June 1, 2017
Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
When I first spoke to a Belizean missionary in 2011 about a school they wanted to build in the capital city of Belmopan, I was just looking for an awesome mission opportunity for the students in my youth group. Spring break missions were a cornerstone of our youth ministry, and we were hoping to begin a relationship with a church partner that would be mutually transformative for both the students and the partner church. So we prepared and planned and prayed and were ready to share the love of Jesus with the people in Belize. We had two tasks for the week: 1) lead a series of revival services 2) lay the foundation of the church.
As we arrived in Belize, I quickly realized that I (the youth minister) had been talking to the missionary (with no construction background) about our work plans, but neither of us had any knowledge of what we would need to build a school. She told me that they had tools and a foreman and we would come and get to work. I was satisfied with that answer because I didn’t know what I didn’t know about laying a foundation. Our students were filled with excitement about seeing what we would do that week, but the reality that “laying a foundation” meant that we would pick up rocks and trash from an untouched lot brought about discouragement. The students wanted to build, but the Belizeans weren’t quite ready yet. There was a lot of work to be done, but we didn’t have the tools, the knowledge, or the vision to complete it in the week.
On that first day there was a single stick in the ground, indicating where the end of the building would be. We gathered around it to imagine what would come when the body of Christ came together to lay the foundation, build the walls, paint the walls, and do all the other things necessary to build the school.
The church, which was charged with the oversight of the school, organized a dedication service and groundbreaking, which included the local news, leaders from the church and government, the project foreman, and me—the team leader from the US that was bringing the first team to the Belmopan Methodist Church and High School. Four of us stood for the ceremonial groundbreaking and we had all sorts of pictures taken. While it was quite an honor to be included in this, the reality of the unpreparedness of the whole project seemed more like a spectacle. I was left uncertain if we were getting duped or a part of something bigger than I could imagine.
We left that week with great memories, but discouraged because we were unable to see much accomplished. Our prayer was that God would continue the work that we started and see the school to its completion.
As the year went on, we continued to talk with the missionary, and they invited us back, assuring us that they had appropriate tools, plans, and vision and that we would have a meaningful roles in the construction process. We knew more going into our second trip, and were able to hand off the construction questions to an architect who was going with us. We had confidence that our second trip would be a better experience, and while there weren’t walls yet, we could tell that progress was being made. That year we did some painting at the church, dug a drainage ditch, and poured concrete columns. We are also able to connect with the church through leading their annual revival.
Another year and half passed and I was leading another team to the high school, this time at a different church. Walking onto the lot was extremely different. There were walls, a roof, and even some red paint. The most dramatic change was the laughter, shouts, and movement of ninety students busy at work. We worked at carrying concrete blocks up steps for the second-story walls, but the students constantly distracted me from my manual labor. I can’t express to you the joy I had from seeing what had come from that vacant lot. The principal asked me to teach a class, preach in chapel, and counsel students. We were able to make connections with some students and have some meaningful conversations about faith and life. I was elated to see that God was faithful to continue His work at the school. This was such a contrast from the first trip, when I wasn’t sure if the school was ever going to be built.
I went back to the school six months later, and it was a new school year with a new class of students. We were busy painting the completed upstairs, while students were inside the classrooms learning. Midway through the week, there was a classroom dedication, complete with all the same people from the groundbreaking and the news crew. This time I was asked to speak on behalf of the mission teams. The students sang, and together we celebrated God’s continual provision for the school. It was such an honor to participate in celebrating with the now 180 students!
Over the next few years I returned several times with lots of different team members, each time working on a different phase of the school. Each time I returned, I encountered a new group of students, as the school rapidly grew to fill the classrooms that mission teams were building. I continued to connect with some of the same students that I had met before, really getting to know them and care for them. Our construction projects included everything from dry walling, to sealing a floor, to painting, to mixing and pouring concrete. I had zero construction experience, but I learned how to do some things I hadn’t known before and was able to use those skills to be a part of something bigger. My favorite parts of the work were when I attended a dance class, taught students how to play volleyball, sat in life skills classes, ate lunch with the students, and caught up with the teachers.
Next week I return to Belize a seventh time to celebrate the first graduating class of the Belmopan Methodist High School. I’ve been thinking back on this journey that started in 2011 and how God has been so faithful to bring to completion this Christ-centered school that is going to change the trajectory of so many Belizean teens’ lives. I can’t wait to see so many people who over the last several years have become my Belizean family and to enjoy the fruit of what the body of Christ has come together to build. I never would have expected that so long ago my heart would have been captured in such away that led to me witness the completion of the school.
Seeing the body of Christ come together in Belize gives me great confidence in what God is doing here in the students of Mt Bethel. There are so many folks who are eager and willing to serve, not necessarily possessing the tools, knowledge, and vision of the students, but who are willing to join the MBSM staff in ministry. The foundations we lay and the structures we help build through Sunday School, life groups, the Well, mission opportunities, and other events are building in students a strong and life-long faith that they will carry with them into life after Student Ministries. Just like the graduates in Belize, who have had countless people investing in them and their education, we have the opportunities to invest in the spiritual growth of our students through helping out at the Well, hosting at DNOW, leading a life group, or teaching Sunday School. As Mt. Bethel members continue to support and volunteer with students, I know that the Holy Spirit will work to lead our teenagers in incredible ways as they journey closer to Christ!