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On a mission: Church youth helps deaf school
Methodist youth group spends spring break helping deaf students in Jamaica
A large group from the Gainesville First United Methodist Church spent their spring break helping students at the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf in Jamaica. The group included (front row), Kaitlin Burchett, Lizzie Webster, Morgan Black, Taylor Harrison, Caitlin Wells, Winston Arnold, Joseph Rodrigues, Shane Doster, David Burchett; (standing) Lila Francis, Jan Brown, Lila Kate Cooley, Kari Butts, Emily McCoun, Katie Webster, Lindsay Brown, Liz Presley, Kelsey Bagwell, Janelle Francis, Sarah Beth Tankersley, Jeff Black, Michael Mullins; (back row) Robin Parr and Michael Parr.

What started out with a mile-long line at the Delta check-in area, ended up as being one of the most life-changing weeks in my life. We arrived at the airport around 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 5 to begin our weeklong trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica. We were going to the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf to stay on the school's campus to take part in a mission trip.

Saturday was a very stressful day. When we arrived at the airport, we were almost immediately split up, and one of the chaperones didn't even make the trip because her passport disappeared. She eventually made it to Jamaica anyway. We hoped that would not be an omen for the trip. Thank goodness it wasn't.

On Sunday, we went to the Rosemount Missionary Church in Montego Bay. While there, we got to experience a different kind of church service. By that, I mean a three-hour-long one. We got a little antsy toward the end, but we all agreed that it was neat to see a service there. In Jamaican culture, Sundays are totally devoted to church, if you have one.

We when we got back to the school after church, we ate lunch, changed into our bathing suits and then headed toward the beach. It was beautiful. We spent about 21/2 hours on the beach, and then returned home to end the night.

Monday through Thursday, our schedule was the same. We would get up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and head to the cafeteria for breakfast. Our work time started at 7:30 a.m. and lasted until 11:30 a.m. for lunch. We headed back out to work after lunch until about 2 p.m. An hour later, after we took showers and got cleaned up, w would play with the kids until about 5 p.m., their dinner time.

Our dinner was at 6:30 p.m. Afterward, we would participate in worship, and it depended on the night as to how long that lasted. After worship, we had the choice to stay up or go to sleep, and most nights we stayed up and played card games or talked.

While working at the school, we did many different things. On the first day, many of our boys worked on scaffolding, as well as mixing and pouring concrete. Some painted a classroom, which, when finished, became the talk of the teachers. They all wanted their classrooms to look like that.

Some of us swept out rooms of the newly built building that will be used as a vocational school in the future. Others were chiseling in the same building to prepare for electrical wiring to go in.

Most of those same jobs were continued throughout the week, and we started painting many other things that were finished before we left. A grate was also created and painted. The grate allowed for water to drain off the sidewalks when it rains.

The most touching part for all of us, I think, was playing with the deaf children and students.
I think by talking and interacting with them, we all learned to appreciate everything that we have, and we realized that we took so much for granted. The simple things like hearing and having a family around are things that you wouldn't normally think about being appreciative of, but the kids in the school taught us how important they are.

We had classes to learn a little bit of sign language before the trip, but I think all of us were a little nervous to talk to the kids.

We soon learned, however, that they are just as easy to talk to as people that can hear. Once we realized that the kids read body language more than the actual signs, it was a lot easier to talk to them.

There were a lot of things that surprised us about the kids, too. We were very surprised to see how quickly they learned and caught onto things just by looking and watching. We were also surprised to learn that they know and like some of our well-known hip-hop artists, like Chris Brown, Usher, Beyonce and Soulja Boy.

Even though they couldn't actually hear the music, they could still feel the vibrations. Playing with the kids taught us that no matter if a child was deaf or blind or disabled in any way, they're still kids. When we were talking to them, it was as if you forgot that they were deaf. Though it was a quiet communication, it was still communication.

There were so many new relationships formed with not only the kids, but with some of the youth from our own group as well. Every single relationship formed is one that I hope lasts forever.

It was a week I'll never forget and one that taught me so much about life and maybe even myself. Some people think that spring break is a time that promotes bad behavior for teenagers, but I believe that it gives them a chance to do good in the world, whether it is in Montego Bay, Jamaica or Destin, Fla. The only problem is some teenagers don't take the chance.

Kaitlin Buchett is a 14-year-old freshman at North Hall High School and a member of the First United Methodist Church youth group.

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