Nassau’09 – All Saints AIDS Camp – Post 1

Last Thursday, we returned from our mission trip to Nassau, Bahamas and here’s my attempt to try to summarize.  Being a pastor, I am prone to exaggeration but as sincere as I can be, it was a truly an amazing experience. Having had great mission experiences to places like the Czech Republic, New Orleans, Estonia, the “amazing-ness” of this experience came a bit unexpected to me because to get to the point, if you leave for a mission trip wanting to serve and share with others and you have realistic expectations, you generally have a great experience.

It’s on these trips that we are able to detach ourselves from our private self-serving worlds, bond with those we came with, love our new friends and take part in the Mission. Many times, the destination of the place and the particular mission actually become secondary because the beauty of the time is found in serving the Kingdom in a humble, loving Christ-like way. And for many of us, this is unfortunately too rare of an occurrence (I have more to say on that but this post will be long enough as it is).

Maybe what was so unique about this experience was so many  incredible aspects coming together. We attended YS’s DCLA (post  coming one day) from Friday-Monday (July 10-13) and our students  loved it. We spent the remainder of Monday sightseeing and woke up  early Tuesday and flew out of Reagan International. Generally after  you  attend a big conference event you want to go to do some thing  instead  of returning home, so for us, this worked well.

Our trip was to do some construction work at the All Saints AIDS  Camp. All Saints literally started as a leper colony that eventually became a refuge to those with HIV/AIDS who had no other place to go. Among the most surprising aspects of our time there was for a place that had to deal with the passing of their residents, death seemed like a distant topic to them. In fact, I had to remind myself of this terrible reality throughout the week. More of the focus was on being intentional with the time and opportunities that we had left. This made construction on these new cabins and paving a new sidewalk not only more tolerable but important.

Let’s be clear here, the work sucked. It was extremely hot, (90’s for the first few days we arrived), and extremely humid. Then there was the fact that I never learned how to mix cement by hand in my honors classes in high school and neither did my students. We were broken up in two groups, one for the new cabins and the other for the sidewalk. I learned that I’m better with a power saw than I am with a hammer and nails. I also found a place to vent my frustration with parents who pick up their kids late from activities and those that Google criticism of the emergent church as opposed to reading the actual books for themselves. That place is breaking up old sidewalk with a sledge hammer. Indeed it was good therapy and I’ve returned to Jersey in search of sidewalks that I can … uhh … nevermind.

Anyway, the work was tough on our students but they held it together. One girl admitted that she despised the type of work she was made to do. That was until she met a lady at the camp and saw how hard it was for her to walk down the sidewalk. She said, she really needed to talk to her and then to see it because her attitude completely changed.

We had a great team of students that got along great with each other which is  hard  to do when you’ve been together for 2 weeks, exhausted, hungry, and  feeling  disgusting most of the time. There was no need to discipline anyone  which  allowed me to take on a different role than I normally get to do – a  friend. Our  leaders did a great job as well. Then there was our new friends from  Next Step.

The Next Step team was absolutely amazing for us. Andy was the site manager of  Nassau who carried so much responsibility but didn’t let it bog him down. He was  very sensitive to our needs and changes of plans. Having just completed law  school, I found it to be an odd thing for a him to be working at an AIDS  Camp. A  Further, he seemed to be a truthful person (perhaps that didn’t help in law school  but he’s an amazing person). There was Dennis who was in charge  of construction and he’s good at it. I couldn’t believe how patient he was with all of us. As a team we always found creative ways to make his work harder but he never got annoyed with us. Sonja was the worship leader/speaker for the week. She did a great job leading and speaking each night and most days she was out mixing cement with us. I look forward to seeing her speak at a YS event one day. Last but certainly not least was Jessica. I forget what Jessica’s job was supposed to be because she did just about everything. She cooked, did construction, joked around, visited the residents with us, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the one who moved the clouds the one day we got off to a rainy start. What’s interesting is that they each grew up in different parts of the world, Mexico, Australia, Nicaragua, and … Wisconsin. We all felt that we made new friends this week.

The most moving part of our week was spending time with the residents of the AIDS Camp. Many of them had committed their lives to Christ some time ago and had some sense of joy. We were all moved by a woman named Moxy whose body was clearly failing but whose spirit was so alive. Then there was brother Vince who lost his eye sight while serving in prison but was committing Scripture to memory by listening to cds. He used to be a tour guide on the island and one of the most beautiful moments that none of us will ever forget was when we picked him up on our free day and asked him to give us a tour of the island. They told him where he was and then he would start the tour. It was unbelievable.

There were a lot of other beautiful moments as well, from how we handled disagreements to the children’s worship service we did at the Children’s Emergency Hostile. Throughout our time, we painted nails, handed out flip-flops and toiletries we had collected from back home and in short, learned to get over ourselves. It’s a hard lesson to bring back on the plane but I was encouraged by how much our students grappled with the life they wanted to live and the life they had. Life in the Kingdom of Jesus is not easy and I believe this week, the window opened a little wider for us to see and experience it.

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