Sunday, May 27, 2012


Semaj's journey and God's faithfulness

Many of you already know quite a bit about Semaj Barrett, but if not, just a quick background...she is a graduate of Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf in Kingston, Jamaica. She has felt the Lord working in her heart for years to become a missionary to her Deaf people in Jamaica or another land, and along with that was a desire to further her education and become equipped for ministry. Terri Miller and his wife, Bev (from Gridley, IL), had been supporters of her at CCCD through ACWR Child Sponsorship for a long time, and had also led ACWR Work Teams to the Kingston campus for a number of years. Believing that Semaj was gifted and full of potential to be a glory to God, Terri encouraged the ACWR missionaries in Jamaica and the staff of CCCD to help Semaj to come to America for college.  While seeking several options, the door opened to her was to attend Harvest Deaf Bible College in Ringgold, Georgia. We sent in her application, by faith, without knowing if she would get accepted. When she got accepted, we applied for her US Visa, by faith, not knowing if she would just be one of the majority that get denied. When her Visa was granted, just weeks before the semester started, we began seeking donations and sponsorship for her tuition and fees, trusting the Lord to continue to provide. When it came time for her to fly up for the start of her semester, we purchased airline tickets not knowing where the funding would come from. That very hour we received an e-mail from Erin (one of our ACWR missionary teamates) stating that while home for Christmas, someone had given her $600 to use where needed. The cost for Semaj to fly up with the company of the school principal, Ms. Lawrence, was right around $600! We praised the Lord for His faithful provision. 

When Semaj arrived at school, we needed to send in the first payment of $2,000. I e-mailed ACWR Child Sponsorship to request the first payment be sent, if enough donations had come in already. This is the response from Cheryl Wuthrich of ACWR:

"Attached is a report of the money received so far for Semaj, $1850.  There is an additional $150 that is to be moved to her college account from her old CCCD account from her previous sponsors.  This makes a total of $2000 collected for her so far!!  Why are we not surprised it is the exact amount needed so far!?!"

At each subsequent payment deadline, we had enough to pay each time. This is the e-mail to ACWR Child Sponsorship requesting the final payment to be sent to the college:

"We are ready for Semaj's final payment for the term, it will be for $750. My records show $3775 has been donated so far. With this final payment, we should be at $3550 in costs, which leaves $225 left. Go figure, looking at return flights, it will be right around $200, so looks like the Lord provided just what we needed!"

Cheryl's response was: "God is faithful!"

Upon booking the ticket, we purchased one that was $248.70. That same week Cheryl sent an e-mail informing me that an additional $25 had been donated in April. So we had $250 left in Semaj's ACWR fund to purchase the $248.70 ticket. God had provided $1.30 more than we needed!

Throughout this process we have simply taken one step of faith at a time, and waited on the Lord to prove His faithfulness and open the door for the next step. God is faithful!

Semaj recently returned home from her first semester at HDBC, and Lord willing will return on Aug 25th for the fall term. Please keep Semaj in your prayers, both for her continued college growing experience, but also for the next three months that she'll be here at home in Jamaica. Pray that she does not get discouraged but that rather she can experience the Lord's nearness and love in a new way this summer, and that through the various opportunities she'll have to become even more of a leader amongst her peers, she will grow and be strengthened, ready for another semester in Georgia.

We have nearly 75% of Semaj's support pledged on an ongoing basis, but last semester was made possible through quite a few one-time donations. If you would be interested in supporting Semaj's ongoing journey, even if its $25 a month, or a one-time gift of $50 or whatever, please let me know. You can also contact Cheryl Wuthrich at ACWR Child Sponsorship at <>

Monday, May 21, 2012


Another case of daily discrimination

Today I met a Deaf friend at the passport office to interpret for her during her application process. A security guard (you Americans wouldn't understand this, but every Jamaican business, office or government location has security personnel) came up to me and informed me that I was not allowed to be inside without a number. I informed her that I was the interpreter. She said, "it doesn't matter, if you don't have a number relating to an application you are not allowed inside, you will have to wait outside." I informed her that I couldn't interpret from outside (maybe a bit sarcastic) and she replied that one of the passport office staff would take care of her. I told her that it was my friend's right to have an interpreter with her and by denying me entrance she was discriminating. The woman was kinda caught by the word discriminate but immediately refused that claim saying, "no way, dumb people (Jamaican's still use century old words to label Deaf persons as being "dummies") come here everyday and they deal with them, blind people come her, and they deal with them." I was getting really frustrated, especially that she called my friend "dumb" and so I corrected her "ummm, she is Deaf, she is not dumb, that is derogatory. May I please speak to a manager about this discriminatory rule?" It was 7:45 at the time and she said I would have to come back at 8:30. I waited for my friend, and thankfully she did get through with her application but still was confused about two different things because she was unable to ask questions and clarify during the process (they just asked her questions by writing on paper but didn't really give her the opportunity to ask and clarify, just took her documents, processed, them, and told her to come back in a week). We waited til 8:30 and returned, but were told that the customer service office wasn't ready yet. We waited another 20 minutes and finally got through. My friend shared with the staff person that she was frustrated that they did not allow her interpreter to stay with her and that in the future they need to allow interpreters entrance. The agent suggested we write a formal letter and send it to the director of customer service. We will do this. It may not seem like the biggest deal in the world, but its just Jamaica and the mindset of people here. Could you imagine a Deaf person in the States taking their interpreter to a government office where they are paying for a service and the office refuse entry to an interpreter? I can't see that happening. In fact, when Tashi and I visited the local Social Security office in Lafayette to get her name changed they had a sign indicating that they, SSA, would provide interpreters for anyone as long as they were notified two days in advance. They would provide the interpreter, at no cost to the customer! Here in Jamaica, the don't provide ANY interpreters, and what's worse, they refuse entry to interpreters the customer brings with them!!!

So ridiculous! I hope that through these situations I can handle myself in a professional, Christ-like manner so that it doesn't come off as being a negative situation from a Jamaican's perspective but that rather people can just start realizing the inequalities that are rampant in this society, and can realize that its fair for a Deaf person to have an interpreter, and also that things like calling a Deaf person a "dummie" will change and become "old" language that's no longer used. Ok, done venting. Now about writing that letter of complaint...

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


Sanjay's Birthday and a "Jamaican Moment"

Let's start with the fun part. Today was Sanjay Reid's 17th birthday, and his special request was to get pizza at the local "Sam's Club" aka PriceSmart with a few of his friends. Tashi, Katie and I headed up to the Salvation Army School for the Blind and picked up Cheyenne, Vanique, Jade and the birthday boy, Sanjay. Everything was going well and we decided on Hawaiian pizza (my favorite).

 Tashi, Vanique, Cheyenne, Sanjay, Jade and Kates enjoying the pizza. (note that each person has paper plates...)

Sanjay had a special request for a Caramel Frappucino, which brought a sweet smile of delight to his face!

Ok, so now for the Jamaican moment. I've blogged about a few of these in the past, notably a frustrating experience at the bank. It's not common to have these kinds of experiences at the grocery store, let alone PriceSmart which is a members only store. I picked out an assortment of flavors for the kids, and found out that we needed to exchange one fruit punch for an orange. I went back to the counter and asked to switch it, but they said I would have to do a refund. I decided it wasn't worth the hassle and kinda laughed to myself about how ridiculous it was that they wouldn't just open the fridge and switch them out without going through the rigga-mo-roll of an exchange process. Anyways, our pizza was ready shortly thereafter but as I carried the pizza to our table I realized we only had napkins, not plates. I returned to the counter and asked for 7 plates. They lady said they don't give plates for pizza, just napkins. I replied, "well, that's odd because the people right here who just bought a single slice got a plate for their pizza." She said, "well that's for single slices, not for a whole pizza." I said, "That still doesn't make sense, I bought more than them but you're giving me less." She turned to the kitchen manager who said I could have four plates. After getting the plates I counted them and said, "can I please have three more." She kinda looked at me funny and then returned to her manager in the back, who informed me that they only gave four plates for a whole pizza. I (in my mind calmly, still) responded, "but ma'am, the pizza has 12 slices and I have seven people, so I need three more plates." She firmly said, "sorry, we limit it to four plates per pizza." Well, American Consumer Blake can't accept this ridiculous business tactic. The plates gotta cost less than a penny each and I just bought a meal for seven, not to mention the shopping that I knew my wife would end up doing once we were inside the store. So I quickly turned and walked a few feet to the customer service desk and requested a manager. A nice lady came to talk to me and I explained that I bought a pizza and needed 7 plates, but had been refused 3 of them. I calmly (I think) stated that it probably wasn't worth the store's best interest to turn away a paying customer for 3 cents worth of paper plates. The lady said, "well ask the kitchen for the plates" and I explained that I already had made the request multiple times. She walked over with me and the confronted the kitchen manager, who stood her ground and said "we only give up to four plates with the pizza (which is odd because at first they said they didn't give plates at all, until I pointed out that the single slices got plates...)." The common sense manager could tell I was not happy and so she asked to speak to the kitchen manager privately and told me that she was coming. Well, I waited a bit but as they talked in the corner I got fed up and walked away, deciding to give the four plates I had to the students from the blind school and return for plates for Kates, Tashi and I. I fought the common sense manager who was now dealing with a cashier override. I asked her if they had decided on "better business or save three plates" and she said she was going to come. She called over another manager, someone who I assume was at a slightly higher level of authority, briefly explained my situation and then the third manager came over to me and asked how I was doing. "Honestly," I vented, "I'm a bit frustrated. I come here frequently and have always had good service, but now as I get pizza for a birthday party I am told I can only get 4 plates, but I have seven people. The plates are given with each individual slice but I buy a pizza with 12 slices and I can't get 7 plates." She quickly turned to the kitchen and walked to the counter and said, "give the gentlemen three plates, now." She spoke in the direction of the kitchen manager and said "I want to speak to you later." While waiting for a response from the kitchen, I made a brief business 101 speech to her about the importance of customer facing employees to realize that they are the face of the franchise in any moment they are dealing directly with a customer. Just as the president of the company would not refuse to give me three more plates for my pizza, neither should the kitchen staff. The pennies worth of a plate are not worth keeping if you are going to lose or frustrate a customer in the process. The kitchen ladies got the three plates and handed them to her, and she handed them to me, apologizing for the incident. I thanked her and she wished me a good day. That was that. I returned to our birthday party, still a little on edge, but glad it was over. Now we had plates and could eat a proper meal! Oh Jamaica, some days you just make me shake my head!

Needless to say, we had a great time and Sanjay and friends enjoyed their pizza and time away from campus!

Sunday, May 06, 2012


April Newsletter

April 2012 E-newsletter

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Remembering Trevor Bent

This weekend was a really special time, one that I will always remember. Throughout the weekend my mind often went back when God began to really work in my heart regarding Tashi. It was totally by His Sovereign Hand that I ended up at the home of Trevor and Pauline Bent, that foggy Saturday afternoon in May, 2010. It had been just a few weeks prior that I challenged God with the request for an opportunity to meet Tashi's terminally ill father if this truly was the woman He was calling me to marry. In a moment I will forever try to hold in my memory, Trevor and I were on the front porch, eating mango and trying our best to communicate, even though neither of us knew each other's language. But I distinctly remember him sharing the Gospel with me, perhaps with an inkling in his spirit that I was going to be more than just a friend of his prized daughter's and with a bit of fatherly due-diligence to make sure I was to be trusted. In the Lord's time, he passed away a few months later without me ever asking him for his blessing, but I consider that our man to man talk and am forever grateful for it's occurrence. This past Saturday we memorialized his passing with a traditional tomb covering and placing of the headstone. I enjoyed the chance to work alongside Uncle Elton, who carries on many characteristics of Tashi's father, including his language (Country Sign), craftsmanship, strength and resemblance. It was also a really great weekend because, for the first time since our wedding day, all of Pauline's kids and grandkids were home under one roof. Andy and Tanya (Tashi's sister) Smith and daughters Martina and Tiana spent the night with us Thursday.
Then on Friday the six of us packed up the car and met Jordan on his way home from work and traveled to Top Hill. Upon arriving, Pauline had made this sign for us and hung it on the 
I know like my own mother, Pauline loves it when her kids are home!

The start of the tomb covering process.
Hauling mortar for filling in the block.
Chatting with Uncle Elton and catching a nice pose while taking a break.
Nelson and Dalton work on the side of the tomb.
Uncle Elton mixing more concrete.

Tashi and Martina

Nasty 40 legger, disposed of by Uncle Elton
This was a pretty good sized 40 legger, they bite like a scorpion and can send ya to the hospital.

My favorite part of the day, mixing render with Uncle Elton.

He loved posing for pictures!

Tanya, Jordan and Tashi with Trevor's headstone

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