FORTVILLE — Cindy Johnson had heard the jokes from friends when she told them she was going on a mission trip to the Bahamas. Yeah, that must be rough, some said.
Yet, when she and the rest of a team from Bridge Church in Fortville landed in Nassau, she found two cities — the one that fits the image of sunny tourism and the one where most residents live.
“I didn’t expect the poverty to be so extreme,” she said. “Truly, only a teeny-tiny section right on the water is tourist (area).”
Still, on her first mission trip, she found her eyes opened not only to the poverty around her but also to the power of reaching out in love.
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Johnson, her husband and two other couples from Bridge Church traveled to the Bahamas through Champs Missions. Champs founder Rick Schuessler, one of about 20 missionaries Bridge supports, was a seminary classmate of Bridge’s lead pastor, Rick Cochran. Through Champs’ network in the Caribbean, more than 7,800 people have made mission trips to the region, according to the organization’s website.
The Bridge couples worked with a team of students from Liberty University of Lynchburg, Virginia. The university students organized free medical clinics in the area, during which they saw 400 people. Rick and Jill Cochran, Gary and Cindy Johnson and Ethan and Shiloh Cating helped set up and then canvassed the area with fliers about the clinic, setting out on foot around 8 a.m. and returning at 10 or 11 p.m. It made for an uplifting and exhausting week, the Fortville pastor said.
“It was amazing the receptivity of the people,” he said.
One day, he saw a group of young men playing foursquare and other games outside the clinic. It was easy for Cochran to spot which one was the leader. The missionary told Cochran he was right about that and asked him to pray for the young man, as his father was a drug king.
It made Cochran ponder the power of good guidance for young people. Without investment in them, “we’re missing some great leaders,” he said. “God just captured me in the midst of all that poverty and broken buildings.”
The Bridge team was originally scheduled to make this initial mission trip last fall, but the trip was postponed. As it turned out, the day members would have arrived was the day a hurricane hit.
Even the postponed trip, which ran from March 12 to 18, was influenced by weather conditions. A storm sent the plane carrying the Bridge team to a different city to land in Florida; as a result, the team missed its flight to the Bahamas, instead camping out in a Miami airport overnight.
Once in Nassau, the team went with Schuessler to a park. Turn on a sound system and give away glow bracelets and other trinkets, and the number of children out playing quickly grows into a crowd, Cindy Johnson said.
“We just had a blast loving on them,” Cochran said.
On a different day, Cindy Johnson and the other women visited a school. She was saddened by the cramped conditions, the lack of supplies — and by a quiet girl wearing leg braces along with her school uniform.
She doesn’t speak, the other children told her. But later in the day, as she talked with the students, Cindy Johnson made one boy in the class laugh. The quiet girl snickered.
When it was time to go, Cindy touched the girl’s face. “It was nice to see you. Bye bye.” The girl raised a hand to wave and said, “Bye bye” — to the surprise of her classmates, Cindy said.
“The kids down there can definitely grab your heart,” she said.
But heart-rending interactions were not limited to the young. Cochran recalls talking with a trio of older men, displaced Haitians, playing dominoes. He invited them to a medical clinic.
“You get me a Tampico, and I’ll go tomorrow,” one of them told Cochran.
Cochran tried to buy the drink, but the store was out. The man still came the next day, though, and later, Cochran was able to buy three Tampicos for the dominoes players.
“They were absolutely floored,” Cochran recalls.
You know how it is, they told him; people promise things but don’t always follow through.
As their conversation continued, the pastor began to talk about his faith. Eventually, he said, all three prayed with him to become Christians. He left a French Creole Bible with them and is working with Schuessler to get two more.
“That was pretty amazing,” he said. “I pray for them.”