I had never met her before and she didn’t know me either but she was coming at me across the busy street as if on a mission. We were just finishing up two weeks partnering with Major Greenland, a Salvation Army officer in the bustling port town of Port Antonio. The twelve of us had spent days carrying lumber and block up into a hillside shanty town building a small house for a grandmother and her three grandkids. We had come to love that neighborhood learning from Major’s example what authentic caring and service could be. The evenings found us lining up downtown each night to follow the drums and trumpets through town singing loudly as people joined or jeered us toward the church for nightly revival. Cringing toward the back we hesitantly tailed the spectacle glimpsing Major with an infectious smile leading his church members, splendid in white uniforms, unashamedly on the march to the front of spiritual battle.
With the trip’s end immanent we escaped for the day to Frenchman’s Cove Beach relaxing in the sun and rolling waves where the movie Lord of the Flies had recently been filmed. Staying late we bypassed changing out of swim gear piling back into the van intent on stopping for ice cream on the way back through town. Hopping out of the drivers seat in my salmon colored swim suit, flip flops and brightly tie dyed t-shirt (made by one of the VBS groups that week) I slammed the door and spied lady on a mission before I could get off the street. Coming right to me she said Can you help me right over here? Giving money to the group I trailed her across the street to an historic old church filling up with somber men donned in black suits escorting women clad in white and black dresses adorned under trendy hats. I was definitely underdressed!
Stopping by a vehicle, dawning on me that it was a hearse, she said can you help carry my husband in? Blurting out Excuse me? she repeated her request. Thirty seconds later found five Jamaican guys resplendent in smartly creased suits, subdued ties and spit polished shoes and me carrying a casket up the stone steps through the ornate arched church doors. Amazing Grace was being lowly sung by the congregation as a haunting funeral dirge while my flip flops kept beat Amazing (flip) Grace (flop) how sweet (flip) the sound (flop)… My footwear seemed to be causing a slight sensation making me blush approximately the color of my salmon swim suit. I guess being the white guy in a tie dyed Bible School shirt probably stood out a bit too. Arriving to the front altar (seemingly about a week later!) we reverently positioned the casket and turning I was given a brief hug and a thank you by a grieving widow I had never met or have seen since.
I didn’t understand what happened at all – frankly it was bizarre! Explaining the situation to Major he searched out the widow in the following weeks to find out why she had approached me. She explained that she had watched Major and the “white people dem” building the house and was moved by their joy and caring for a friend of hers in great need. Watching us work she felt that she had somehow gotten to know us as we carried material and tools up and down in sight of her house each day. Seeing us hop out of the van and being a pall bearer short she bee lined for friendly caring faces knowing we would be concerned for her and honor her husband. Being the leader of the group she reached out for our help by asking me, who unintentionally was harshly breaking every cultural etiquette of dress for the situation. She did not see salmon shorts but a team that had been dressed according to Colossians 3:12-14Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all of these issues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. As Christians we need to always be clothed like this – no matter what we wear.
This weekly devotion is written by John Key