The Bahamas are usually a vacation destination, not a place for mission work.
But Katie Vivona, a senior at Cleveland State University, spent 10 days this summer hard at work on New Providence island. She and fellow volunteers from Dover United Church of Christ in Westlake, Ohio, helped rebuild a run-down HIV/AIDS camp in Nassau, the island nation's capital.
Though her intention was to travel to the camp and offer support to the people she met along the way, Katie left the island having learned more than she thought was possible. She was reminded that life isn't filled with the possessions in your life.
"There was one woman who lived in an 8-by-10-foot room with a bed and a dresser," Katie said. "She believed she had everything she needed. [The people living at the camp] were all very faith-based."
All Saints Camp is a refuge for HIV-positive women, children and men in the Bahamas, which operates on the time and dedication of volunteers. The government does not run the facility.
Next Step Ministries, a nonprofit group that organized this mission trip, has a long-term goal over the next several years to bring student volunteers to the site in an effort to provide each person there a decent living space.
Of the 17 people from the congregation on the July trip, 15 of them were between the ages of 17 and 24. The group of volunteers worked to restore All Saints Camp, building a new fence around the grounds, and constructing a four-room house and a new office building.
Though Katie has been involved with mission work for the last eight years, this trip made her stop to appreciate some of the finer things in life. "This one was different from all the rest," she said. "Their attitudes were so different from anything I've ever seen."
Katie got to know the residents, and the stories that brought them to the camp. One woman Katie met was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Florida, and her sister brought her to the camp. Another man, there to rehab from a stroke, lost all feeling in the right side of his body. "They were all there for completely different reasons. About 90 percent of the people there have HIV/AIDS, but not everyone," Katie said.
"It was a chance to remove yourself from your world and what you know," Katie explained, "and enter someone else's reality."
To learn more about Dover UCC, visit the church's website.