NASSAU, Bahamas (BP)–It’s 100 degrees in the tropical heat as the American students stand in a courtyard scattered with tire-less tricycles and deflated soccer balls. Unsure of how the local orphans will accept them, the students do the only thing they know to do: inflate new soccer balls and spend the day showing the kids God’s love.
A few blocks away, another group of students brave the intense heat and organize a Vacation Bible School outside an unfinished church building. The volunteers gather under a tent and sing songs about Father Abraham and share stories about creation and redemption.
Meanwhile, down the street, other team members lead a sports camp, while another youth group paints dilapidated school rooms.
It’s all in a day of mission work in the most unexpected location: the Bahamas.
On June 24, more than 160 high school and college students, along with sponsors, sailed to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. The inaugural Centri-Cruise event, sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, offered a unique opportunity for students to share their faith at a popular destination.
The weeklong event featured two evenings on a day-cruiser, two beach outings and three ministry days in Nassau.
“Centri-Cruise offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for senior high and college-aged students to engage in international ministry,” said Joe Hicks, LifeWay’s lead coordinator of Centrifuge in the student events department. “Sometimes we forget about places like the Bahamas for ministry because the first thing we think about is tourism. But a mile or two off the beach you’ll find poverty and Christian communities that can use Christians from the U.S. to partner with them in ministry.”
Known for its white, sandy beaches and crystal clear water, the chain of islands in the Atlantic Ocean boasts a variety of diversions for vacation-seeking tourists. Yet Centri-Cruise missions volunteers ventured beyond the resort setting to work in areas most vacationers don’t see.
Maggie Burns, 17, and Nicole Cox, 18, both from Pathways Church in Bel Air, Md., spent three days ministering at the local children’s home and orphanage.
“Through this experience on Centri-Cruise I have grown closer to the Lord,” Burns said. “Ministering in the Bahamas reaffirms that all things are possible through God. After working in the orphanages, I feel more confident to share my faith and tell people about God.”
Cox said the experience at the orphanage made her count her blessings.
“I am so thankful and rejoice in everything that I have,” she said. “The kids we visited have so much less, yet they are so happy. In one orphanage there was only one bag of shoes for all the kids. It just reminded me of how many shoes I own and that we are so blessed.”
Terry Barnes, youth pastor at Parkview Baptist Church in Monroe. La., accompanied a group of 19 students from his church and said that he didn’t want to miss the inaugural Centri-Cruise event because of the chance it gave students to share the Gospel.
“Centrifuge is always a summer staple in the diet of our youth group,” said Barnes, whose team taught Vacation Bible School at Rehobeth Ministries in Nassau. “Since Centri-Cruise is a first-year event, I wanted my senior high and college students to be involved because of the unique missions opportunity. I also knew the students would enjoy the trip itself because ‘Fuge is behind it.”
Philip Rahming, pastor of Rehobeth Ministries, said the Centri-Cruise volunteers made a lasting impact on the children during VBS.
“We have so enjoyed the grace of God through this team,” he said. “We are so excited to partner with this team in ministry. The children are already asking when the volunteers can return.
“God knows how much of an impact this team had on the kids,” Rahming added. “During Vacation Bible School, a member of the volunteer group simply held a small boy all day. Little did she know that the boy’s mom is at home sick and unable to take care of him. That volunteer showed Christ’s love to that little boy.”
Landon Dowden, pastor of Crosspoint Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., accompanied the students and delivered morning and evening sermons.
“We are called to be missional people,” Dowden said, referencing 1 Corinthians 9:19-27. “Missional people live in one big neighborhood called the world. What’s important is that you have a global mindset and understand that God wants us to reach lost souls.”
Hicks said the event was a “unanimous success” and emphasized the need for the younger generation to engage in the Great Commission.
“Many students came expecting to fall in love with the beach and resort, but instead, they fell in love with missions and ministry to the people in Nassau,” he said.