Area woman undertakes mission work in Jamaica

CLYDE – Nearly a year ago, Clyde High School graduate Kristen Larimer completed her degree in American Sign Language at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. She then moved to Maryland to work on a master’s degree at McDaniel University, but an unusual opportunity caused her to put that on hold.

Larimer returned in July from a six-week stay in Jamaica, where she worked at the Jamaica Deaf Village in Mandeville. She is to give a free program about her trip 6-8 p.m. Saturday at Clyde High School Auditorium. Friends of Larimer are to sing a few inspirational selections to open the program.

“There will be some music, and then I will share, speaking about my background, how I got where I am today with my faith and presenting photos and videos from my journey in Jamaica,” Larimer said.

As a child, Larimer remembered becoming friends with a girl who was deaf on her softball team. In eighth grade, Larimer learned American Sign Language would be offered as a foreign language alternative in high school. She took two years of instruction and then served as a classroom aide for a hearing-impaired teacher. Larimer also was an officer for the school’s ASL Club.

From there, it was college at Gardner-Webb, a university run by Baptists. Larimer said she started searching for a mission opportunity about the time she started her graduate classes. Volunteer service was something she had been thinking about, but no one had suggested going abroad.

“God laid it on my heart to do more,” Larimer said.

She went online to look for an organization that served the deaf and found Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf. Founded in 1958 by a missionary couple from Ontario, Canada, it has a U.S. office in Lewiston, West Virginia, and operates three campuses on the island of Jamaica. In looking at the positions they needed, Larimer said she felt unqualified but still interested. She checked out the online application for “short-term missionary.”

“I prayed about it, answered the questions and sent in the application. I had to write a story about myself,” Larimer said.

After the application went out in December, she put it aside to continue her classwork. She tried not to anticipate a reply of acceptance, but the CCCD did contact her in January. The organization wanted to send her to Jamaica Deaf Village. The website describes it as a residential community with small homes, apartments, a church, farmland and a factory to make bentwood rocking chairs. A conference and retreat center is being constructed there, as well.

The organization’s mission statement lists goals of teaching language to the deaf, providing basic education, job training and Christian values. Two CCCD campuses are schools for the deaf; however, JDV is a place where deaf adults can live, learn skills and work to support their families.

Having completed one semester of graduate classes, Larimer put school on hold and started planning in February for a trip to Jamaica. The first task was to explain to her parents what she wanted to do. She is the youngest of four children, and none of her siblings had undertaken such a project. She spoke with them via Skype to ask whether she could move back home to do fundraising for the trip.

“They were really proud of me, but they were not sure what to do to help me,” Larimer said.

Program participants must pay $240 per week of their stay, as well as airfare to and from Jamaica. Because she was not part of a team, Larimer had to make the arrangements on her own. While still in Maryland, she composed a letter requesting donations from friends and family members in Attica, Republic, Fremont, Bellevue and Sandusky. Part of her motivation for Saturday’s presentation is to let donors know about where she lived and the work she did during the mission.

“I left June 6 and got back July 12,” Larimer said. “It was my first big trip by myself.”

Upon arrival in Mandeville, the school was not in session, so Larimer said she got to know some of the villagers. She did activities with their hearing children and taught some sign language to help them communicate with their parents.

The non-hearing adults sell produce and livestock from the campus and work at the village factory or in the kitchen. Others are constructing a road to the conference center. Larimer said she also worked with the crew a few days.

“Everything is by physical labor. There is not much machinery available,” Larimer said. “Mostly, they are learning responsibility, and the families can offer support to one another.”

When school started, Larimer helped children with their homework. She also worked at an infirmary and at a children’s home in Mandeville. Larimer said her “walk with God” has changed as a result of her interaction with Jamaican families.

She said she was impressed by children who had no toys but were happy to play with boxes.

“Even though they have so little, they are filled with so much joy. It made me think about all the stuff I have. … and how life can get cluttered by it,” Larimer said.

Those who cannot attend Saturday’s program can hear a repeat, without the music, at 6 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Clyde Library. Both events are free. Those who would like to contact her can do so at klarimer or on Facebook.