Truth Corps 2023
Preparation in Norfolk, Virginia
Due to some challenges getting Truth Corps up and running after our long Covid hiatus, a promising contingent of volunteers dwindled away while plans were in limbo. In the end, we only had two team members available to travel to Jamaica for two weeks, and another two joining us during the second week.
The Norfolk ecclesia agreed to host a small preaching campaign so that we could help prepare Bro. Judah and Sis. Sydney for speaking to the public, and we decided to move forward with the usual training activities in the days leading up to our flight to Jamaica. We were especially thankful to Brother Joshua Lagasse who organized promotional material and t-shirts in a very short period of time, so that we had what we needed to actually go out and practice preaching. We invited the Norfolk CYC to join us for our preaching preparation, but between work and summer travels, we had only two join us, Jacob and Lily Pittman for the preaching campaign.
Although the group was small, everyone took the activities seriously, and we saw a lot of growth, even from our younger participants. Our preaching efforts were simply outings to local parks where we circulated in groups of two or three, offering invitations to the “Reading the Bible Effectively” seminar that is being planned in the fall. Despite high levels of apprehension, everyone participating eventually loosened up enough to approach strangers and offer an invitation. A pretty high percentage of people actually seemed pleased to take the flyer! Our biggest challenge was the stifling heat. When someone had the idea to check another nearby park with a fitness trail though, it turned out to be a win. Peak temperatures in the upper nineties had started cooling by then, and people were out to walk, run or exercise pets. In just an hour of canvassing we had more conversations than we’d managed in the previous two days at the other park! As we hope to hold further ecclesial canvassing efforts, this is good information to know!
Week 1: May Pen Ecclesia, Jamaica
Thankfully, travel went smoothly, but we arrived with about half of our usual amount of sleep, and most of us ended up napping for the rest of the afternoon once we settled in at the Johnsons. The necessity of naps remained high throughout the coming days as the heat and humidity was really hard to bear round the clock.
The Johnson family welcomed us warmly, and had prepared very comfortable accommodations for all of us. Sis. Loraine cooked us a traditional Jamaican breakfast on Sunday morning and we all headed off to meeting, somehow squeezing all nine of us into the seven person rental van! Dave exhorted for memorial service, while Judah and I did a Sunday school lesson for the handful of students who were present that day. It was good to see some of our old friends again, and Judah and Sydney were able to reacquaint themselves with the young people they’d met at camp. After an afternoon rest and supper with the family, we met together in the evening to finish the readings and go over expectations for the week. We invited Lorenzo Johnson and Okeimo Johnson to both fully participate in Truth Corps “First Principles Workshops,” devotions and presiding, figuring that they would also benefit from the preparation that would require.
Monday was our first day of canvassing for the public lecture and VBS, and I’d made the mistake of planning it in the morning, but the heat grew hard to bear as the morning wore on. We did manage to get going before the hottest part of the day at least, and we ended up near the Gordon home right when we were running out of steam. We picked up Brother Melvin’s granddaughter Akeilah and all went to get lunch together before coming back to do some of the readings. An afternoon rest back at the Johnson’s was once again essential, but most of us were re-energized in time for our evening session.
Tuesday we participated in the all-Jamaica virtual mutual improvement class, taking advantage of the public holiday, Emancipation Day. We were able to see Lorenzo and Okeimo Johnson, as well as two other young men from the ecclesia present for us and receive critiques. Later in the day we got another couple of hours of canvassing in, which proved to be a more wise choice than the morning as the sun wasn’t beating down on us quite so intensely. We met a few people in the area who were familiar with the ecclesia and said they’d try to come next week, which was encouraging.
Wednesday followed a similar combination of Bible activities at the Johnson’s house and canvassing in the late afternoon. So far in the week we had Leroy, Lorenzo and Okeimo with us as we canvassed the neighborhood, but we lost Lorenzo on Wednesday as he had to return to his internship after the holiday. We were joined by Shareen, another ecclesial regular, and her kids as we drove through to Buckner, a neighborhood where a number of lapsed members lived. We actually ran into several people we knew, and encouraged them to come out next week. Our loop took us a bit further than planned, so it was a close thing to get supper and be ready to join Bible class. Currently several ecclesias join for a virtual Bible class, which helps keep things lively and reduces the difficulties of travel after dark in Jamaica.
Thursday was a real marathon of a day, as we headed out to Runaway Bay, straight north across the island from the Johnsons. The Port Maria and Ocho Rios area is home to a few sisters in isolation who greatly miss regular meetings since their ecclesia faded out. Usually we would arrange for everyone to travel to Ocho Rios to meet with us on a day trip like this, but Sister Shauna was living a bit further out, temporarily, and unable to travel due to her health. We decided the only thing to do was bring everyone to her to break bread, so we loaded up into two cars, made the 90 minute drive to Ocho Rios, picked up Sister Allisa and Sister Shauna, and a whole bunch of kids and then drove another 40 minutes to Runaway Bay. We had lunch and a lovely memorial service at Shauna’s sister’s house, then half our group headed to the beach to let the kids swim, and half stayed to visit a bit longer. It turned out to be an epically long day, after traffic and other delays kept us out well after dark, but it was well worth it.
Friday was lower key. The rest of the day was filled with various errands, VBS prep and the usual Truth Corps evening activities. Saturday opened with similar preparations, and we also fit all of our daily Truth Corps Bible activities in by early afternoon, as we were combining an outing to Kingston with picking up Brother Erick Cervantes at the airport in the early evening. We were glad to have Erick there safely, and in time for his scheduled Exhortation the next day.
During Memorial Service, Sydney and I assisted with Sunday School, while Erick exhorted. We couldn’t stay around for much visiting, as we needed to get back to the airport to pick up the Kholmans who arrived around noon. Leaving part the team to head home with the Johnsons, the rest of us retraced our steps from Saturday to find Brother Dana and Sister Jane at the airport, rent a second vehicle and get more drivers authorized on the original. We were welcomed home with a simply phenomenal Sunday dinner at the Johnsons. With eleven people around the table, it was a lively time of fellowship and good food! The Kholmans proved quite resilient in the face of limited sleep, and joined us for the readings, overview of VBS plans and some hymn singing before we all headed to bed.
Monday was the last day for Dave and I in May Pen, but we planned to wait until after the first VBS session to leave, so we could be sure everything got started on the right foot. It was Independence Day, so we only had three or four student attendees, along with the Johnson family and a few other ecclesial members. It was still an enjoyable time though, and the teen classes in particular seemed to be hitting some really solid topics. My favorite part was singing “Good News of the Kingdom of God,” accompanied by guitar. Lots of us knew it from Easter camp, and it’s just such an inspiring song.
Submitted by Sis. Cassie Giordano
Week 2: Vacation Bible School in May Pen
Truth Corps 2023 was deeply positive for the May Pen ecclesia, for the Truth Corps team and for the young Sunday school attendees that participated in the Vacation Bible School (VBS). More than anything, I suspect the success could be attributed to a combination of some very solid team members, and a very strong host family.
The team, this year, stayed at the home of the Johnson family. The Johnsons are remarkable. They provided excellent accommodations, relentless hospitality, much of the catering, and great fellowship. I suspect, for the young people, the Johnsons were the strongest support as they provided the most learning (Both Sis Lorraine and Bro Leroy are strong Bible students) and scriptural engagement. With them we had lively discussions around the readings, and many follow-up, engaging conversations followed.
The team itself, while small, was deeply rich. Having the two Johnson boys with us, Okeimo and Lorenzo, may well have made the strongest contribution to this. Both of the boys participated in the VBS classes, all of the team activities, and were game for any extracurricular activities and often led the way.
I was thrilled to see the heavy lifting of the North America young people. It would be hard to find a way to infuse more learning into the VBS. Sis Sydney Pitman, Sis Jane Kohlman and Bro Jonah Lange were ‘all in’ during their lessons with the students. Bro Erick Cervantes and I covered the teen classes, and the folks that were in the room supported us with some lively commentary. Every time I looked into the younger class it was a ‘hive’ of learning.
The team benefited from the presence and leadership of brother Erick Cervantes. It is hard to replace young, enthusiastic brothers willing to do this sort of work. Bro. Erick is such a great example to the young people.
Overall, the experience, while blisteringly hot, benefitted everyone. Work in developing countries is exhausting work. It’s an emotional labor as well. We live in distorted circumstances in the West. Most of us take for granted the opportunities that surround us: safe neighborhoods, access to a robust economy, a moderate climate, legal accountability, etc. Getting up close to the poverty that surrounds most of the world is grounding.
The greatest strength of TC is that it allows young people to have these experiences, support our community and hopefully recognize that the ties that bind us — God’s call to righteousness — transcends the wickedness, inequity and disorder that makes up so much of the rest of the world.
Meeting with brothers and sisters, who love and understand the calling of scripture, despite difficult circumstances, encourages those of us in the West, surrounded by perennial indulgence, to stay grounded and appreciate more the abundance we’ve been blessed with. And hopefully, leverage our privilege into greater service. It’s hard to ignore Paul’s directive in Romans 14:17 “The kingdom of God is… about righteousness, peace and joy.”
Please consider reaching out to TC contacts in your area, to get information and to encourage young people to volunteer some of their summer to support this worthy work. I strongly recommend as part of your CYC or Bible class to have a “Zoom” session with TC alumni to get some insights and encouragement to join, or support in other ways.
Submitted by Bro. Dana Kohlman