, secure window and door frames, fold clothes, play dominoes, dance, sweat, listen, laugh, cry, and pray prayers. An earthly host, somehow made heavenly. All amongst the strength, the wisdom Jamaican hearts hold and share.
Today it’s snowing in mid-Missouri and I can’t help thinking that in any other year we’d be halfway through our week in the warmth and mystery of Harmons. Folks would be beginning to become knit together in a way uncommon in adult life.
As the group of online mortgage company workers begin to let go of the busyness, the frantic consumerism that often impoverishes our spirits, we open. Sharing stories and playing games like children until it is lights out. Working alongside our brethren we remember the blessed call to community: the vulnerable and dependent state of living amongst others and for God.
Now look, I get it. You read this and you’re thinking about all the things I’m missing in being blinded by the sugary taste and bright Jamaican sun. I get you. I was you. Still am in some ways.
Over the years I’ve contemplated. Observed. Read books and articles and interviewed people about these types of trips. But, I keep coming back to what I’ve seen and heard. Back to the people I’ve met and the lives I’ve seen profoundly transformed by these trips. Again and again I come to the answer that they are worthwhile. Mysterious as they are.
How is this mystery manifested? Jamaica and Jamaicans are, after all, just like the rest of us. Longing for a better world, working to feed and educate their children, desiring peace, and hope, living one day to the next with the resources availed them and within the circumstances surrounding them. So, why does traveling to Jamaica in January prove such a mysteriously fruitful journey to the American soul? That’s a complicated answer, but I think it comes through discomfort. Humility. And a dash of courage. A willingness to release and receive. It’s in this mindset, today, between each falling snowflake, I am looking forward to a day when we can again travel to Harmons. To be a reminder and to be reminded. To be renewed and to renew, as vessels of a mysterious calling, overflowing with love. To drink it in once more, mystery and all.