Little lady, woman of God

Little lady, woman of God

Marjorie Palmer like a mother to the homeless in Ocho Rios

Sunday Observer staff reporter

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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Today, we start a new series on people who, without much assistance, or none at all, are helping others who are less fortunate. They are our Every Day Heroes.

It is almost synonymous to the work Jesus did while He roamed the Earth just about 2,000 years ago. She feeds the hungry, clothes the unclothed and fellowships with who some would call the lowest people.

A job not many would commit to, but for her it is the most fulfilling of all her career exploits.

Marjorie Palmer forsook her job of 20 years to fulfil her vision of “setting the captives free”. The local missionary has committed her time to ministering to the homeless people of Ocho Rios, St Ann.

After developing a friendship with a homeless man she identified as Biggs one rainy afternoon, Palmer's interest in offering refuge for the homeless piqued. As the friendship and her desire to help grew, Palmer knew that she needed to do more.

“It started with the Sidwells — Roger and Betty Sidwell — two missionaries from the US who had been coming to Jamaica for 32 years to interact with the homeless. I came to volunteer my time to help them to serve the food because when they come, they serve five days per week,” she recounted.

But her help was not needed as the missionaries had enough hands to help with feeding already. The couple, she said, proposed that she help with fellowship with the homeless, and though she did not know how to sing as they had inquired, she found her role in the mission.

Palmer admired the fact that the couple did not just feed the people and send them on their way, but also had fellowship with them in church.

“When I saw it, I said this is a good thing to continue because when these people leave, they are gone, they don't come back until next year and it's like starting over again. I said you know what, when they leave this time, I'm going to take up the mantle and continue,” Palmer rehashed when asked how the ministry started.

Now, seven years later, the Street Church, as it is called, is a space where street folk are welcomed to worship their Creator and are fed spiritually and physically.

Held at the Ocho Rios Transportation Centre, the church on average sees up to 40 people weekly, who look forward to the gathering.

Palmer's frame may be small, but her heart is filled with the love for the street folk.

“This is basically my family. Some of them, they have my number, they can call me in the midnight, I answer once I see is a call from them,” she stated. “I am the caretaker, like some of them may have valuable things that I will keep it for them. So from time to time I take it with me so that they can view it,” she said as she showed the Jamaica Observer a bag filled with intimate trinkets owned by her friends.

“One of them, Brian, his lung collapsed the other day and he was hospitalised and we had to be up and down with him. We had to try to get money for him. His relative helped us, his uncle in New York and the two missionaries in the US,” she explained.

This love is no doubt reciprocated as for many Palmer, though she may not have biological children, is a true mother.

Brother Rose, who has now become more than just a beneficiary, but also one of her helpers, referred to Palmer as a tremendous woman of God.

“This little lady is more than a mother. “If she going to give something and I ask for more and she nuh have it to give me, she look like she would a cry or she would a drop down. Not me personally, enuh, everybody. That is the quality lady she is,” he said as Palmer busily made her way around the bus stop serving breakfast after church.

“She is more like a mother to me now than anybody I know in Jamaica. She has helped me in many ways... She is a great woman, very good,” Brian echoed.

For Chris, who has been in the ministry since inception, though other people may pass and offer food to the homeless, “Sister Marjorie is a surety.”

“Dem other one will come every now and then, but mi know when Sunday come mi a go see har, she a deh yah. Mi want fi thank her fi dat,” he stated as he sipped his cup of hot cocoa.

Showing the Sunday Observer her bag of cards and little trinkets, Palmer mentioned that though the people she helps may not work much, they often express their appreciation to her in numerous ways.

“Sometimes they will say, 'Sister Marjorie, you could be wrapped up in your bed on a Sunday morning with your husband to hug up.' That's not so, but they don't know that. And so they will say, 'Take something out of my bag, man. You know mi get it in the market at work'. They show appreciation; they show you how much they love you,” she noted, explaining that the beneficiaries of her kindness do odd jobs around the market to earn money.

Though she now gets help from some organisations and individuals, Palmer recounted the difficulties she faced upon inception of her ministry.

“I remember one time I went to buy bread and we had no money, and I went to the supermarket and was trying to buy three breads and a piece of cheese and the card declined. I felt so bad, and my nephew, Rajay East, said, 'No aunty, don't feel bad about this, I'll give you my lunch money,' and he gave me his lunch money and said, 'You have to keep Street Church, you have to keep Street Church',” she said with a smile, noting that he was her tower of strength in the beginning.

Despite being unemployed, Palmer told the Sunday Observer that the Lord has always provided people to assist in the ministry's operation and her well-being.

The ministry, in addition to help from the missionaries, receives assistance from Captain's Bakery, which provides pastries, and Yardie Tours.

Additionally, there are individuals who have partnered with Palmer to help the ministry be as efficient as possible.

“A lady who lives in England sings and sells her CDs to help us. She donates a lot to us. Her name is Sister Peggy,” Palmer noted.

But the help that makes Palmer most proud is that which she receives from former street people who have “moved on” into better positions.

“There was a lady who lived under the bridge in Ocho Rios and we worked with her until she got baptised and got a job and is doing much better… Now she is donating clothes and helps to give back clothes to them. She was a drug addict for 30 years. It's just patience and time; this is what the Lord can do,” Palmer noted.

“Another one just called me about a week ago to tell me she is in Massachusetts and she is enrolling to go to college. They try to give back, those who have moved on and are doing better,” she added.

“There is a gentleman who was here with us for some time; he is now in St Elizabeth where he is working as a farmer planting peanuts and those things. He came back the other day and was able to purchase some things for the group,” Palmer told the Sunday Observer.

The ministry has grown over the years, as not only does she conduct Sunday morning fellowship, Palmer and her team also operate a soup kitchen thrice weekly that serves up to 80 people at each sitting. This she does with the Methodist Church in Ocho Rios, which has given her the building from which to operate. She also does a Bible study weekly with interested street folk.

Her work has now advanced to helping reunite people with their relatives — whether overseas or locally — and also aids in arranging job opportunities for them.

“A lot of them have nice homes with nice families, and what we try to do too is reunite them with their families, especially those who are abroad. So I try to keep in touch with many of the families and for those who we can help to get jobs, like a day work, we do. Sometimes I have to go with them to help them even do the the work,” she said.

“I got a day work for one to help tidy up this house and I had to literally help her to tidy because it was just for one day and the work was a lot. It's about them. If you get to know them, you will get to love them,” she continued.

After the morning's fellowship, Palmer and her team walk the streets of Ocho Rios to distribute food to the people who were too ill to attend the makeshift church or just aren't churchgoers.

Moved by the pressing needs of the homeless, the middle-aged woman said she is now looking to expand her services to St Thomas.

“I used to live in Yallahs in St Thomas and a part of my vision is to extend the ministry to St Thomas in the near future. I have a house there and I would like to use that as the mission house so that I can take the mission there, and if we don't have as much homeless there, I guess we have like shut-ins and the elderly to assist,” the missionary noted.

“I think I was born for this purpose,” a joyful Palmer told the Sunday Observer. “I just praise God. They rescue me more than I rescue them, because it has brought me closer to God to be more aware that in this life, regardless of what you try to acquire, at the end of the day we all die, we leave this behind. What's the legacy you're leaving behind? I'd like for this to continue when I go.”

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