Weather Forecast


Akeley mission team creates avocado orchard in Jamaica

Members of the Jamaican Mission Team are front, from left, Megan Edelman, Emilee Edelman, Mikayla Magnuson, Ellie Kirchner, Brandon Spain-Brist and Ginny Spain-Brist and, back, Duane Gebhard, Loree Albright, Ellen Albright, Jean Greseth Kirchner and Spike Wellman. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Ellie Kirchner made friends with a young Jamaican. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

A grove of avocado trees is sprouting in Brownstown, Jamaica, thanks to the work of an Akeley-based Jamaican Mission Team.

Five youth and five adults from Akeley United Methodist were off to the Caribbean island in early June.

The trip was under the umbrella of Operation Compassion Ministry, four or five teams within the state's Methodist conference heading down to island nation of the Greater Antilles each year.

But this team was on a unique mission: prepare the ground and plant an avocado orchard.

This was accomplished on the side of a mountain - "at a 45-degree angle that felt like 90 at times," with brush to clear before planting began, using minimal tools, in hot, humid climes.

"It was lots of work, but good exercise," Emilee Edelman, 19, said of their task.

"And the food was good," Ginny Spain-Brist, an adult "accomplice" added.

"With nice people," said Brandon Spain, who is "still itching" from exposure to exotic plants, and grimacing at the recollection of the scorpions that reside on the island.

"It was a good experience," Ellie Kirchner, 15, said of "helping and interacting with the people."

"Our story began several years ago with a group from Akeley United Methodist expressing a desire to go on a mission to assist the people of Jamaica," said Pastor Duane Gebhard, who accompanied the corps of volunteers.

"Those earlier trips would set a vision, and made the dream possible," he said.

The "journey" for this summer's trip began nearly two years ago when the team began fundraising. The overall budget was $15,000, with $4,000 to be spent on the project - including the avocado trees.

Members of the JMT cleaned the church and hosted dinners and pancake breakfasts to raise funds for their calling.

The toils would prepare the team for the work ahead.

Being a part of a mission team is "life changing," said Gebhard. "It forms an impression of people in another culture in a way that can't be done through the media or books."

The team worked from 7 a.m. to noon, using handsaws and clippers to cut brush. "Exhausted,"(due to the heat and humidity) they headed back to the manse (parsonage) where they took a break until 3 p.m.

Food was Jamaican, the workers eating spicy cod for breakfast and enjoying "wonderful" papaya and mango.

Weekends were spent interacting with Jamaicans, the team "connecting with Jamaican youth."

"By the second week, the Jamaican kids were up every night to see our kids," Gebhard said. "It was a real joy, the mixing of cultures."

The last evening of the trip, their hosts, Pastor Athlone "Earl" Harrison and wife June pointed out the church could have sent $10,000 for the work to be accomplished. "But that never would have done what you've done," Gebhard was told. "You've shown the congregation this is a viable project," Harrison said of the orchard that will provide income for the Jamaican church.

"That's what brings our kids back," Gebhard said.

"On vacation next time," Emilee Edelman joked.