Mustard Seed’s 40-year embrace of God’s people


Monday, September 03, 2018

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Children who literally live in garbage dumps. Children who walk miles to a Mustard Seed orphanage, not sure if they will be one of the lucky 900 to be fed that day. We watched the video and listened in awe to the narrative of Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, founder of Mustard Seed Communities — now in Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Malawi, and Zimbabwe — at the launch of the organisation's 40th Anniversary celebrations last Wednesday.

The name is taken from Jesus' parable (Matthew 13:31-32): “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed … Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree…” And so, Gregory Ramkissoon, Trinidad-born UWI lecturer, began his small ministry in Mona Commons in 1978, growing it to serve thousands in residential, educational, agricultural and spiritual programmes.

Ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1984, the legendary minister, his International CEO Father Garvin Augustine and local CEO Darcy Tulloch-Williams somehow manage to attract the most enthusiastic and compassionate staff members and volunteers who travel far and wide to serve. The launch was supported by board members Thalia Lyn and Thyra Heaven, and PR guru Berl Francis who has volunteered with Mustard Seed for decades.

Monsignor Gregory graduated from Boston College with a first degree in Urban Planning and Master's degrees in Philosophy and Theology. A visit to the Olympic Way compound with its well laid out grounds and buildings shows his planning genius. This area has experienced unrest, but Monsignor Gregory says community members value the organisation and are protective of his people.

A scenic marvel is the Jacob's Ladder community in St Ann, a safety net for disabled individuals who cease to receive Government funding at age 18. The residence houses over 50 people in a series of cozy cottages surrounded by various agricultural projects. At the large Centre of Excellence donated by Digicel Foundation, residents receive therapy and create art and craft which is sold to raise funds.

Farming provides food for the various communities and the vision is to grow the residential population to 500 on the 100-acre property. Monsignor made an urgent appeal for funds to establish the well, important for this expansion; he has already raised $10 million of the $40 million needed, so please try to help.

Thyra Heaven and her fund-raising committee can take credit for the creation of the 'Powerful Women Perform for Charity' concert, later expanded to include men, with the kind oversight of Broadcast Commission CEO Cordel Green and Michelle Wilson-Reynolds. Supporters of the event will be happy hear that this year's concert raised over $7 million for Mustard Seed.

The organisation is keen on education so it was special for Brendan Hames, visiting Caribbean Head of IGT, to see its work. IGT Jamaica, led by Debbie Green, has donated After School Advantage computer learning centres to three Mustard Seed locations and plans to open two additional centres at Sophie's Place in Gordon Town, and Matthew 25:40 (part of Dare to Care) at George Headley Drive in Kingston before the end of the year.

As reported in the Jamaica Observer last week, Monsignor Ramkissoon is appealing to the Government for a waiver on education tax, as this is a burden to his organisation which hires teachers. We join him in this appeal as the massive work he has undertaken surely has saved our Government millions.


Turmoil in the Catholic Church

Monsignor Ramkissoon and so many other Catholic priests and sisters are the best of the Roman Catholic Church, but as we learned from the recent findings in Pennsylvania and from reports the world over, the church has been wounded by abusive clergy. They are in the minority, but the damage they have done is deep and wide. Our church has acknowledged this, and we, its members, must insist on the appropriate sanctions and stricter monitoring to prevent any recurrence of these abhorrent crimes.


Arts for Development

While STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is the popular acronym for development, I prefer STEAM, to include the arts. This was affirmed at a reception hosted by US Embassy Chargé d'Affaires Eric Khant last Wednesday in honour of Misty Copeland, the first African-American Prima Ballerina of the American Ballet Company, and Desmond Richardson, co-founder of the Complexions Dance Company.

Their local tour was an initiative by Marisa Benain, head of 'Plié for the Arts', which saw the stars performing alongside local talent to sold-out houses and engaging with young aspirants. We appreciated the greetings from Mr Khant, Michele Rollins, patron of Plié for the Arts, US Counselor for Public Affairs Jeremiah Knight, and of course the radiant Ms Copeland and Mr Richardson. We were delighted to be entertained by the incomparable Tessanne Chin, her inspiring brother-in-law Wayne Marshall, and Ashé.

Let us give the arts our full support. Observer writer Vaughn Gray noted, “Seeing such a rally around the performing arts in Jamaica was, in a word, phenomenal. Many may not have the adroitness, nimbleness and talent of professional dancers. However, as Khant noted: 'Dance is the finest expression known to unite people of diverse cultures nations and backgrounds'.”


Centenary of South Africa's Albertina Sisulu

It was the courageous South African freedom fighter, the late Albertina 'Mama' Sisulu who said, “Women are the people who are going to relieve us from all this oppression and depression. … It is the women who are on the street committees educating the people to stand up and protect each other.”

To commemorate her centenary, a panel discussion titled 'Women of Fortitude: Building solidarity between Women from South Africa and Jamaica' was held last month by the South African High Commission in partnership with the Bob Marley Foundation at the Bob Marley Museum.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith reflected on the deep historical ties between South Africa and Jamaica, an acknowledged leader of the international anti-apartheid movement and “the various areas in the bilateral relationship and in the multilateral arena that the South African and the Jamaican governments have successfully supported each other and worked together”.

Panelists Dr Amina Blackwood Meeks, Dania Beckford, Nomonde Donsa, and Janet Silvera, and moderator Sister Mitzie Williams discussed the commonalities of our challenges and the importance of building solidarity to overcome them.

The acting high commissioner, Mr Tyrone Gunnie, commented, “South Africa now calls for support for its efforts to eradicate poverty and inequality in order to create a better life for all South Africans.” He observed that 2018 is a triple centenary year for the South African Government, as it commemorates and celebrates the centenaries of Mr Mandela, Mrs Sisulu, and the formation of the Bantu Women's League.


Farewell Kofi Annan and John McCain

The world has lost icons of diplomacy and courage in the persons of Kofi Annan, philanthropist and retired United Nations Secretary General, and Senator John McCain, US war hero and a beacon of political integrity and national unity. Their unflinching struggle for a better world should inspire all who share their ideals. Rest in peace, great ones.


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