Despite challenges, Emanuel Azan intent on making a difference
MAY PEN, Clarendon:
Early in August, Emanuel Azan was back in the parish of his birth, Clarendon, helping the less fortunate and treating students with well-needed back-to-school supplies.
The Gleaner caught up with the pastor and missionary worker who now resides in Clarksville, Tennessee.
For Azan, a lot of things have changed about his beloved parish - especially Farm, where he lived until he migrated in 1976.
"It's hard, man, for me to accept the way things have changed. We had fights, but we didn't settle it with the gun - it was on the cricket pitch or the football field," he said.
While on his trip this year, Azan did outreach in five communities between Clarendon and Manchester - Farm, Palmer's Cross, Four Paths, Knockpatrick and Christiana.
Azan said he got involved in mission outreach in 2004 after a friend and member of his Faith Outreach Church of Clarksville in Tennessee, Leo Milan, a Mexican-America, invited him along on a trip to Guatemala and Honduras.
"I was doing mission in Guatemala and Honduras, building houses and churches, providing gears, clothing and equipment, and I really loved it," he said.
After several missions, he said it "popped into his head" that he could do the same for his homeland.
"I thought, if I am doing it for another country, why not Jamaica?" It was then he started his annual outreach to Jamaica with one key difference.
While getting help to Honduras and Guatemala was easy, it was a headache for him in Jamaica with the high custom fees and hassle.
Had it not been his commitment and love for the country, Azan said he would have thrown in the towel as it was a difficult to get help to those who needed it the most.
"It was so bad that my friend and mission partner came two years and opted not to return. He said he could not deal with the frustrations," said Azan.
"The people at customs made us look like criminals, emptying all six barrels, searching bags, going through the Bibles, folder - everything. The process took about five hours," he said about his wharf experience with the supplies he brought down for churches and schools. After that, he was asked to pay an exorbitant fee.
Azan has been donating Bibles and school supplies, sponsoring football matches and mentoring youth in the process.
Last year, Azan built bathrooms for seniors, a project he intends to continue.
"They must be 60 and over though, then I will build the bathrooms to ensure they don't have to go outside to use the pit latrine," he said.
As part of his mission outreach, Azan also organised feeding of the shut-ins and less fortunate.
Most of Azan's projects are funded through his own resources from his art gallery and custom-frame shop, and help he receives from the church there.
A past student of May Pen Primary, Azan served in the US army for 26 years. upon leaving the army, he went straight into prison ministry.
A former Muslim until he embraced Christ as his Lord and Saviour, Azan said his mission now is to impact the lives of youth.
"I got help, so now it's my turn to give back," he said.