Every two years, students at Collegedale Academy (CA) High School in Collegedale, Tennessee, USA, are given the opportunity to serve others outside of their community. CA guidance counselor David Djernes and IT manager Michael Peel plan the mission trips. “Their passion and expertise in providing a meaningful mission journey for our students is excellent,” said CA High School Chaplain Chris Massengill.
For 2022, Djernes and Peel originally planned to take a group of students to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to help the school and Butterfly Paradise orphanage, the location of CA’s previous mission trip. However, once COVID-19 crept in, Djernes and Peel had to change their plans and chose a new location: a small cay off Guanaja, Honduras, known as Bonacca.
In October 2021, the Caye experienced a fire which destroyed nearly a third of its buildings. The local Adventist school burned down, along with parts of the English-speaking Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Adventist community needed help rebuilding its facilities, and Djernes and Peel volunteered for the CA team.
After the CA students arrived earlier in 2022, the team discovered that the church work crew was behind schedule in pouring the foundation and soil for the new school. As a result, other projects were identified for the volunteers as the preparatory work for the foundation continued. During the day, students shoveled gravel, painted the exterior walls of the church, and attached rebar for the school’s foundation, among other tasks.
During their stay on the island, the CA students were able to meet many new people and learn about the culture of the Guanaja community. “After a few days of work, a group of local kids started hanging out at the construction site and mingling with the students,” participants said. “Many of them even offered to help with work and they shared laughs with the CA students.”
After days of hard work, the students went to church on Saturday (Sabbath) and participated in the local church service. Ron Smith, pastor of McDonald Road Adventist Church, one of CA’s eight constituent churches, presented the sermon. After lunch, the team hiked Guanaja and made more friends along the way. Once the group arrived at their destination, a secluded beach, they enjoyed a few games together and a sunset worship. After a brief boat ride, the students were back on Bonacca, participating in evening group activities organized by church members.
To end their trip, the CA students took a 15-minute boat ride to a private island called Graham’s Place. They spent the day on the island, lounging and enjoying the warm sun.
Participants described the trip as a huge success. “The group has worked so that the community of Bonacca will soon have a school again”, explained one of them. “The CA students knew they would always remember their time in the Caribbean helping the church and school, in addition to creating memories that would last a lifetime.”
CA leaders explained that trips like the one to Bonacca, which are designed to serve others, mobilize the support of many people. “CA students wrote letters to raise money for their experience and for the project, and organizations in the area also supported the rebuilding project,” they said.
“Mission trips are a blessing for all involved,” Peel added. “[This includes] the participants who travel to carry out the project, the hosts of the trip and those who support the work that is done with financial means.
Since returning from the trip, the school administration has found ways to continue the relationship between CA and the church, school and community of Bonacca. In addition to a multi-year plan for high school students to return each year to meet the needs of Bonacca and the surrounding area, elementary students will also have the opportunity to serve. “We intend for Collegedale Academy to continue a close relationship with them and be a sister school,” said CA Elementary School Chaplain Tabor Nudd. “Our plan is for our [primary school] students to help remotely with various forms of support, including pen pals, online student interaction, teacher collaboration, and local fundraising for several projects to help their school.
CA leaders said the school feels blessed by this and other opportunities to have a school-wide effort to serve. “The prospect of long-term help, connections and relationships is exciting!” they said.
The original version of this story was published by Southern News.
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