“There has been a medical emergency. One of our passengers is in critical condition. The ship has turned around and is headed at top speed to Key West, Florida, so the passenger can receive proper medical treatment. It will be impossible for ship to stop in Jamaica on Thursday.”
This all-ship announcement from the ship’s captain Tuesday night hit us hard. We were on a mission: to launch FamilyLife’s small group ministry in Jamaica. Now, it looked like that would not happen.
Each year, for the last five years, FamilyLife has chartered an entire cruise ship for a five-day Caribbean cruise designed to strengthen marriages and families in a relaxed cruise environment. Each year, the cruise has sold out. Each year, over 2,000 passengers have had the opportunity to hear from some of the best Christian marriage experts, musicians, and entertainers. And plenty of marriage counselors are on board, just in case some of the teaching sessions hit some “raw nerves.”
This year, FamilyLife booked an even larger ship (over 2,500 passengers) and it sold out in record time. And FamilyLife planned to have its first-ever ministry outreach at a port of call. My wife, Kathy, and I went on the cruise specifically to lead that ministry outreach: to help launch a FamilyLife small group ministry on the island of Jamaica.
We had carefully planned a very strategic four-hour small group leader training of 120 Jamaican pastors, seminary students, and lay couples. And fifteen couples from the cruise ship were going too, just to get a first-hand look at how FamilyLife launches ministry in other countries. Months of planning and preparation had gone into this. And now, the hopes of doing the training—scheduled to start in just 36 hours—seemed dashed to pieces.
What happened next can only be described as an incredible outpouring of teamwork and God’s favor. Everyone on the ship paused to pray for two miracles: the passenger’s health and the training in Jamaica. Cruise line staff, FamilyLife staff, and travel agents worked into the wee hours of Tuesday night with a singular purpose: to get us to Jamaica the next day so the small-group ministry launch could happen. After just three and a half hours of sleep, we got off the ship Wednesday morning in Key West and boarded a plane. It was the only plane that day from Key West to Jamaica that had two seats available.
The local Jamaican organizers met us early Thursday morning and we reviewed (and adjusted) plans for the day. Then the participants started arriving: pastors, ministry leaders, seminary students, lay couples – all representing a broad cross-section of churches, denominations, and ministry organizations. The training room was packed with 118 Jamaicans, making this probably the largest single international training of ministry leaders in FamilyLife’s history.
There was such a buzz of excitement at the event. It is incredible to think about launching a FamilyLife small group ministry across an island with a single training at cruise ship port of call. Only time will tell whether or not this really grows, but one huge factor is in our favor. This launch focused primarily on current and future church leaders. FamilyLife cannot grow without the involvement of local churches. And by introducing pastors and future church leaders to FamilyLife’s small group studies and sharing how these can be used as a foundation for a church’s marriage ministry, the potential is huge.
Robert Linton, the Jamaican organizer, was absolutely overjoyed and praised the Lord for what happened in Jamaica. He particularly highlighted the passionate and enthusiastic training that was delivered; it was over the top and awesome in every way. He acknowledged the Holy Spirit was at work and that many, many, HomeBuilders groups would be starting in the weeks and months ahead!
The ill passenger—a wife and mother of five—received the medical care she needed and survived. And dozens of churches from all over the island of Jamaica are trained, resourced, and poised to minister to marriages in their congregations and communities. We serve a God who hears the cries of His people and meets us in our times of need. We give God all the praise!