By David Burroughs
Ending a sabbatical with a visit to the Bahamas seemed just right. Dreams of loads of time for personal reflection while lounging on a beach chair filled my mind. The reality turned out to be a bit different, but so much the better, with lessons learned along the way.
The first part of the trip came at the invitation of a friend and former Passport staffer, Brenda Thompson, to learn about the ministry she works for. The Bahamas Methodist Habitat is a disaster response organization that also addresses substandard housing on Eleuthera and surrounding islands using volunteers for labor and locals as project leaders.
She and Executive Director Abraham McIntyre showed me their work sites, and we talked about future partnership opportunities between Passport and BMH. Their work feels authentic and they are invested for the long haul.
Next stop, the Grand Bahamas Island to attend the second annual convocation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of the Bahamas. Yep, CBF has an international chapter. Who knew?
State and regional CBF coordinators joined the convocation. CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter delivered the opening night message. She did well, and set a good tone for the week. Pastor Preston Cooper and the people of St. Cleveland Baptist Church in Freetown graciously hosted our gathering.
When you visit the Bahamas for ministry or mission, peers say things like, “Sorry you have to suffer for Jesus.” Teasing aside, we quickly learned that when you step out of the resort, the Bahamas is a different country, with high unemployment and some communities lacking such basics as access to clean water.
Our hosts were kind and gracious, offering smiles and greetings at every opportunity. The pace is slower here, which allows for real conversations with the grocery store cashier or the bank teller. Relationships matter, and Bahamians take the proper time to attend to them.
Did Americans used to do this? Somewhere along the line we convinced ourselves that agenda is more important than conversation. Bahamas Lesson No. 1: There is no one more important than the person standing right in front of you.
I was asked to lead a seminar on youth ministry about technology, teenagers and the future. Faced with unexpected poverty, I worried the presentation might be off base. But one evening watching a few of the college and high school students fiddling with their smart phones instead of listening to the sermon brought the realization that technology is impacting the teenagers of the Bahamas just like their counterparts in the United States.
In fact, the Bahamian churches are already changing because of local access to the Internet. Is this change positive? After a week here, there are doubts. But either way the reality is Bahamas Lesson No. 2: Change is coming to our churches (in the U.S. and abroad) and there is no stopping it.
In the middle of the week, the coordinator of the CBF Bahamas, Pastor John McIntosh, altered the schedule, because the youth would be in school on Friday. So the youth presentation was moved to Saturday.
Everything shifted quickly, before I could explain that the presentation was aimed at the pastors and parents, not the teens themselves. But with an excitement about something special for the youth — exit presentation and enter the CBF of the Bahamas Youth Day!
The basic plan included some Passport Camp style games, a Bible study time and then hit the beach for a lunch cookout. CBF Florida Associate Coordinator Rachael Gunter Shapard graciously agreed to give up her scheduled free day to join in.
We split our game list in half, and hit the resort up for some supplies: tennis and ping pong balls, paper from the business center’s recycle bin, and all the swag we could beg out of the CBF state coordinators for prizes.
On Saturday, over 80 people joined us. Apparently in the Bahamas, a youth is defined as anyone from 5 years old up through college. Good to know.
The first game was Impulse, where you hold hands and pass a hand squeeze person to person around a circle, working for the fastest time. After 10 minutes of trying to get us all in a circle holding hands, we realized this was going to be a long morning.
The good news is, the youth of CBF Bahamas now have an unofficial world record for the slowest-ever game of Impulse. That kind of fits the culture, though.
A favorite moment was when Rachel was leading the last part of the Bible study about God’s kind of friendship. With a borrowed ball of yarn from the knitting lady, the youth tossed the yarn back and forth across their circle, keeping hold of the string and making a web of connection.
Watching those young faces hold the web in tension with each person doing their part became an image of our Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. We are a community bound together by Christ, who makes us a family and who connects us all, even if we live on different islands or continents.
I never found that elusive beach chair, but I did reflect as we walked, listened and learned, and it turns out the trip was just right.
CBF in the United States has some Bahamian relatives — beautiful and patient neighbors who have much to teach us about priorities, prayer, worship expression and more.
Bahamas Lesson No. 3: If we can let go of our agenda, God may have a blessing to share that opens doors to ministry and grace.