Trip to Bahamas was no vacation for Jacksonville church (Aug. 11, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Trip to Bahamas was no vacation for Jacksonville church

Aug. 11, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0135}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

JACKSONVILLE  The people of Inagua may be forgotten to the rest of the world, but not to United Methodists in the Jacksonville District.

The district is collecting school supplies for the 240 children who live in Inagua, the most southerly and third largest island of the Bahamas. The children go to school in a dilapidated building that has little furniture in working condition and even fewer school supplies.

Because Inagua is 325 miles southeast of Nassau, it is often referred to as the “forgotten island” in the Bahamas chain, according to Kathy McCulloch, the Jacksonville District’s mission coordinator. She said there are only three flights in or out of the island, and a connecting flight must be made in Nassau.

“When I was making my connecting flight someone asked me why I wanted to go there,” she said. “I told them I wanted to go because the need is so great.”

INAGUA, Bahamas — Children sing together during a a nine-day Vacation Bible School (VBS) July 9-17 at the Methodist Church of the Bahamas here. A 14-member mission team from Crossroad United Methodist Church, Jacksonville, participated. The team also learned the island's children go to school in dilapidated buildings, with furniture that needs to be repaird and little to no school supplies, prompting the church to begin a school supply drive in its district. Photo courtesy of Kathy McCulloch, Jacksonville District mission coordinator, Photo #04-0060.

McCulloch saw the need first-hand when her church, Crossroad United Methodist Church, participated in a nine-day Vacation Bible School (VBS) July 9-17 at the Methodist Church of the Bahamas in Inagua. The mission trip was part of the covenant formed between the Jacksonville District and the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church in February 2002.

During their time on the island the mission team’s 14 members toured the local elementary school and were heartbroken by what they found-very few desks, which were missing parts or in disrepair, and little to no supplies. Although the school receives government support for school supplies, it is depleted within two months of school starting.

“Some of the students said they would sit on the floor,” McCulloch said. “You could see how important one pencil, one sheet of paper, things we take for granted, are to them. They are like nuggets of gold. They don’t know anything else. They have a different mentality; you could tell they had just accepted it.”

But McCulloch and her team did not accept the children going to school under those conditions. When they returned home they began a district-wide drive to collect money for desks and chairs, as well as school supplies. A donation of $80 will pay for one desk, chair and shipping/custom charges.

Team member Diane Landschoot said it was heart-wrenching to see the needs of the students. Landschoot is a fifth-grade teacher in Jacksonville.

“My heart was ripped out,” she said. “We saw all these desks and chairs missing parts, and I asked a student if that was the storage room, and I was told it was classroom. I was just torn apart. I can remember walking across my classroom where I teach and having to walk over rulers and pencils that were left behind, and these children are sharing a desk, hoping for a little bit of corner to write on.”

The Rev. Eugene M. Zimmerman, a retired elder who lives in Jacksonville, also knows the needs of Bahamian children. He has traveled to the Bahamas on a yearly basis since 1961, earning him the nickname “Bishop of the Bahamas.” After retiring in 1992, Zimmerman served as pastor at Trinity Methodist Church in Nassau for five years. He said the outer islands, those past Nassau, never had sufficient funds to purchase necessities, including school supplies. “The Bahamians need resources much more than we do,” he said.

Because poverty is rampant on the island, which is 40 miles long and 20 miles wide, it is difficult for the 1,200 residents to provide basic necessities, including school supplies. McCulloch said the island’s only large employer is Morton Salt Company, which harvests the island’s 80 salt ponds, covering more than 12,000 acres. She said it rarely rains on the island, so nothing grows there, and all food and supplies are shipped in on the Morton Salt Company’s liner during its weekly trips.

INAGUA, Bahamas — A member of Crossroad United Methodist Church, Jacksonville, acts out a Bible story for children participating in a nine-day Vacation Bible School (VBS) July 9-17 at the Methodist Church of the Bahamas here. A 14-member mission team from the church helped lead the VBS. Photo courtesy of Kathy McCulloch, Jacksonville District mission coordinator, Photo #04-0061.

The residents have little in terms of material goods, but faith keeps them going, according to McCulloch. She said that faith was evident in the 115 to 120 children, ages 4 to 19, who attended VBS, themed “Hero Quest,” even though the Methodist Church only has 35 children who attend regularly. The program was open to the public, and the community enjoyed the homemade sets and props that were shipped, McCulloch said. “The people were apologizing for what they didn’t have,” she said. “They were so afraid that we wouldn’t want to come back.”

McCulloch said there is no chance of that. The church is already planning a return trip next summer to complete much-needed repairs on the school.

Landschoot said she cherishes the idea of returning to the island. “I know I will be on that plane,” she said. “Someone told me it was called the ‘armpit of the earth,’ but I would go again in a heartbeat. Those precious children are a part of my heart. I know everyone can’t go, but if they could understand, they hold the hope of a nation in their hands.”

For more information about the needs of Inagua visit


This commentary relates to Missions.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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