June 2008 – It was nine years ago, my first trip to Jamaica. Not the Jamaica of the tourist brochures, but the Jamaica of poverty and lost hope. The images are still vivid and the work of Food For The Poor (FFP), our host for that trip, continues to impact my heart and fuel my participation in missions.
I remember …
We drive through narrow streets, abandoned buildings and poverty on every side. We roll to a stop in a small churchyard, and the pastor welcomes us to western Kingston, an area notorious for its violence, poverty and crime.
He leads us down a nearby alley, the setting for much of what the church is doing to help the poorest of the poor in Kingston. A bakery and a wood shop give jobs to people in the neighborhood. The church offers medical care, daycare and parenting classes to the community. These outreach ministries occupy a row of renovated warehouses.
Behind the door into the last converted warehouse awaits a startling burst of color. The door opens into a mini-neighborhood of six brightly-painted small homes built by FFP, a stark contrast to other neighborhoods we’ve seen. Pride of ownership is evident in the neat cottages and carefully-tended flowerbeds blooming profusely along the walkway.
Then we return to harsh reality – neighborhoods where people still live in tiny makeshift huts built from scraps of cardboard, tin and plastic. There is no electricity, and a single water spigot serves a whole community. They are people with little reason to hope – except that they know about FFP.
And now …
They hope. They dream. And they wait – wait for the people of God to bring food for their hungry bellies, shelter for their weary bodies.
And while they dream, FFP continues to partner with churches in the most poverty-ridden areas of the Caribbean and Central America, representing the Body of Christ to bring light and hope to the impoverished lands, one family at a time.
Angel Aloma, FFP executive director, told AFA Journal the housing situation in Jamaica is still critical. “We have 15,000 families on our waiting list,” he said. “And one of the problems for those on the list is that, even if they could find work, they dare not leave their homes or meager belongings. They would have nothing when they returned home at night. They spend all their time and resources to protect and maintain what little they have.”
Even if they had a job, many people work for as little as $2 a day. How could they ever build homes that provide safety and shelter for their families? A small home built by FFP costs the ministry about $2,600. And it is, indeed, a small home – perhaps a 12’ x 12’ one-room home. In addition to the ongoing project to provide homes for the needy, FFP has embarked on another creative venture to help Jamaican men earn a living.
“We have established 17 fishing villages in destitute coastal communities,” Aloma said. “Where waters near the shore have been fished out, we form cooperatives, then provide boats, engines, other gear and training to teach the men how to do deep-sea fishing. Consequently, they are able to feed their families and establish small businesses selling fish to hotels and restaurants.”
Since its founding in 1982, the Florida-based, not-for-profit ministry has built more than 46,000 homes for the desperately needy. In 2007, they shipped 4,340 tractor-trailer loads of aid valued at $962 million to their ministry sites.
Last year, FFP earned the highest ratings possible from ministry watchdog groups, four stars from Charity Navigator and five stars from Ministry Watch. Only 4% of the ministry’s budget goes to fundraising and administration, while 96% goes to ministry programs.
“We were excited to partner with Food For the Poor to build 125 homes in Jamaica in 2000,” said Tim Wildmon, AFA president. “And now it’s a privilege to be telling their story again.”
A little goes a long way
▶ Build a home: $2,600
▶ Furnish a home for a family: $500
▶ Feed 20 hungry families for a month: $240
▶ Provide a water pump for a village: $170
▶ Feed 6 hungry families for a month: $72
▶ Feed 3 hungry families for a month: $36
▶ More information: www.foodforthepoor.org 888-505-7400