August 27, 2008 Edition

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Clark leads youth
on mission experience

Jay Clark, a native of Walnut Ridge, helps a child from The Bahamas do a craft project.
As the youth minister at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Jay Clark had six weeks of mission experiences planned for the sixth to 12th graders. Four weeks included local mission opportunities or mission weeks in Arkansas. The other two weeks were a junior high mission trip to Dallas and a senior high mission trip to The Bahamas.

"When one hears that you are going to The Bahamas, many comments come back to you similar to 'must be nice,'" Clark, a native of Walnut Ridge, said. "When people find out you are going to The Bahamas on a mission experience with teenagers from a church, the response is usually, 'Yeah, right...mission The Bahamas.'"

But, Clark emphasizes that, indeed, The Bahamas is a very poor country and parts of The Bahamas have few resources.

"That is why I decided to take a dozen teenagers there to do a local vacation Bible school and develop relationships with the children we were in ministry with," Clark said. "The catch is that we did the vacation Bible school on a sailboat."

The group began the trip flying from Little Rock to Nassau, where they were picked up and taken to a boat. They then set sail for Current Island off the coast of Eluthera. Current Island has a population of 45.

"As we walked the island with some of the townsfolk, they made sure to point out two things ~ their church and their school," Clark said. "The church was by far the largest building on the island. Inside were about 150 chairs set up for worship. When one of the youth asked why they needed so many chairs on an island of 45 people, the minister's wife responded, 'It's just faith I guess.'"

The missionaries then got back on the boat with 16 children to do crafts, a Bible story and music before having a unique recreation time of snorkeling in the ocean. "We did this type of schedule on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning before heading to Gregory Town on Monday afternoon where we attended a beach party with the locals," Clark said. "It was an interesting experience to drop anchor in the harbor and swim to the beach. We were now on their turf."

The group received a warm welcome and had the chance to play with the children and invite them to vacation Bible school the next morning.

Clark shared a story about one of the teenagers deciding to leave his frisbee because the children were having such a great time with it.

"After we docked for the evening, a young boy came to the boat to return the frisbee to its owner," he said.

"I was shocked at the display of honesty in that little boy and wondered if that would happen somewhere closer to home."

Tuesday morning, the Little Rock group welcomed about seven children to the boat for breakfast before VBS.

"We began our program and by the time we left the port, we had 28 young people from Gregory Town on the boat with us," Clark said. "We put them all in ski vests and went off for our day of ministry and relationship building with them."

After that morning and early afternoon, the group sailed back around to Current Island to see their friends from the first of the week and paint the outside of their church.

Clark said when he originally planned the trip he was going to spread the mission work over four days and still give the youth time to relationship build within their own group and enjoy sailing in the middle of the ocean. Combining all of the Vacation Bible School and projects into the first three days gave them an extra day to enjoy another part of the world.

"The part I have failed to mention was doing the cooking, cleaning, sleeping and sailing ~ everything on the boat," Clark said. "We learned the ropes of sailing and got to meet some wonderful people who we may never see again."

Clark said it never ceases to amaze him when he plans mission experiences with teenagers.

"I know we want to do good things when we are there ... and I know we want to build relationships when we are there ~ but God has a way of turning everything upside down and we grow so much from watching people that have much less than most of us," he said. "Eight of the 12 youth I took on this trip have just started their freshmen year of college. This was a great way for them to end their summer as a youth and begin their ministry and mission experiences as young adults."

Note: Jay Clark is the son of Phil and Vicki Clark of Walnut Ridge and is a graduate of Walnut Ridge High School. He and his wife, Karen, have a two-year-old son, Quin.

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