offering hands

Yesterday I wrote about receiving companionship, and it reminded me of this piece I wrote in college about my time in Jamaica, so I thought I would share it with you today:

Her mom was in the apartment braiding the other white girls' hair to earn some American cash for her upcoming trip to the states. A little over 2000 Jamaican dollars was the price for a full head of braids. This meant 25 U.S. dollars. This meant the difference in our worlds. 

I only had a few braids done, the pulling had begun to give me a headache, and I made my way out to the pool. That is where I met her-- nine years old. 

It's funny, but true, that most Jamaicans can't swim. I say funny, but I mean ironic, their location being an island. But she wanted to learn how to swim, and as we flitted around in the shallow end I realized my English teaching degree wasn't going to be able to help her learn. 

And that's how we started talking. And that's why, in this pool in Jamaica, she asked to pray for me. She held my hands, the water rippling into her chest, and she prayed with the force of a Southern Baptist revival pastor: and dear Father God, I just ask that you would walk with Kelsey, and dear Father God, that you would show her the way… 

She used "Father God" liberally and frequently, like my mom uses garlic. Her Jamaican accent added rhythm to the otherwise routine words. I was impressed by her maturity and the way she spoke with such authority. And then my world hit hers abruptly: and Father God, I ask that you protect her, Father God, from anyone who would want to murder her, Father God, from any one who would want to steal from her, Father God, protect Kelsey and her body from someone who would seek to sex her up…

The water around my waist was different now-- it was a meeting place for me and her. It was common ground that showed us there is no such thing as common ground between wealth and poverty. I have never sat trembling in a closet at home, scared a strange man might come in at any moment. 

I hugged her tightly as she said amen, displacing the water between us. She smiled up at me, Can you teach me how to back float? 

Too much was happening. This was Jamaica after all-- it was supposed to be like Florida with an accent. 

Now nothing made sense. 

She ran inside to get a snack, and I began talking with two of my teammates. We didn't see her come back and we didn't see her jump for the life ring in the deep end and we didn't see her miss it and go under water. 

She's under the water, her sister said, not as frantically or loudly as she should have. In some span of time that I can't remember being short or long we had her out and coughing up water on the edge of the pool. As her breath came back she said, I opened my mouth to say 'help' but all that came in was water.

This happens in her life more than she realizes. And I wonder if anyone will ever be able to teach her how to back float. 

In that pool, and in that country, I saw the beauty of the body of Christ. I was encouraged by my Jamaican brothers and sisters and their willingness to invite me into the privileged spaces of their own lives. I was humbled by a God who is transcendent and yet near-- who is able to be in the midst of the live we all live and share as believers, both in the States and in Jamaica. 

When I returned to campus that fall, the first week back I met Derefe. From Kingston, Jamaica. We became friends and when I gave him a winter coat and gloves he hugged me and said, Kels, I  know you got a lot out of your trip to Jamaica-- but I really think you went for me. 

Before we left, the leader of our trip had said it was about us-them. God has shown me that to follow Christ and to love like Him does not mean giving handouts--it means giving hands. 

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