Area pastor committed to Bahamian congregation
For one beautiful week in July, the Rev. Lenore Hosier, of St. John’s-Newberry United Methodist Church, led a mission team to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, for the eighth consecutive year.
When they left, there was no hint that a monster called Dorian would strike in early September. Sitting just 40 feet above sea level, the island was inundated by the devastating effects of a 23-foot storm surge that brought both flooding and death.
Over their eight years of service, “Pastor Lenore” and her mission teams from the Susquehanna Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church have forged a connection and bond with the congregation of New Hope Methodist Church in Freeport.
Accompanied by her husband, Robert, and daughter, Rebecca, the pastor first served a two-year missionary stint working with the people of New Hope, followed by a year’s service in Nassau. Preparing to return stateside, Hosier made a promise to the congregation that “we would keep a connection between our churches and their churches.”
Her subsequent mission volunteer trips have focused on what the pastor calls “relational ministries.”
She explained, “That is not hammer and nails,” but an approach that emphasizes relationship-building.
“They have much to teach us,” Hosier said about the benefits of getting to know their hosts over the last eight years.
Of the 12 people who made the trip this year, six returned to Grand Bahama “because they just fell in love with it,” said the pastor, and the other six were there for the first time.
They ranged in age from 14 to a mission volunteer in her 60s, she noted.
“I always say when you do mission, you go where the need is, not where you perceive it to be,” Hosier said. “We can’t sweep in and proclaim that we know all the answers on how to do things. We need to learn from each other.”
With a passion for education, the pastor had discovered the first priority was making a connection with the local schools to address a “lack of material goods.”
“That was our connecting point and now we go at least once a year and sometimes we do more,” she said.
For several years now, the summer focus has been on Vacation Bible School (VBS) for the children.
“We coordinate with the government schools (for classroom space),” she said, which works well as “they’re pretty serious about being a Christian nation.”
Hosier explained that the mission trips serve two purposes: to serve the needs of the Bahamians and also to educate the team members in a cultural immersion experience.
For accommodations, the mission team stays at the church, sleeping on the floor and showering there, too.
“They actually blessed us with an indoor shower this year,” noted a pleased Pastor Lenore. “We always had outdoor showers before.”
She added, “It was great!”
The church ladies make and serve local food for the team members.
Laughing, the pastor added, “Some of our folks like the indigenous food, while others don’t appreciate it as much. We always pack plenty of peanut butter and jelly.”
The first half of the day is dedicated to the VBS program and the second half is spent engaging with local artisans and learning about their culture. One woman with an interest in women’s entrepreneurship had engaged the previous year with some of the ladies.
This year, she brought them materials and had sold some of their goods for them.
“It was interesting to see not just the relational bonds but the whole building each other up, women-to-women. That was wonderful,” said the pastor.
She also noted the great faith and deep spirituality of the New Hope church members, who set an example for the team members who “see the faith of people who might not have as many material goods or conveniences as we’re used to in the states.”
Pastor Lenore noted that “oftentimes, we sit (in church) for an hour and say ‘Is it over yet?’ At New Hope, the service may go on for two hours and it doesn’t feel that long,” said the pastor. “It’s just a very spirit-filled worship, which is wonderful.”
“They have a better appreciation for time and relationships,” Hosier observed. “If it means stopping to talk to someone and the job doesn’t get done for the first hour, that’s okay. That’s really hard for Americans!” she exclaimed. “We’re very time- and task-oriented.”
Learning from each other and appreciating one another’s differences are hallmarks of the mission experience.
“The bonding and the engagement we manage to get is always wonderful,” Pastor Lenore said.
“With each mission trip, I love to see the impact,” said Pastor Lenore, “but this year has been very different. It’s not just a news story: Those are our friends.”
“I’m getting bombarded with messages: How are they doing? How’s Alfred? How are the kids?” she added, referencing messages she receives asking about her contacts in the Bahamas.
The pastor is in touch with the people of New Hope, who have sent her pictures and videos via social media, but as for the health and safety of the 60 VBS kids, the pastor “has no clue if they’re alive or if they’re safe,” she said. Watching the mourning process of the team has been difficult, as has the uncertainty of the fate of a few people from the church who have not been heard from yet.
“We know that some of the church members that are safe have lost their homes,” the pastor said, and others are dealing with homes that must be cleaned up and repaired to be habitable.
At this point, she said, people are waiting for the insurance adjustors to come out, but “so much now is still search and rescue.”
Structurally, the New Hope Church will be OK, but will need a lot of repairs, she said.
Reflecting on the devastation and the hardships for the people of New Hope and its personal impact, Hosier said, “Those are my folks. That’s my flock. They still didn’t have a pastor when I left and it’s tough to sit back when you know there’s no one caring for them.”
Despite the difficulties they have experienced, the New Hope congregation held church services on Sunday in the pavilion they built on their church property.
Plans are already being made with volunteers from First United Methodist Church for a mission trip to Grand Bahama after the first of the year, whenever they are allowed to return. Attention this time will be given to rebuilding with help Hosier’s husband, who has architectural experience and has worked with Bahamas Methodist Habitat.
“It’s just something we’re committed to and we’re going to continue to commit to it,” Pastor Lenore emphasized.