Yesterday I wrote a lengthy post of our time in Nassau. Today I find myself thinking of how we got there. I keep finding the beginning of this story fascinating because so many things in life seem rather arbitrary. Don’t read that as “random” but “arbitrary”. Yes, I try to be live my life led by the Holy Spirit but not being a subscriber of the “every moment of your life is foreordained because it has a reason so just set the soul on Christ-control so God can be sovereign and glorified”, I find myself reflecting on the roads taken and untaken.
In some ways, this story begins at Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Conference (NYWC). Most years, I attend this and among the great speakers and seminars found at this event is the Exhibition Hall. There was a time when I didn’t appreciate it because I found too many lame booths and I’m snobby to that sort of thing (but don’t be upset with me, it’s how the good Lord ordained it). Maybe I matured a little, maybe the booths got better but all I know is that this place became an excellent place to find mission trip organizations and so for the last few years I found our trip there. That’s not to say that they were all good organizations (I believe one is being run by the devil disguised as southern baptists) but you leave a time and place like that with better insight than clicking through sites and reading through brochures. Among the speakers, seminars, music and their new format, you should add this reason and go. If it weren’t for our new baby coming this fall, I’d be there.
This past November at YS Pittsburgh (the best one I’d been to by the way), I met one of the founders of Next Step Ministries – Nick Cocalis. He said they were a new ministry, born out of their youth ministry that now had 4 sites, the newest was their greatest need – Nassau. I told him that it was going to be tough for me to fundraise for the Bahamas as I already have a few church-goers that are suspicious of my “glamorous lifestyle”. He continued by explaining it was an AIDS Camp that had been neglected for years and they needed a lot of help. We talked more and I walked away thinking something like, “Wouldn’t it be great if we did something like that?”
After returning home, I remember sitting in my office filing some of the brochures and creating a “Top-5”. There are many solid missions organizations, numerous excellent causes, and I believe that God is at work in most of them. But for me, the AIDS pandemic kept me focused on Next Step. It seemed to me that whenever we talk about AIDS, we think about Africa, and whenever we talk about places like the Bahamas, we talk about vacation. So to put it crudely, you are even less fortunate to get HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean then you are in Africa.
There are statistics that reveal there are about 22 million people who suffer from HIV in Africa while there are approximately 250 thousand that have the HIV virus in the Caribbean area. It seemed clear that we weren’t going to Africa this year and slowly and slowly, the Next Step AIDS Camp opportunity seemed clearer. More confirming to me was how underwhelming that statistic seemed. Meaning most would feel that statistic is not impressive enough in a tragic sort of way because the number isn’t bigenough. But even if it wasn’t, to me it was another group of people that represented the “least of these”. But here’s the other thing, the number proportionately is huge! The Caribbean is the second-most affected region in the world while sub-Sahara Africa is the first.
Here’s the perspective that made sense to me. I live in Bergen County, NJ which has a population of about 90,000 people which is about 3 times the population of the Bahamas. My county reports about 3000 HIV cases (in 2007) while the Bahamas reports a little over 6000 cases. So the Bahamas has a third of my county’s population but twice as many cases.
To be honest, I didn’t have any cut-off numbers as l mentioned some of this is arbitrary and stats are not always the best way to determine the legitimacy of a cause. What they did for us was provide context and perspective. Further it was helpful for me to those that speak in the language of stats and figures. Anyway, this is part of what I shared with those around me and then to our sr. high group and eventually to the church. Most people got it, supported it, and loved it. Today, I find myself so grateful to how this all came to be.
If you are interested, you can get started here at Next Step’s intro page for the All Saints AIDS Camp.