Leap of faith: Worldwide journey lands young Jamaican missionary in Chile
SHANE LEWIS is a man of faith. So when the opportunity presented itself, without knowing where he would end up, the Jamaican packed his bags, took sail on the Logos Hope, and put his trust in God.
"It's actually a ship, and Jamaicans know it as 'The Book Ship'," Lewis said of the vessel on which books were sold at a discounted rates. It was docked across from the Caribbean Cement Company in Rockfort, Kingston, just about a mile away from where he lived.
"When the ship arrived in Jamaica in 2010, I volunteered for nine weeks... and that is how I found out that they needed more long-term volunteers," the Vauxhall High School graduate said.
"I was completing my diploma in computing, after which I completed my diploma in web development. I played for the Rockfort Football Club with Onandi Lowe's son, Damion, when Onandi was the coach," said the former goalkeeper. "And also, in my free time, I played volleyball as well."
He added: "During that time, I was pretty busy, and I just wanted to do more than play sports and enjoy temporary happiness, and as a Christian, I was led by the Lord to do more of His work and not necessarily what I wanted to do, and I volunteered for two years and ended up spending two and a half years aboard the Logos Hope."
BEEN TO SEVERAL COUNTRIES
Since then, Lewis has travelled to Germany, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Cambodia, The Philippines, Thailand, "and some more" countries he couldn't remember.
"I started as a deck hand and they trained me to navigate the ship and communicate with other vessels [and] aircraft. I do basic to advanced firefighting and first aid. At the end of the two and a half years, I left as an able-bodied seaman. I'm certified to work on any vessel," the 26-year-old told The Gleaner.
"It's actually a vision of mine to become a first officer, chief mate, or captain in the future, God's willing."
Now, the man from east has settled in the south - in Chile - where he holds the distinction of being the only, if not one of the few, Jamaicans in its desert mining town, Antofagasta.
"I came here last year. I actually met my wife while we were serving on the Logos Hope, a Christian-serving mission, and she's actually Chilean and from Antofagasta," he shared.
Here, the Jamaican teaches "English at a local institute run by the University of Queensland in Australia", and helped "building wells in southeast Asia, dental work, and optician work" during his voluntary service.
"When I was doing missionary work on the Logos Hope, they trained us. So even if you're not qualified in an area, they will train you to be qualified," he explained.
Coincidentally, Jamaica happens to have played its first two matches of the 2015 Copa America in Antofagasta, having been invited to participate in the South American championship for the first time.
There was no way Lewis would miss out.
"Last year, I found out that Jamaica got invited to the Copa America and I was extremely excited. When I got vacation this year in February, I went home and made sure I got my Jamaican T-shirt, flag - basically getting myself ready for the guys coming," he said, smiling from ear to ear as he stood among the Reggae Boyz in a training session at the Calvo y Bascunan stadium on the eve of their Paraguay match.
"At that time, I didn't know that I'd be able to speak with them in person, but I knew that they were coming and I was pretty excited. From that time, I purchased one of my tickets. That's how excited I was because I knew that if I was the only Jamaican here, I had to support my Boyz."
Luckily, the Jamaican delegation made sure he didn't have to purchase tickets for the Paraguay game. Now, he's over the moon.
"Oh, man! I'm extremely happy! Words cannot explain how happy I am to know that I can talk mi Patois and reason wid mi bredren dem. It's an awesome experience," he exclaimed.
"Normally, back home, we only see them when we go to football matches and we can only see them from way in the stands, but here, I can shake their hands, rub shoulders with them, and just relax and 'hold a vibes', as Jamaicans say."
In Antofagasta, where life is so different, Lewis has also had to create his own vibe.
"It's a contrast from Jamaica, out here in the desert," he said of the barren city, where mining copper is significant to the country's economy.
"Jamaica is pretty hot; it's more warm when it comes on to the people. The food is also different as well, but as a missionary, I get accustomed to changes as well. I can easily adjust to different cultures, different people, different environments, climate, etc."
It was around 15?C when Jamaica played Paraguay, and -5?C in Santiago the night before, close to where the Reggae Boyz would play their next match against Argentina, in Vina del Mar, last Saturday.
They also speak Spanish and Lewis did not know any - at least when he just arrived.
"The difficult part for me is understanding the language. Before I came here, they said it's a Spanish-speaking country, but here in Chile, they also speak Castellano, which is a little bit different, and they use a lot of slang ... . It's somewhat like when we're in Jamaica and we learn English, but when we're among our friends, we just break out in Creole," he said.
Like practically everywhere else, he encounters the stereotype of doing everything 'reggae' and 'weed' for being Jamaican but has proven otherwise and sometimes gets even the princely treatment.
" ... For example, when I go to the barber shop, every time I'm there, it's just strictly Bob Marley and Jamaican music until I leave ... . When they know that you're Jamaican, it's like you're being treated as a celebrity," Lewis related.
In terms of his new household, Lewis said: "Her family is pretty receptive."
And because he's old school, "I asked her father if I could take her hand in marriage and they were pretty excited about that.
"They had never met a Jamaican before. For them, it was new."
"It was pretty awkward in the beginning, getting used to Chileans and them getting used to me and how we function."
One of his biggest challenges, besides the language, was the food.
"They don't season their meat like us and you know we in Jamaica, wi love when wi meat marinate and pudung an it right. No disrespect, but I love my thing well sort out and put together," he said, laughing.
"So I had to take on that role for my family, and after a while, they understood. We get along pretty well."
For people back home in Jamaica who are within his age group - mid- to late 20s - Lewis wants them to know there's a wider world in which they can attain their goals.
"I want to tell the guys back home [that] Jamaica is not the only place. Even if you're thinking about sports, studying, working, Jamaica is not the only place and you've got to have a plan. You've got to have a medium-term plan, a short-term plan, and a long-term plan, and they have to align with each other, and you've got to put yourself in a position that you can progress from each level," he advised.
"Without a vision, you have no purpose."
Despite his insight, Lewis gets lonely "sometimes". But his faith keeps him grounded.
"As a missionary, I was called by God, and that helps me to know that I'm only here for a while, so I can easily adapt. For example, I spent a few years living in southeast Asia, [where there are] different cultures, different languages. So coming here, it's just another change for me, and I have the mindset that I'm not going to be here forever, so I adapt easily," he said.