Trinity Participants at Mission Jamaica

Mission Jamaica 2024 was “life changing,” “joy-filled,” and “far exceeded” expectations, according to some of the members of the group who spent a week in Jamaica, helping clean up after a flood, painting houses and assisting children in the Westhaven Children’s Home. For congregation members who want to get a taste of what this mission trip is like, no one can explain it better than the participants. Here’s their take on a blessed and amazing week…

Betsy Kirby weighed in on her thoughts before she left. She and her husband, Tom, and their two sons, Jude and Jamie, were first-timers on this mission trip. Kirby said, “My husband suggested we take our family when the opportunity arose. I was hesitant, but knew I’d be taking a step of obedience in the Lord. I feel like I’m going to experience a part of God’s heart that I’ve never known on this trip.”
She talked to others who had been on this trip previously and shared, “We learned that everyone will have a purpose, no matter what age we are or what our skills are. We might even be surprised with the tasks we are given!” Like others, she was looking forward to certain things and worried about others. Sharing time with her family, meeting the children at Westhaven and serving/worshipping with some of her dearest friends in a beautiful location topped her list.

Once she was in Jamaica, Kirby shared: “The place just took my breath away. The people were friendly everywhere. We were surrounded by love and hugs at the church. All this love and kindness encouraged us as we stepped into service at Westhaven–and reminded us that it’s not about us, it’s about Jesus.”
Kirby’s reflections of her overall experience spoke volumes: “Honestly the anxiety of leaving and being on a service trip with our boys was blocking my expectations and excitement–and by the grace of God it all melted away fast, upon arriving in Jamaica. The week was joy-filled. Surprising. Revealing of God’s deep love and mercy.”

She continued: “I loved the place we were in. I loved the Mission Jamaica team. I loved the people at Westhaven and how easily they extended their love to us. I loved that my sons learned so much and got to experience this grace.”

Kirby’s favorite thing about serving in Jamaica? The kids at Westhaven. She explained: “They taught us about the incredible love and grace of Jesus. These precious people took us by the hands right away and simply wanted to be in our presence. We didn’t need to do or say anything to get this love. We didn’t need to look a certain way or act a certain way; they didn’t know anything about us other than that we were THERE. Some of them wanted to talk, some to play, and many just to sit and be with us. It was such a beautiful, tangible expression of God’s heart. I loved talking to the other MJ team members about the Holy Spirit and how He moves and speaks – and all we have to do is receive it. God gave me that opportunity several times throughout the week.”

Molly Gerrietts, Allison Day, and Jon Feustel

Molly Gerrietts had the unique experience of visiting Jamaica on a past service trip. “I went on Mission Jamaica back in 1997 with a group of Lutheran College students. After work in Kingston, we moved on to Montego Bay, visited Westhaven, and stayed at the same resort we were at this week. I was so anxious to go back and revisit these places. The work itself was different, but the experience was just as valuable.”
Gerrietts was “excited to experience MJ with Dan, who has led several trips, and with our girls, who have never left the country. I really tried not to have too many expectations with the hopes of being more open to whatever came our way!” She continued: “I really appreciate that there are jobs for EVERYONE to do, no matter your age, skill, or comfort level. Any and all work that is done is so very appreciated at Westhaven. The bond created among the team is also very special, and leads to such meaningful time together at the end of the week.”

How did this experience with her family compare to her first visit in 1997? Gerrietts said, “My real experience in Jamaica far exceeded anything I had predicted. I witnessed Dan in a very comfortable place having been there 4 times before. I watched my girls go ALL in…. something I hoped for, but was overwhelmed by when seeing it happen. Their openness to work, be flexible, be a part of a team, and to let down some barriers to really dig in was incredible. I did some very comfortable work and some not so comfortable. I connected with people in new ways and am better off for it. This trip is as much about serving as it is being served and renewed in so many surprising ways.”

Gerrietts added, “The kindness and warmth and genuine joy of the people in Jamaica is inspiring. God shined through the faces of every person we served this week. Their ability to give PRAISE in every situation was inspiring! They have every reason to complain and grumble… and all they do is give God the glory over and over and over. I hope that I was the hands and feet of God to those I sat with, those whose hands I held, those I fed. In the tiniest way, I hope it was felt.”

Before Allison Day left for MJ, she had similar “expectations” of being ready for anything. Day said, “I am most looking forward to spending time with an amazing mission team and spreading the gospel through service, not only at West Haven, but also toward people we meet along the way.” Day had always wanted to serve on a mission team outside of the U.S. and “when this opportunity presented itself, it was the right timing for me to be able to fulfill that desire/call that I had been experiencing for a long time.”

Pastor Dan Gerrietts speaking

Once in Jamaica, Day said: “I went into this trip thinking I would be ‘serving’ by teaching or doing music with the kids at Westhaven. Once I got there, I realized quickly that I would end up finding several projects to assist with. None of them were teaching or doing music with the kids. I ended up looking for where there was a need and going there. For example, one of the rooms was flooding and we helped sweep out the water, and I spent time painting in two places, and the list goes on. It was amazing to just be able to be there to help when help was needed.”

Day’s overall feelings about this experience: “It was all love! It is difficult to put into words how amazing this experience was. The days of service were incredible to help out and meet the kids of Westhaven. It was also awesome to spend some reflection days with the rest of the team, experiencing God’s creation in Jamaica.”

Mark Feustel has been on Mission Jamaica ten times, and shared his unique thoughts on the 2024 trip: “It was good to see residents that we got to know during our first trip.  After 20 years, many changes have taken place.  There are new buildings, farming activities, and also playgrounds.  They now have animals (chickens, pigs and cow/calf) to provide financial assistance by selling animals for food and selling eggs or pigs to area farmers.”

Maggie Gerrietts Center

Feustel traveled with his son, Jonathan, this year and said they had the distinct responsibility of painting the pig pen with some help from other team members. He continued, “We also participated in the track and field events being held on campus. These were fun days for all.  We had an exciting time in serving this community of children/adults with varying abilities. Their smiles and laughter will always be remembered!”

Besides making an impact on the people from Jamaica, Feustel shared, “It was also a time for getting to know other families from our congregation and other team members from Minnesota congregations. We participated in other resort and Mission Jamaica activities, such as a snorkeling trip.  Devotions each night were special with a beautiful sunset setting the stage and the sound of the crashing waves adding to the moment!”

Nancy Clarke and her husband, Dan, made an interesting observation about the people of Jamaica. People “take care of each other,” Nancy said, “not only at West haven, but in most of the parts of Jamaica we saw.” Special parts of the trip included devotions that gathered the entire group, and making all kinds of new friends. “I felt so close to God!” Nancy said.

L to R: Jamie Kirby, Bennet LeDuc, Jude Kirby

Laura Demuth was a non-Trinity trip participant who had yet another perspective of MJ. “I was very nervous prior to departing on this experience.  I had never traveled so far before with people I really did not know that well.  However, these feelings quickly subsided even on the airplane ride to Jamaica.  I was bonded with a group of like-minded people who were open to experiencing whatever was meant to come our way.  I am walking away feeling very blessed.  Blessed to have shared this experience with others and to learn how beauty is around us everywhere and in all people we meet.”

Judy Miller and her sister, Janet Schmitz, also shared that MJ was a special kind of mission trip. Judy shared her perspective: “Mission Jamaica was such an amazing experience!  This was my first time and so I wasn’t sure what my abilities and contributions would be to the mission work.  It was so much more than I ever expected, with a very laid-back atmosphere and such a variety of ways to serve. You could paint, do construction, help with the unending loads of laundry and hang it up to dry, help feed a child, or just hold a child’s hand to show you care. It was so touching to see the joy in the children’s faces and all the beautiful smiles! They have so little, yet they seem so overjoyed with such simple things.  It definitely made me realize how blessed I am but also made me wonder if we are doing it all wrong. I think we would be happier if we had less and focused more on each other!”

Miller concluded: “It was such a rewarding experience and one I will never forget!  I truly felt God’s presence guiding us, especially as a team…and what an amazing team we had!!  I also could not get enough of all of God’s creation and beauty of the island.  I am so glad I took the leap of faith and went on this trip!!”

Schmitz shared her sister’s enthusiasm for this “amazing life-changing experience.” She said: “Honestly, when preparing for this adventure, I experienced some anxiety with the unknown: What will happen? What do I expect? Will I make a difference? What if…? I prayed for guidance through this, feeling assured that my worries were pointless, yet I wasn’t 100% convinced! Upon arrival at our resort, the tropical climate, glorious view and ocean breeze cleared my mind of any lingering doubts! God is Good!”
Schmitz continued: “I feel so blessed that I had this opportunity to serve the children of West Haven alongside my sister and a wonderful team! Our leader, Jeff, and bus driver, Vince, are my new heroes! I will always appreciate their expertise in accommodating our needs and navigating our journey with kindness, patience, and compassion! My pointless worries transferred to purposeful ones that our work is not done!”

Her overall takeaway on the trip? “I come home counting my blessings with a refreshed faith and spirit, a heavy heart, thankful for cherished memories, calm pastors, “short” church services with air-conditioning, a slight sunburn, and a mind stamped with lasting images of smiling children craving human touch, full of excitement for the simple things in life and God’s grace! Yes, WE did make a difference!”

For more information about the Mission Jamaica trip, feel free to ask any of the participants. There’s no doubt that the people from Trinity absolutely touched the lives of those they met in Jamaica…and made lasting friendships and memories along the way. †