Meet Sarah!

Meet Sarah!

ACE has been fortunate to have extra helping hands from time to time. Sarah has been one of the people who has been down to Jamaica several years in a row and saw a need that she might be able to fill temporarily. We would to take this opportunity to introduce you to Sarah, a 27-year-old young lady from North Georgia.

Here is a note from Sarah in her own words.

I felt a longing in my heart to do something more with my life, so when the opportunity came to be able to volunteer in Jamaica, I resigned from my job, ended my lease on my apartment, and never looked back.

Since I’ve been here helping out with day-to-day functions of ACE and Buccaneers, I’ve been able to work closely with the ACE staff. What an awesome experience it has already been. I’ve learned many new things, like how to drive on the opposite side of the road, how to call avocados “pears” and even how to navigate my way through Port Maria – but most importantly, I’ve learned how to depend on Christ.

One of the most amazing things about being down here is seeing firsthand the way God has been using ACE to assist these precious people. I can say from the bottom of my heart that ACE has been the hands and feet of Christ for the people of St. Mary. ACE has bridged the gap for employees, their families, and families in our communities by providing food, educational access, and basic needs.

Already in 2021, we are seeing God working in additional ways. While we miss our friends at the infirmary and can’t be with them like we used to, we can still make an impact to those in need. A short survey of our community brought forth numerous seniors that are shut-in, lonely, and longing for human connection. They, too, feel abandoned and forgotten. Instead of becoming frustrated with limitations and setbacks, we are allowing this season to go deeper into our community and relationships. I am learning that God always has a plan, and if I am willing to trust Him in all things, He will open doors of opportunities and ways to be His hands and feet.

I’d like to end with a quick story:

We were visiting a single mother that cares for her disabled adult son, every day, seven days a week, with no help or assistance. We brought coffee and, of course, the famous “Betty” condensed milk creamer. We started out talking about the little things – a new year, the weather – but then the conversation began to go deeper. She shared during this COVID season that she really misses being able to go to her church. I think that has been a tough thing for a lot of people. We decided to hold church right where we were by reading her favorite Psalm, Psalm 51, singing and a few songs. We ended our little service that touched us all by having a prayer together.

I can never go wrong by putting love in action. It has been so humbling to be exposed to a portion of this active ministry. I’m looking forward to the journey ahead – with all of you, the wonderful ACE Family.

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A Tale of Two Sisters

A Tale of Two Sisters

We’ve been blessed to have Emily and her sister, Mary, as leaders and contributors to ACE for many decades. Both have led multiple teams – Emily through school mission groups and Mary leading medical trips – and both recently came down to serve with ACE together. Emily had some thoughts on her time with us in January:

If you have ever spent any time on an ACE trip, you’ve most likely helped with some type of construction work, painting, or mixing concrete. Or you’ve been part of a bucket brigade hauling rocks, loved on infirmary residents and helped with P.E. for students at a school. Or maybe you’re from the medical profession and have been a part of clinics and dental care.

But did you ever think that being a part of a cattle drive while on a trip would be added to that list?

My sister, Mary, and I had that very opportunity to be a part of ACE’s first cattle drive. Forty head of cattle had to be moved from one pasture to another, which seems like a pretty straightforward task… except that the other pasture was over a half mile away and involved crossing the road, running through the open field at Llanrumney, down a trail through the bush and then through a series of gates. After a couple hours of running, yelling, waving our arms and sweating, the job was completed. While this was an exhilarating and somewhat hilarious experience, it was an event that really highlighted the new face of ACE.

Since Covid has had its grip on the world, you may think that the work of ACE has been slowed down like everything else – that is definitely not the case. When God opened the door for ACE to purchase the 800+ acre Llanrumney property about a year and a half ago, it seemed like a huge step to purchase this piece of land, but now, looking back, we see how God had his hand in it the whole time. Here, God has provided countless natural resources for the ministry to use and market, some yet to be discovered. It has opened the door to employ more single mothers, create a safe haven for families to spend quality time together and to have a larger impact in the local farming community.

And most importantly, it is opening doors for Marla and the staff to share the love of Christ to these individuals with whom they come in contact.

It has also allowed the ACE staff to grow stronger together as a family. To stand back and watch them work extremely hard together while laughing and joking with each other was such a joy. While waiting for the cows to decide to move in the right direction, I went down the list with some of the ladies of all the things they know how to do, from cleaning, cooking, construction, tutoring, planting, harvesting; the list goes on – and now includes cattle driving. Even though the mission teams are few, the work of ACE continues through its amazing staff who have developed new skills and such compassion for their community.

You may be thinking, does ACE need me anymore? Yes! They absolutely do, more than ever. All of this work is just in its beginning stages and there is so much to be done. I encourage you to get a small group of friends or family together and plan a trip down. Yes, there are a few more inconveniences that you have to experience to travel, but, in the end, it’s so worth it.

And if you’re not able to travel, there are other ways to be involved. Any financial contribution to help move the ministry in this direction would be of great benefit. Finally, you can be involved through prayer. Oswald Chambers writes, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work, prayer is the greater work.” Pray for the ministry as it moves forward, for the staff, for finances and thank God for opening the doors that He has and the provisions He has given… even for the provision of cows to eat the lush grass that is on the land, God, in His foreknowledge, so graciously provided.

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Marla’s Minute: How The Pieces Fall Together

Marla’s Minute: How The Pieces Fall Together

ACE always has a great impact story every month. Personally, however, I often wrestle about how much to share. So many things happen on the ground that change our lives and my perspective daily that I struggle to give the details of how ACE made a particular person or family’s life better, safer, healthier.  It’s important that we protect the privacy of our families and individuals and not exploit them for the sake of the story. Every day is filled with specifics but we try to talk in generalities. I preface with this because I’m going to keep names out of this story in order to protect this family, but I still want you to see how, even in adversity, God shows up.

A mother with her two sons, one of whom has special needs, called our office in a hopeless state. This mother had taken care of a senior for many, many years when his own grown children did not. It was understood by everyone in the community that, when he passed, she and her boys would have a place to live as payment for her years of committed care for him.

After the older gentleman passed, the family decided that they wanted the space and caused a lot of strife in order to force her and her boys to leave. One day while she was out seeking work, they burned down the house. As a result, she and her two sons built what we would call a shell of a home to live in, with a dirt floor and no utilities or furniture to speak of.  Because the special-needs teenager was sponsored by a neat couple in the States, the mother felt her only avenue for help would be to call ACE.

Fast forward… a home that ACE built (thanks to another supporter) for Indian, our GLLF farm hand, was currently empty, clean, and ready for move-in. We had moved Indian to an apartment at the front of the farm for security duty. ACE created a job for this mother cleaning up at Buccaneers three days a week so that her sons can come to work with her and so her youngest, who is five, has access to internet for school at the ACE office.

Isn’t it amazing how the pieces fall together when God is involved? I often tell our friends who feel bad about not being able to physically be here to not sell themselves short. God loves the orphans and widows, and He certainly loves a cheerful giver. Thank you, cheerful givers, for changing the lives of these three individuals. One act of kindness (for Indian) ended up providing a life-saving opportunity for a family in need, a mother whose own act of kindness in life becomes repaid even when it seems hopeless. When you can get boots on the ground, you will meet our new family and, perhaps, she can tell you the story herself with all the details. As they say, God is good ALL the time.

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More Than A Vacation

More Than A Vacation

When ACE first came to St. Mary, we called it a Vacation with a Purpose. This was pre-Galina Breeze Hotel; we were staying in an older hotel across from the main road with a view of the beach and some garbage. We knew that when most people take a vacation from work, they want to sit and relax, but this was going to be different. It was a break from the everyday but with meaning… and a lot of work.

Speeding forward several decades, ACE has retooled. Due to the challenging times we live in, thanks to COVID, where organizations are not sending larger groups, we are taking this opportunity to step back and refocus on what individual volunteers can bring to the table. We are living out our saying of “Flexibility is the key to success” motto these days. Instead of us telling you what to do, you can tell us what fits best with your talents, skills and interests. We’ve created a new Impact Menu list for you to choose what projects and experiences suit you.

We still offer the opportunity for groups to come down together, but we know that there are many individuals who want to come and join up with other adventurous people to work together, serve the community and make a difference. We have several weeks set aside each month through March (with more to come the rest of the year) for you to choose what works for you.

Want to come on your own? Do you have a friend you think would be interested… or even your family or small group of friends? Check it out by clicking the button below. Consider it.  We can still change lives and transform communities – one volunteer at a time!

A Moment of Divine Clarity

A Moment of Divine Clarity

Our vision of “changing lives and transforming communities” is applicable to more than just the St. Mary community. Sometimes, the lives changed are those of the volunteers themselves. A long-time supporter of ACE (former intern and volunteer), Barret Bender, shares his story of how a seemingly simple interaction would someday become a moment of divine clarity.

I’ve been a Christian as long as I can remember. I claim that I accepted Jesus into my heart in 4th grade at a Christian basketball camp at my local YMCA (the same YMCA I would later obsess over the circumference of my biceps), but truthfully I cannot remember making that decision. And I was always a little uninspired by my story – or really the absence of a story – of not having a real “come to Jesus” moment. Until mine happened. 

I was 17 and on my first mission trip in St. Mary, Jamaica. The organization we were working with had a really special relationship with the town’s infirmary, which was kind of like a hospital, except the people never get to go home. In fact, that is actually what delineates the two – a hospital is a place designed to diagnose and treat the sick, injured or dying, while an infirmary is a place where the sick, injured or dying are cared for. And to ensure there was no confusion, there was a sign in front of the building that read “St. Mary Infirmary: Home for the Poor and Destitute”.

We were there that day to take the residents on a field trip to the beach. For some, this would be their first time leaving the infirmary in a long time; for others, this would be their first time getting out of bed in a long time. 

The game plan was simple – each of us was to pair up with a resident and help them enjoy the beach however they wished to do so. 

When we got to the beach, I was paired with a man named Dino (pronunciation: d EE – n oh), who I quickly learned was deaf. He was younger than most of the residents – probably in his forties – and one of the few who was capable of and interested in getting in the ocean. And so into the ocean we went!

It was one of those gently sloping shores where it feels like you walk miles before the water gets to your waist. Following Dino’s cue, we set out for deeper waters. As we were wading, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was really needed. Unlike many of the other residents, who needed significant help just to sit up in the sand, Dino didn’t really need a partner – and aside from a smile here and there, I couldn’t even communicate with him.

When the water got a little above our waists, Dino started to slow down, and I could see his focus shift from his footing to the vastness of the ocean in front of us. And we just stood there in a kind of mutual appreciation.  

Then, before I could register what was happening, Dino threw his arm around my shoulders and kicked his legs up, as if he had stepped on something scary and never wanted to touch the ocean floor again. Instinctively, with one of his arms still around my shoulders, I extended my arms below his torso to help keep him afloat. And to my surprise, his face gave away that that was exactly what he was going for – he wanted me to hold him so that he could just float. And so there I was, standing in the Caribbean Sea, holding a 40-something year old Jamaican man.

I don’t know how much time passed, but the feeling that I wasn’t needed was quickly replaced by a deeper and stronger feeling that not only was I needed here this day, but that I was needed for all my days. I felt like I was experiencing in a new way, maybe even for the first time, what it was like to be the hands and feet of Christ, and that there was a calling on my life to do this kind of work – to help people like Dino stay afloat. 

When I got home from the trip, I couldn’t wait to tell people about my experience with Dino. For the first time in my life, I felt like there was a story related to my faith that was worth sharing. And so I did. I told my family. I told my friends. I told my youth group. I even told an atheist professor of mine, who was either so moved or so confused that he actually came to Jamaica with me the next summer to experience what I described for himself (which is a story for another time).

As time went on, though, my experience with Dino faded a bit in my memory. When I would think of it, I’d have mixed emotions. I’d think fondly of my time in Jamaica, but then I’d wonder if I was living out the calling on my life that I discovered through my experience with Dino. I’d struggle to think of any recent examples where I was being the hands and feet of Christ, and I was having a hard time reconciling what that was supposed to look like throughout different seasons of life. 

And then one morning, almost nine years after that first trip to Jamaica, I was drinking coffee at my kitchen table before work when out of nowhere a thought crossed my mind that I don’t think was my own (that’s one of the ways Christians believe God speaks). And the thought was this: that I had gotten the story of Dino all wrong. I was not the hands and feet of Christ to Dino that day – I was Dino. I was and still am poor and destitute, with no way of swimming, of even holding my head above water, without Jesus.

And right there at my kitchen table, over 1,500 miles from the shores of Jamaica, I realized I’d just had a real “come to Jesus” moment.

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A Heart-Warming Story of Impact in St. Mary

A Heart-Warming Story of Impact in St. Mary

We think ten years from now, when “the year 2020” in inserted into a conversation, all of us will instantly go back to this time when we had to make some tough choices in our lives.

For us at ACE, we are not exempt from the challenges of the past eleven months, when we seem to wake up with a new obstacle every morning. COVID-19 changed a lot of things in our regular routine, not only giving masks, social distancing, clean hands, clean everything a whole new meaning, but, most of all, elevating the importance of our daily choice to live in fear or faith.

As you know, ACE chose Faith, and we will every time. We wish we could say it’s because we are big spiritual giants, but we would be lying. It’s because we have nothing but faith to put out there.

In March, when nearly all our teams of volunteers began to cancel and flights stopped, we knew we were facing an unforeseen challenge. We had some self-sustaining parts of ACE that we had been developing for some time but not enough to keep our full staff employed. I used to say that people who suffer from poverty in any country seem to have the strongest faith in God providing for their needs. Well, we sure got to test that theory this year… and it’s correct. As a faith-based not-for-profit, we had little else to go on.

We never gave up and we know you, our partners with ACE, never gave up on us. God has pulled us through this and continues to walk with us. While we still pray every day for help to keep our Nationals working, God has heard us and has greatly met our needs. For this we are grateful. Very grateful. Exceedingly grateful. What we are called to do in Jamaica – “Changing Lives and Transforming Communities” – is a mission that not even COVID could stop, not with God in control.

Never stop doing good, never stop tending to the garden where you are planted, for in due season, you will reap. God sees our good works and, when we least expect it, He reminds us of that our efforts do yield good fruit. The ACE family in Jamaica and the home offices in Ohio and Atlanta want to encourage you by sharing an email we received last month from a long-time volunteer and supporter:

“I work part time at Universal Studios Florida as a vacation planner. Universal Studios has 28 partner hotels that have Universal desks in the hotel lobby where we help to plan the guests’ time in the parks. After the guests check in, they come visit us and we help them with ticket options, meal plans, shuttles, advice and info on the parks. We sell all the Universal products and help them navigate their vacations.

I was at work on yesterday and a lady came to my desk for some theme park advice. She had small children and wondered what was best for them to do while in Orlando. I recognized her Jamaican accent and asked her where she was from. She told me St Mary’s Parish. I told her I had been there. She asked me where. I told her I have been on a mission trip with ACE. She asked me if we stayed at Galina Breeze. I told her we sure did.

She got tears in her eyes and told me that a few years ago ACE built a garden box in her niece’s home. She told me her niece went to Water Valley Primary School and that ACE was instrumental in helping her niece’s family out.  She shared with me that the work ACE is doing in St. Mary’s Parish is amazing and is making a huge impact in the community. She said ACE made a big difference in the community and the life of her niece.  

I know this year has been challenging, but hang in there. The work you are doing is good work, it is God’s work. God is in charge and HE has a plan for all this mess. You keep doing the good work that you are doing and He will be with you and bless the work of your hands.”

You never know when that ordinary day can turn into a huge impact ten years down the road. We don’t remember this particular lady from Water Valley, but we do know she remembers ACE as being a part of answered prayer for her niece in due time, and that includes all of you, our volunteers, supporters, friends and prayer warriors that keep ACE going.

Let this time, this year of challenges, be one for remembering the goodness of God. We are truly so grateful for all we have at ACE – for our families, for our future, for you.

Merry Christmas, friends! All is well in the world when you know Christ, the Peace that passes ALL understanding.

Love,

Marla, Allen and the ACE Staff