Today was the last day for St. Paul UMC from Jacksonville, Florida. St. Paul has a special place in my heart. They are one of the few groups that have been here three times. They were one of the first youth groups that came in the summer of 2009. Their previous youth director, Denvil was looking for an international place to bring his youth group. Through both of our pasts of working at Warren Willis Camp (youth summer camp in the Florida conference), God kept us connected and our ministries united. That summer the youth helped with the beginning stages of what we had planned to be the mission house. St. Paul is not a huge church and is certainly not the richest church in the Florida conference but they are a church passionate about serving God’s people. It takes the youth ministry two years to raise the money for their mission trip to come here. In the summer of 2011, their new youth director, Kate, brought the group back after the youth requested to return. That summer the youth did VBS in Los Cocos and continued the work on the mission house. The summer of 2012, Sairy and the boys were able to be in the states and attend St. Paul for their VBS, which focused on mission and highlighted the Dominican Republic. In the summer of 2013, the mission house, which was converted into a school and had their first graduating class, received a front porch which they painted and a sidewalk. The team also returned to Los Cocos for VBS. VBS in 2011 was held on the church property and lead by the missionaries. VBS in 2013 was held on the church property and the property across the street (borrowed from neighbors) and was lead by the 6 leaders we now have living in Los Cocos. It was an amazing week to think back over the years and see God’s movement, God’s work, and God’s use of people.
Tonight we went around and talked about our favorite part of the week. Though most responses were shared about moments with the children, mine was a little bit different. In Los Cocos last night, we decided to have a service instead of the VBS lesson. We had all of the children invite their parents so we could hopefully plant the seed and begin ministering with the parents as well. One of the parents stood up and told us about how every day she would ask her child what she learned and she would tell her the stories about Paul and how she learned about Jesus. At the end of the mom’s story, she told us her daughter was only 3 years old and could only imagine what the older children were learning. Once the mom finished, the leaders and children presented gifts to the missionaries. It was such a sweet gift of a child’s handprint and a Dominican flag, but its meaning held the most value. To me, it showed me that the leaders of Los Cocos took ownership of the week, appreciated the help of the missionaries, and wanted to thank us. It was not like they expected the missionaries to DO the VBS and they just sit back and watch the show. It was a true appreciated of simply our time and a thank you for loving on their children.
Tomorrow St. Paul will head home and City Beautiful from Orlando will be arriving along with more returning members (Jordan arrived this past Wednesday) of the Voices of Youth team (Virginia conference) from 2 summers ago. This next week we will be working in Cuesta Arena doing construction and VBS. Please keep all of our team members in your prayers as they travel and return home.