Immanuel in Jamaica
Robin Weidner, October 2008
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel - which means, 'God with us.'"
— Matthew 1:23
Devoted to the brothers and sisters in Jamaica - you truly are a city set upon a hill (Matthew 5:14)
My husband and I recently traveled to Jamaica where I spoke at a Secure in Heart event and Dave conducted a men's purity night. Dave and I were deeply moved by the humble and heartfelt response to the messages, as well as the warm hospitality shown by the brothers and sisters there.
After our time with the church, Greg Baugh, the evangelist, graciously drove us across the island to our rented cottage in Ocho Rios. No sooner than we walked in the door (and reveled in the magnificent Caribbean views), Hyacinth came over to introduce herself as our cook.
Hyacinth not only prepared and cleaned up after three meals a day, but she also set a gorgeous table for each meal, washed and ironed our laundry, and did a mid-week cleaning. A few days in, she told me her story. She had worked at the estate next door for 18 years, when recently they gave notice that they were retiring her and transitioning to younger help.
Since her husband is going blind and unable to work beyond tending their garden, Hyacinth was more than a little worried. Opening her Bible, she found a scripture where God says, “I will help you.”
Minutes later, Anabella appeared (the owner of the cottage we rented) and asked if Hyacinth would be interested in serving us for the rest of our stay. At that moment, she was moved knowing that God was with her.
Immanuel - God Is With Us!
Much like Hyacinth, the people of Jamaica have a deep spiritual heritage. Personally, I was most moved by their lack of racial prejudice. I went to a neighborhood party honoring Olympic gold medalists Asafa Powell and Shelly-Ann Fraser and was struck by how included I felt as the lone white person. Yet, Jamaica is also a snapshot of the human condition.
In Kingston, the gang warfare is so intense that gang members dare not cross into another gang's territory, knowing they would be immediately killed. Unable to find work, they sit idly on porches, smoking weed, waiting for the night. Due to the vicious crime rate, our hosts warned us not to go out in the evening.
Culturally, it is not altogether uncommon for a woman to have four children by four different fathers. Depending on the father, one child may have nice clothing and eat well while the other children watch, destitute. In fact, a major cost for some women studying the Bible is giving up sex with these “baby fathers,” knowing that they will most likely withdraw financial support. If a woman doesn't have a child by her late twenties, she may be labeled as a “mule.”
Although Jamaicans have known their share of heartache, I sensed in the men and women we connected with a desire for some semblance of hope beyond themselves.
I saw it in the streetside vendors, who would literally follow us around to make sure we visited their booths, desperate to make a living. I had to remind myself that, like Hyacinth, the true need of their hearts was to know that someone was watching out for them.
I heard it through our driver Vincent, who drove us around the vicinity for six hours on our next to last day. He explained that most tourists only experience Jamaica through the heavily guarded resort properties. “They have no idea who we really are,” he said sadly.
Most of all, I saw it in a woman who came up to talk after the Sunday morning church service in Kingston, saying that she had abandoned her faith seven years ago. When she woke up that morning, she sensed God saying, “You have to go to church today!” Unsure where the church was meeting or who to call, she pleaded with her driver to try several locations.
After she arrived, she was amazed to hear us share about our purity battles with the church there. “I was supposed to be here today,” she said. “God absolutely wanted me here!”
Is God With Me?
Bottom line, don't we all yearn for the same thing—some kind of visible demonstration that God is actually with us?
Recently, I had one of those bottom-of-the-pit days, where, after a tense and hurtful encounter with my husband, I couldn't seem to see the light despite myself. The next morning as I left my house for the coffee shop, God whispered, “Take the book Once Upon a Tree with you.” Once there, I opened the book to Calvin Miller's words on page 111...
“But God got specific at Bethlehem. He left that nebulous never-never land of heaven and came to a planet that must have seemed a pigsty by comparison. For thirty-three years men had the miraculous privilege of saying, ‘God is in it with us.’
He had become the involved God! ...In this involvement God shed tears so that grieving man would never need to weep alone. He knew human heartache and pain by experience. In the cross, God taught us something His aloof immortality had obscured; we neither live nor die alone.”
What does this mean to us? To Ocho Rios, Kingston, Santiago, Kiev, Chicago, New York and every other community across the globe, God whispers through the life and death of his son, “Immanuel. I am with you.”
His whisper reaches worldwide. But it is also intensely personal. Personal enough that God took my right hand, telling me the same thing he promised to Hyacinth one short week earlier. “Fear not, Robin. I am with you. I will help you.” Encouraged by God, I reached out to Dave with tears of gratitude, “I'm on your side honey. We'll get through this together.”
The answer to my questions, to your questions, and to the heartache of a lost world is so simple. Immanuel. God is with us.
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