Getting out of our comfort zone is always fun. For ten years we've been working in Zambia, and now a bit in South Africa and Namibia. Consequently, our recent trip to Long Island, Bahamas was very challenging and interesting.
We were invited to come by Gabe & Jan Swing of the Bahamas Youth Network (BYN) because they thought that our training might benefit the pastors and leaders on the island. We went to have a look-see, meet some key people and get our feet wet, both literally and figuratively!
It was great to get to know Gabe and Jan and we had the chance to talk with them about Long Island, BYN and their vision for ministry there. Gabe is an EPC pastor like me (Doug) and used to be the youth pastor at our own Lake Forest Church (LFC).
Long Island is a 45 minute flight southeast from Nassau. It's about 80 miles long and 3 miles wide, at its widest. It is a very beautiful place, as you might imagine, with rocky coastline areas, pristine beaches and lovely weather. Oh sure, there's the occasional scorpion or tarantula (LOL!), but there are also friendly people, fresh grouper and snapper, beautiful birds and a relaxed "Island Time" atmosphere.
Its geography brings some interesting social dynamics to the island. There's no central gathering place, for instance, and settlements (villages) run along the length of the island. Because of the distance from north to south, there are two high schools, despite the island's modest population of 3,500. Few islanders can afford cars, so walking and hitchhiking are common.
In 2015, hurricane Joaquin devastated the island, especially the southern end. Damage was considerable and recovery is ongoing. The island is economically challenged, to be sure, with some living in extreme poverty.
There are many churches up and down the island, including Anglican, Roman Catholic, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Church of God and several independents. The churches are all quite small, dividing up the several hundred Christians on the island who apparently make up only about 10% of the population. We worshiped in three churches, the Assemblies of God, St. Peter's Anglican and Beulah Union Baptist. We also visited an interdenominational Bible study at St. John's Baptist Church led by Pastor Dixon of Highway Church of God. We were warmly received wherever we visited.
We joined mission teams from SC and NC who came to do roofing and painting projects with BYN, and we even helped with the painting at BYN's Oasis Youth Center, just to get a feel for BYN's ministry. Some members of LFC and our friends, Daryl and Karen Poppen, came to work, as well. It was really great to see them!
One of the roofs we worked on was at Sally Cartwright's home (pictured above). She is a widowed grandmother who lost her daughter and two grandchildren in a boating accident a couple of years ago and is now raising her other grandchildren.
We also really enjoyed meeting Josh Linden, the young BYN missionary on Long Island. One of the highlights of our visit was attending the monthly BYN big group meeting that attracted about sixty youth from both high schools. We had a blast playing basketball and worshiping with them, and Josh gave a solid biblical message, as well. In addition to this monthly meeting, BYN has active small groups and a leadership development team, and sponsors an awesome summer camp, Camp Bahamas, in Nassau.
We had great conversations with pastors and leaders during our ten days on the island. Some were enthusiastic about the possibility of our coming back to train and some were less so. We believe our approach to training could be a real encouragement to the interdenominational efforts that have begun among several of the churches.
Please pray for Gabe, Jan, Josh and the churches of Long Island, and for us as we stay open to God's plan for possible future training there. Thanks!