It was after reading a blog in this space last year that I made the decision right then and there – once I was accepted into Candler, I too would take the opportunity to fill my passport with stamps before I left there. And now, after completing one semester, I can say I’m on my way to doing just that!
My first stop: Nassau, Bahamas. I thought what better way to kick off the New Year and prepare for my second semester than to spend 10 days among the Bahamian people learning about evangelism. I mean after all, it was one of the gifts I felt God had given me. So I figured, why not test it out and see if this was really one of the areas of ministry God was calling me to? The trip was part of the Evangelism Regional Seminar, a January-term three-credit course sponsored by the World Methodist Evangelism Institute, that I along with nine other Candler students (pictured above right in Preachers Cave, said to be the first spot where English settlers arrived on the island of Eleuthera) took part in. We were joined by one of Candler’s evangelism professors, Dr. Wesley de Souza and the center’s director, Dr. Winston Worrell. The tour was scheduled from January 3-13, with the first three days dedicated to a tour of Nassau and the surrounding islands, including Spanish Wells and Eleuthera, which is about 50 miles and a 2 ½ hour ferry boat ride east of Nassau and Harbor Island, off the north coast of Eleuthera.
I must admit, the trip was definitely not what I expected. Actually it exceeded any expectations I had. Dr. de Souza, during preparation meetings before leaving for Nassau and as part of our assignment, asked us to journal our expectations of our learning experience and then to chronicle our time there. Our experience started as soon as we arrived in Nassau that Saturday night. Dr. Worrell didn’t waste any time telling us where we would be preaching on that Sunday (most of all of us, those who volunteered, were assigned to local churches). We were told the ministers would pick up each of us and we would have lunch with them that afternoon.
I got the assignment – my first outside of the United States — to preach at John Wesley United Methodist Church on the island of Eleuthera. I was excited, yet nervous. For one, I hadn’t finished my sermon and secondly, there I was, on the first day we arrived, being shipped off that Sunday morning for a 2 ½ hour ferry ride by myself to another part of this country that was still foreign to me. I was the only student with an assignment outside of Nassau. And I’ll tell you, I wondered why that was. I wondered what God had in store.
I soon realized it was an opportunity for me to experience, in part, the gift of hospitality offered by the Bahamian people I met. Upon hearing that I was coming to the island of Eleuthera, the Methodist ministers between that island and the island of Spanish Wells and Nassau worked out a plan that would allow me to stay overnight in Spanish Wells. Now get this: Spanish Wells isn’t exactly a place most African Americans hang out. Now you will see a few on the island, working and such. And they have students who attend school there. But they don’t live there. In fact, many years ago, blacks weren’t even allowed to spend the night there — at least that’s what the native Bahamians told me. I learned that Spanish Wells, which got its name from the Spanish ships that used to stop over at the primarily white settlement to get water because of the island’s many wells, is pretty much still all white. Fishing is its dominant trade. In fact, it’s the Spanish Wells fishing house that provides lobsters to the U.S. Red Lobster restaurants.
But I can now say I stayed there. I had a chance to speak to the students of the All Age School there and interact with them in their classes. I particularly enjoyed the religion class. And I had the chance to have dinner with the minister and his family, who put me up in their apartment. Many of us on the trip had opportunities to go into the homes of our Bahamian friends (Juana is pictured right with Rev. and Mrs. Lewis, a host family) and sit around the table in conversation and spend time in their neighborhoods and within the churches in which they served. Most of our days were spent in sessions where we discussed what evangelism looked like in the Bahamas and how to effectively do evangelism there, particularly when almost the entire country is Christian. There were sessions on faith-sharing and even opportunities to walk within some communities to share our faith. A few of us, Michael Hunt and Lance Eiland, Julie Gordon, Cynthia Whitehead, Monica Jefferson and I even got a chance to be interviewed on a few of the radio programs, which are broadcast across the entire Caribbean and into New Zealand. I had the chance to be on two radio programs, sharing with listeners the ideas being discussed in the evangelism conference.
But what I probably enjoyed the most were the Wesley sessions, where groups of us conference participants would get together to share experiences about ourselves and our culture. The Wesley groups were originally a part of the Wesleyan tradition for new congregational development and renewal. Monica Jefferson led our group in discussions about who influenced us spiritually as a child and invited us to reflect on what our experience there had taught us. Not only did I learn more about my fellow colleagues in ministry, but I gained insight into our new Bahamian friends, realizing that we are all more alike than different and face similar challenges in ministry and our individual lives.
I shared with my fellow seminarians and workshop participants that I was beginning to see what God was doing with me there. This seminar was the fulfillment of prayers I had prayed in regard to my ministry and a fulfillment of the promises God made to deliver on my desires. I didn’t realize until later that this list I had been compiling of the 100 things I would like to accomplish in my lifetime was dwindling somewhat as God was crossing some of those things off the list. I had written my desire to connect with people of other cultures and have the opportunity to speak and minister internationally and have them share their faith with me. This trip has allowed me the chance to do that. It connected me with people and other ministers, some of whom asked me to speak at other future events and churches. This seminar was the marriage of my former life as a journalist and my present life, which I could see coming together in this place. And Candler made it possible. It opened up a world that I didn’t realize existed for me. This opportunity presented me insight into the ministry God is possibly shaping me for and brought ministry of the “other” up close and personal.
It’s prompted me to live my life with the expectation that God has so much more in store for me and those of us he has called to serve.
I must say, this isn’t a bad start. Today the Bahamas, tomorrow…maybe South Africa. I’m praying!