DECATUR, Ala. (BP)–It wasn’t the usual sort of Hawaii missions trip.
They stayed home in Alabama.
Baptists in the Decatur, Ala., area have had a partnership with the island of Kauai in conjunction with Alabama Baptists’ Hawaii partnership, which concludes this year. Several teams from the Morgan Baptist Association have gone to Hawaii as part of the partnership, including a group of youth and adults from First Baptist Church, Decatur, last summer.
This summer, instead of returning to Hawaii, the Decatur group helped raise money to bring 42 of their new Hawaiian friends to Alabama.
Youth from Hawaii’s Garden Island Baptist Association worked with First Baptist’s youth to restore five houses intended for low-income occupants.
The teens also put on a joint musical at several churches based on the True Love Waits emphasis on sexual abstinence until marriage.
Chip Coley, minister of music at First Baptist, sent the music to the Hawaiian youth so they could practice at the same time as the Decatur youth. Then they rehearsed together when the group arrived in Alabama.
While Coley noted missions trips are a standard procedure in many Baptist churches, he said his youth got a different view of missions this year by staying home.
“There is validity in taking kids to other places, but there is a difference between a missions trip and a mission,” he said. “This was a mission.”
The idea was based on an experience Coley had while a student choir member at Alabama’s Samford University.
“We went to Germany, but instead of us going and singing to them, we worked with them in a partnership,” he said. “Churches need to partner with other churches. Instead of doing things for them, we need to grab hands with them and work together.”
Ross Mullinax, a member of the youth group at First Baptist, was one who grabbed hands with the Hawaii youth.
“We went to Camp Lee for a few days and practiced together, then did True Love Waits, a choir drama, on Sunday and Wednesday,” Mullinax said. “We spent a day at Six Flags. We worked on five houses, painting, scraping, doing yard work and we replaced some boards.”
At the end of the house renovation work, tired and covered with paint that looked suspiciously deliberate, Kelsey Yamamoto said, “I think this has been pretty neat. I’m not ready to go home yet.”
How did the visitors from the Garden Island like Alabama?
Fred Aki was impressed by the size of the shopping malls. “I love the huge malls. We have very small shopping malls on the island.
“But I miss the beach,” he admitted.
Tracie Hayashi complained about the cold. The group had been warned to expect hot Alabama summer weather, but were surprised by unusually cool nights and mild days while they were in Decatur. She also had a few other reservations. “I’m afraid of poison ivy and snakes,” she said. “We haven’t seen any, but the [Decatur] kids warned us about them.”
The size of the area came as a shock to many of the Hawaiian youth, who live on an island roughly the size of Morgan County. Hayashi and Aki both noted the long bus rides between some of their destinations.
“Fifteen minutes is a long ride for us,” Hayashi said.
Both groups agreed the experience was valuable. Robert Mullins, student minister at First Baptist, said, “We’ve gained more than they have by working with them.”
Fred Thompson, a First Baptist member who coordinated the work, pointed out the Decatur youth had learned something about their own community.
“Our kids didn’t realize these conditions exist here,” Thompson said. “One of the houses — a condemned drug house — hadn’t been cleared out yet. The kids got a shock. It was a real eye-opener.”
Both Mullins and Craig Hayashi, lay youth coordinator for the Garden Island association, envision a long-term partnership that outlasts the five-year commitment between the Alabama and Hawaii Baptist conventions.
“The partnership will conclude,” said Hayashi, “but our relationship with First Baptist, Decatur, will continue. These kids will continue to work together as adults.”
Bates is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist newsjournal.