A team of short-term missionaries spent a week on a very rural island in the Bahamas called “Eleuthera”. There were 5 of us (Carol McDonough, Andy Lee, Buddy Lea, Kevin Stackhouse, and me). We each raised the funds we needed to spend a week there and you, the members of Forest Hills, helped us to do that. We owe you a debt of gratitude.
It seemed like a good thing to report back to you what we did there and why it matters.
Let’s start with a tiny bit of history. We know there were Arawak Indians on Eleuthera in the 1500s—the same Arawaks that died out due to the Spanish explorers in the area. The modern history really begins in 1648 when a group of people fled Bermuda in search of religious freedom from the oppressive practices of the Puritans—these folks were known as the “Eleuthera Adventurers.” Their boat shipwrecked on the southern end of the island where they found an amazing cave to begin their settlement. We visited that cave—it is known as “Preacher’s Cave” and the notion that their boat ran aground at the precise spot where this cave was gave us a sense that God was in it.
The island is 110 miles long but hardly half a mile wide. There is one point—the narrowest point on the island—where a bridge separates the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. It is the shortest distance between two major bodies of water anywhere in the world.
Eleuthera is a very rural, poor island. There is nearly no industry of any kind there. Where once there was a thriving hospitality industry, Hurricane Andrew ruined in 1992. Everything in the Bahamas is very expensive. The government puts a “Value Added Tax” (VAT) on all imports. The VAT on a new car from the United States, for instance, is 80%. Imagine paying $36,000 for a car that has a $20,000 sticker price. We stopped at Eleuthera’s largest store one day. I happened to notice a one pound bag of Pistachio Nuts—they were $35.00. With such prices, it’s no wonder the people live very simply.
Bahamas Methodist Habitat (BMH) was born as a result of Hurricane Andrew. The founder, Rev. Godfrey Bethel, retired while we were there and we all attended his ceremony. BMH has become a major force in the islands for disaster relief. The first phone call from the National Emergency Management Agency in a time of natural disaster is to BMH. In addition to their work in the Bahamas, BMH was also a critical staging area for materials and volunteers to Haiti during the tragic Earthquake there.
BMH works among four or five of the populated Bahamian Islands—there are over 700 islands in the Bahamas altogether. Most of the work there is in rehabilitation of storm-damaged homes. The hardest thing to get your head around as you go there to work is that what you do there will not last, in the physical sense. Our team repaired the roof of the home of a Mrs. Johnson. We did a great job on it and that roof is in better shape than when it was first built. At the same time, that roof may not survive the next storm season. That is life in the Bahamas.
The true value of the work there is in building relationships. The people there know that the Methodist Church and BMH care about them. Since the weather is capable of tearing down whatever we might try to fix, the sense of caring has to be enough—and it IS enough.
We not only were able to make relationships with the people there, but also with other work groups. That was the most fun of the trip.
Doing this kind of short-term mission work is not for everybody. It requires the time and expense needed to go. It also requires a sense of adventure to go to a strange area and live as they live and eat as they eat, etc. I think I can speak for all of us when I say there is a unique kind of “knowing” that you can only get by being there. No picture, no movie, no lecture, no book can substitute for the actual experience.
We are grateful to you for helping support our mission to Eleuthera. We are already thinking about our next international mission—probably two years from now. Maybe you are ready??
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.