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Daily Updates from the Providence Men’s Soccer Team in Jamaica
The Providence Pilots men’s soccer team will be playing matches and working with local ministries during a 10-day mission experience in Kingston, Jamaica.
We’ll be posting highlights from the trip, as well as some of the best images, in this space until the players and chaperones—Martin Ward and Gary Schellenberg—touch down in Winnipeg on May 1.
These are Gary’s dispatches.
Thursday, April 30
Today was our last, full day in Jamaica and we visited Dunn’s River Falls—about a two-hour bus ride from where we’ve been staying. It’s one of the top tourist attractions in the country and a must-see. We got there around 11:30 a.m. and hired a guide and videographer to enhance the experience.
The falls start at a high point and what you’re supposed to do is go down to the sea and “climb” up. The falls run fast and at certain points narrow significantly, making it difficult to get a toe-hold for climbing. It’s a formidable climb and takes about an hour to make it to the top. Along the way the videographer filmed our progress. At one point we all gathered under a large waterfall and sang “O Canada,” emphasizing “True North!” It was great.
Everyone made it to the top and Mitchell and Eric actually went twice. Water shoes are a must as you would never make it up without them. While they climbed again the rest of us swam in the warm, Caribbean waters. Bailey continued teaching Dale how to swim and Gregory helped Benji. Both guys managed to make some progress. That’s what teams do: they support each other.
At 4:30 p.m. we left for Kingston and enjoyed some Kentucky Fried Chicken around the pool. The happiest person was Josh. He loves KFC. After eating everyone went to their rooms to pack for the flight home. The team departs Jamaica on Friday afternoon and, after a layover in Toronto, will get into Winnipeg around midnight.
Wednesday, April 29
This morning we visited Port Royal. In the late 17th century it was apparently one of the wealthiest and most wicked cities in the world. But an earthquake levelled much of it (1692), and this was seen at the time as God’s judgement on the city. It’s also the area where Gregory, one of our hosts, lived as a youngster. We spent a few hours there and then went to Island Grill for lunch.
After eating we went back to the hotel for an hour and then headed to Alpha Boys Home for one last match. We lost 2-1 but had a lot of fun. This was our last contact with the Alpha Boys and we handed out the rest of the Providence t-shirts we had brought to give away. We spent a lot of time at the Home and made a lot of friends. I hope some of the contacts we made will continue.
After a pizza party beside the pool the team met for a time of sharing. Each of the guys, including our Jamaican hosts, shared a highlight of the trip. It was a really meaningful time and each of the guys had something special to share. Our hosts talked about how much they appreciated our team’s willingness to interact with the local people. The guys were often hot, tired and bruised but never once complained. They would pray spontaneously with people and also go out of their way to talk to strangers.
At Port Royal, for example, we all drank coconut water at a road-side stand and then gathered around the vendour and prayed for the town. It was awesome.
Providence, parents and friends: you should be proud of these guys. Ask them to share their experiences with you when they return, and keep on praying for them.
Tuesday, April 28
This morning the team had a bit of shopping time. We were taken to a local craft market in Old Kingston. Not many tourists would go there. The first order of business was changing money, and the exchange rate was about 100 Jamaican dollars per US dollar. The guys bought a lot of paintings, hats, shirts and other souvenirs.
After leaving the market we went for lunch at—guess where—the Island Grill. I think we should buy shares in the place. Coach Ward and I found a healthier option that we were quite pleased with.
After enjoying some relaxation around the pool we left for our late-afternoon match against National Housing Trust—a business club team. Adrian Clarke, a former Providence student who now lives and works with a church youth group in Jamaica, joined us for the match, and we added four players from the Alpha Boys School to our squad as well. While Bailey cannot play because of his foot he sure befriends a lot of the Alpha boys. He has a definite purpose for being on this trip.
The game had barely started when NHT scored a lovely goal. Their side was a bit older and their experience showed in the quality chances they produced. But Providence came right back, with Adrian equalizing. Then the game settled down before NHT scored the winner, in the dark, late in the second half. It gets dark around 6:30 p.m. and there aren’t many lights.
Both teams then gathered in the centre of the field and Coach Ward shared why we’re in Jamaica, and then we closed in prayer.
We had a late dinner and got back to the hotel around 8:30 p.m., after which we spent some time sharing and discussing the day’s events. We don’t know what the results of our trip will be, but we know that if we are faithful God will work in lives to make Himself known.
Monday, April 27
Monday morning started off in spectacular fashion as, after breakfast, we were introduced to Theodore Whitmore, who was staying at the hotel. Theodore scored two goals for Jamaica in their only win at the 1998 World Cup in France, where they beat Japan 2-1. “Tappa,” as they call him, is a Jamaican legend and the guys were thrilled to meet him.
After a team picture we left for one of Jamaica’s Mustard Seed homes. These communities were founded in 1978 and provide care for vulnerable, ill and disabled children. The home we visited also had a pre-school for kids from the surrounding neighbourhood.
This was a morning of contrasts as we both saw the hope of the pre-school program and the difficult reality of ministering to the cognitively-disabled children who use the same facility. But the love and compassion the volunteers had for everyone was incredible. Our team was quite sobered by the experience. Mustard Seed homes are privately funded and rely on donations, mission groups and volunteers. (Click here for service opportunities.) They have a great outreach with a variety of programs and even a radio station that serves a real need in Christian broadcasting.
After lunch we headed back to the Alpha Boys School. The guys have made some great connections with some of the students and are keen to develop those relationships. We will probably visit the school around five times in total. The students love to scrimmage against us and today we shortened the field and played six-on-six. Everyone played barefoot to even things up (most of the local players don’t have cleats) and we mixed up the teams a bit. Everyone played hard and I even managed to get into the game as a goalkeeper, making a spectacular save as I was in “shut-out mode.” (I won’t tell you the goals we were using were three feet wide. It’s irrelevant.)
Later in the afternoon the field was expanded somewhat and the guys scrimmaged for about another hour in the heat. Ryan Fast and Josh Goertzen are “blistering,” and by “blistering” I mean they’ve got big blisters from not being careful enough with sun screen. But they keep on playing. I also don’t think Mitchell Martens ever comes off the field. He is amazing, and even the Alpha boys commented on that.
Parents, Providence family and friends: you should be proud of your team. They are compassionate, caring, fun-loving and serious—all at the same time.
Sunday, April 26
Kingston is a city of barbed-wire fences and security gates. This struck me again this morning as we entered the Webster Memorial United Church grounds. A security guard was at the gate—at a church. Even the shopping centres have security gates that are manned by guards. It’s hard to get used to.
The church service was great and lasted for two-and-a-half hours. But it didn’t seem that long as the flow of the service kept things going. It was “youth Sunday” and the kids did a great job of running the service. What really impressed me was that they had a song for every transition in the program. They had a welcome song, they recognized birthdays and anniversaries in song, they had an offering song and they had an exit song. It was great. They had pews reserved for us and made us feel very welcome. After the service the youth provided refreshments for us. We were blessed.
After lunch we had an hour to relax before heading to a Premier League match featuring Waterhouse against Boys Town. This is the top league in Jamaica (Waterhouse are second in the standings; Boys Town are ninth) and it was a great game with some wonderful goals. Waterhouse won 5-1.
The stadium is located across from tin shacks and piles of garbage, but the fans were colourful and passionate. They love their soccer and enjoy reveling with their heroes. Our hosts, Baris Johnson and Gregory Hall, each played for Waterhouse and knew a lot of the fans. And while marijuana is supposedly illegal its use was rampant and it was openly sold in the stands by vendors. Its use helps the people escape the realities of life.
The game was a great experience in hot, hot weather. I like heat, but this is hot heat!
After supper, at the usual Island Grill, we went back to the hotel for a time of sharing and to reflect on the day. Everyone has expressed how valuable this experience is and how they are seeing God at work in their own lives. Pray that this experience will not just be a memory in days to come but will also leave a lasting impact on the team and on our Jamaican friends.
Saturday, April 25
Today the guys wanted desperately to sleep in after a hectic Friday. But no way! We headed to an Under-17 exhibition for soccer teams preparing for the championship finals. This is a huge tournament for Jamaican club teams. After watching the games the guys had some time to share their faith with the various players and answer a bunch of questions.
Following lunch we went to the third division championship match in Kingston. The stands were split between home and visiting fans and we had to choose which side to sit on. The fans were, I must say, quite passionate about their teams and it got very interesting when a bit of a kerfuffle broke out. We did not want to be caught in the middle! It was quite the experience.
In the evening we ordered pizza at the hotel as everyone was tired. The heat just gets to you. To wrap up the evening we had a time of sharing. The guys are growing in leaps and bounds and are so committed to serving. They want this time to be fruitful and meaningful, and they are putting into practice what they have been taught.
Pray that we as a team will continue to be moved and motivated as we phase into the next week.
Friday, April 24
The day started off sunny and warm and after breakfast we left for Maxfield Park Special School. It’s an institute for displaced kids ranging from infants to 18-year-olds, and it’s secured by a high, barbed-wire fence. There are 88 kids and 80 workers who work in three shifts.
We toured the premises and then played sandlot soccer with the kids for an hour. They just wanted attention, and our guys gave them plenty of it. As we left we passed out a dozen Providence shirts. The kids loved them. It was very sobering to acknowledge how happy they could be with so little.
After lunch we went back to the hotel for an hour, had a bit of down time and then left for a soccer match against the high school team from Alpha Boys School. We added a few extra players and a fellow that we met at the beach on Thursday. He has severely deformed hands and feet yet did remarkably well in the game. He wore the Providence uniform. It may be the only time he ever gets to play soccer on a team. We know nothing about him and how he got to the game. He may have walked all night to get to Kingston from the beach. We call him JJ.
Providence won the match 2-0, but we were impressed with the skill level of the Alpha team. What really struck our guys is the fact that they are making friends but will have to say goodbye so soon.
After the match we went back to the hotel, showered and then went to Adrian Clarke’s church to meet its youth group. We got there at 7:00 p.m. and joined the youth in session. We all had to say something or quote a Bible verse. It was a great experience and the youth taught us a lot.
After the session—guess what—we played our third scrimmage of the day. This time the game was on the church’s asphalt parking lot, under the lights and with cinder blocks for goal posts. It was five-on-five and lasted about an hour. I don’t think Miguel ever came off. He said it was just like when he was a kid in El Salvador.
Finally the day came to an end with a late supper. The guys are exhausted but happy. This is what we came for—to bring the love of Christ into the lives of Jamaican kids. Tomorrow we start all over again.
Thursday, April 23
We started the day with a nice breakfast and then left for the Alpha Boys School. It’s a private, Catholic school and is attended by a lot of disadvantaged youth. And it’s well-known for producing great musicians (Cedric Brooks, Dizzy Reece and “Deadly” Headley Bennett among them).
On the way we had a team picture taken with a statue of Bob Marley. We then toured the school and watched some of the classes. They’re training students with specific skills that will help them find jobs. We saw the wood-work shop and the silk-screen shop and listened to musicians practicing.
In the afternoon we headed to a local beach. None of the “resort” stuff, this beach had dilapidated tin and wood buildings with dirt floors, but it was authentic—not a tourist destination. We had fish for lunch along with “festivals” and rice. Festivals are deep-fried cornbread, and they were great. The guys played soccer on the beach using coconuts for goal-posts and did a lot of swimming. A lot of them are going to have trouble sleeping as they burned themselves quite badly. Oh well, they’re tough dudes.
The players have also struck up friendships with some local lads and have given them Providence t-shirts. The local fellows are hungry for friendship and relationship, and our guys aren’t shy about initiating. I am quite impressed.
After the beach we returned to the hotel and had a debriefing session. As a group we’ve decided to strengthen our own relationships by sharing and having prayer time each evening. Although the focus of the trip is to minister and befriend local people it’s also important to strengthen our own faith and relationships with one another.
We ended the day with a late dinner, and since it was my birthday the guys sang for me in the mall food court and bought me a slice of chocolate cake. It was much appreciated.
Wednesday, April 22
Today started off sunny and warm and we had the choice of Jamaican or Continental breakfast. The Jamaican breakfast had salt fish, yams, dumplings and rice. Lots of players had it and said it was good. Breakfast was very formal with coffee, juice and nice tableware.
At 10:00 a.m. we left for Mico Practicing Primary and Junior High School. What an experience! Our mission was to interact with the kids in small groups. Our most popular player seemed to be Bailey, as everyone wanted to touch his hair. We did a lot of arm-wresting and Coach Ward was spotted dancing with a group of kids. I think we signed a thousand autographs. Even I signed autographs until my hand was sore. I also arm-wrestled half the kids, I think. The day was a hoot and the players did a great job.
We then went back to the hotel and rested for a bit before departing to a local stadium to play the Waterhouse FC Under-20 team. (Waterhouse are currently second in the Jamaican Premier League.) They came on in waves and had a lot of players trying out who all got a chance to play. We picked up a number of local players including Adrian Clarke—a Kingstonian who attended Providence a few years ago. He’s working with a youth group at a church in the city.
Waterhouse played well and had great ball-control and ended up beating us 3-2. Liam made some fantastic saves to keep it close, and Josh and Miguel scored our goals. It was a great start for the guys. They were pretty tired after the game but in good spirits.
Tuesday, April 21
After a passport scare and a late Winnipeg Jets play-off game the Providence delegation arrived at the airport at 3:00 Tuesday morning. We boarded and flew to Toronto, where we were late taking off due to a passenger taken ill.
We arrived in Montego Bay, Jamaica around 2:00 p.m. It was hot and humid. Our contact was there with the bus and we got something to eat before driving to Kingston. We thought it would be a three-hour trip but, with stops, it was closer to seven hours. The roads were narrow and driving on the left-hand side was adventurous, even for us who weren’t driving. It was a trip nicely interrupted with jerk chicken at a lovely roadside restaurant.
Finally, at 9:30 p.m., we got into Kingston and checked into our hotel. We debriefed for a few minutes and then hit the showers.
We are looking forward to the days ahead and to what God has in store for us. These are a great bunch of guys and they are pumped for ministry. I love it.
For more updates follow @ProvManitoba on Twitter.


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