While most teenagers spent spring break filling up movie houses, shopping for clothes, talking on their phones, hanging out with friends, or just sleeping, nine high school youths from First Presbyterian Church (First Pres), Newhall, decided to spend their spring break ministering to others.
For seven days, these youths and two adults, identified as Ian Fletcher, Christopher Howell, Megan Bullock, Georgia Harris, Nancy Harris, Leo Vannini, Ashley Karzin, Melissa Selva, Smantha Spigelman, John Hoogendyk, and Sharie Telles, spent about eight hours a day nailing on siding and framing doors and windows. According to John Hoogendyk, youth director for First Pres, these youths were working on two houses at All Saints Camp, a HIV/aids comp near Nassau in the Bahamas.
When they were not sawing and hammering, they gave spiritual and physical aid to the residents of the camp. According to Hoogendyk, the kids spent their lunch hour and breaks singing and reading to various camp members, playing with the children, and carrying water to the people too sick to get out of bed. “This was a labor of love for my youths,” Hoogendyk explained. “Nobody asked them to do it. They just started finding things they could do to help the camp residents.” As Hoogendyk explained, many of the camp residents touched the youths. Hoogendyk stated, “Some of the individuals looked perfectly healthy, and then there were the others, the emaciated ones. These were the ones the kids knew were really sick, but they found even these individuals to be friendly, happy, loving, and outgoing. They were amazed.” Many of the youths stated this trip made them realize they wanted to continue doing mission work, and some expressed the idea of becoming full time missionaries. As Hoogendyk explained, “I think this trip stretched everyone. Many of the residents touched the youths, and likewise, many of the residents were touched by the concern shown by the youths.”
Hoogendyk stated his charges were also challenged by the physical labor required to build a house. As he explained, “None of my kids were use to swinging hammers, carrying siding boards from one location to another, climbing up and down the scaffolding to nail the boards, and just doing all the physical labor of building a house. You have to hammer in nails at awkward angles.
Nothing is easy.” According to Hoogendyk, the hard work did not stop his group. Stating he was proud of his youth group, Hoogendyk explained, “These kids spent their days retrofitting window frames done by a previous group, framing door jams and windows, and attaching exterior siding. They melded as a team. In doing so, they moved the construction of the two homes they worked on, finishing most of the exterior portion of the homes.” According to Hoogendyk, each mission group comes in and picks up where the previous group left off on constructing the houses, and in their case, Hoogendyk sated, “Some construction on the houses had to be corrected. My group did a great job. We finished hammering most of the exterior siding on the homes.” Hoogendyk was amazed at the work his group completed because of the fact all their electrical tools never made it to the worksite. Hoogendyk explained his bag of tools was lost in transit. “This did not stop the kids, ” according to Telles, affectionately named Bahama Momma by the youths and the second adult leader on the trip. “They used the one saw available at the camp and ported all the sidings and boards to where they were needed. It might have slowed the work, but it did not stop the kids.” Alone and as a group, the nine teenagers expressed how the trip affected their lives. “I did not know construction was so hard,” Nancy Harris stated. “We had to learn to work together. Working as a team, we put up a lot of siding on the homes. Two people had to hold the siding while a third did the hammering. If we did not work together, nothing would have gotten done.” Even though physically demanding, the youngsters agreed it did not deter them. As each explained, they went on the trip to help others. Hoogendyk agreed, stating their dependency on each other melded the group into a unit.
According to Hoogendyk, “When one of the kids was too tired to work any more, the others encouraged them to rest and then get back to working. I heard over and over. You can do it. I know you can. Everyone kept up the encouragement. After resting, they rejoined the group, picking up a hammer or whatever was needed. Each day my guys kept on working.” According to Hoogendyk, many of the youths had goals they wanted to complete. “I came to help people,” Nancy Harris stated. “This was why I came on the trip. I could have stayed home and been with my friends, but I wanted to make a difference.” As for making a difference, Hoogendyk stated his kids had a big impact on the camp. “They made friends and worked hard,” Hoogendyk explained. “They were great representatives of the church. They worked as hard as they could, and they got a lot completed on the homes. Additionally, they shared fellowship, formed friendships, and grew spiritually. I can not believe how all the kids have grown.”
The week mission trip was facilitated by Next Step Ministries, a non-profit ministry pairing students who want to minister with groups in need of help. Through this group’s leadership, the church’s youthful missionaries were given a hands-on opportunity to minister to a community marginalized because they are HIV positive or have aids. As Cranston Knowles, one of the leaders of Next Step Ministries, wrote in his introductory letter about the group, “Many of those infected have found themselves without a place to live and in an effort to bring relief to them the All Saints Camp was established. Sadly, these persons are often neglected and forgotten by their families and society as a whole…” Hoogendyk related that Next Step Ministries spearheaded both the work, living arrangements, and spiritual needs of the youths for the whole week. Telles explained, ” Next Step Ministries’ leadership for the week was phenomenal. Their work site leader ate with us, drove us to the work site, gave guidance, and was present throughout the day, providing support. The best part of their leadership was the nightly devotionals. Their worship leader led the group in singing, praying, scripture reading, and laying on of hands. ” The nightly worship service took many forms, but Telles meticulously detailed the night each group member washed someone’s feet. Explaining it was something she had done with another youth group, she told how Next Step Ministries’ worship leader took the idea and used it in the program. Telles stated, “One person sat in a chair and one person washed their feet. All of the rest of the group prayed, laying hands on the person washing the feet and the person whose feet was being washed. You could feel the power in the group. As each of us took a turn sitting and getting our feet washed, you could feel the power building. It was an emotional night.” As Telles related, it was these devotionals that cemented the group together, allowing them to freely support each other.
What did the youths learn on the trip? What did they bring back from the mission experience? As Bullock stated, “If everyone acted like the people living in the camp, we would have a better world. They were loving and kind. They gave us encouragement as we worked. Here were people who were sick, possible dying, and they were giving us moral support.” Additionally, the trip brought the group together as a unit. Telles stated, “By the time we completed the week, I saw how these youths were supporting and helping each other. Plus, I saw how as a group they wanted to do and to help more and more. They were continually looking for something they could do that would help the camp residents.” As Telles related, another group planted a garden, but they did not have time to build a fence. According to Telles, five of the youths volunteered to construct a fence and gate out of chicken wire and boards, finishing it in an afternoon. “During their free time, they did not want to rest. They spent their time visiting with people, playing with the kids, and singing and reading the Bible while visiting shut-in residents. I think taking water to the sickest of the residents was the task closest to their hearts.” According to many of the youths, a number of the residents were so sick they could not get out of bed, and as they explained, food and water had to be brought to them. “Whenever they could, my kids would bring the food and water to them,” Telles stated. “Many times they would stay and visit. They were great.”