Every other year the students at Collegedale Academy’s high school (CA) are given the opportunity to serve others outside of their community. CA’s guidance counselor, David Djernes, and IT director, Michael Peel, plan the mission trips. “Their passion and expertise in providing a meaningful mission trip for our students is excellent,” notes CA’s high school chaplain, Chris Massengill. For 2022, Djernes and Peel had originally planned to take a group of students to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to assist the Butterfly Paradise school and orphanage, the location of CA’s previous mission trip. However, once COVID-19 intruded, plans were changed. Djernes and Peel, through the Lord’s guidance, chose a new location: a tiny cay off the coast of Guanaja, Honduras, known as Bonacca.
In October of 2021, the cay experienced a fire that wiped out nearly one third of the buildings. The Adventist school burned down, as well as parts of the English-speaking Adventist church. The Adventist community there wanted assistance rebuilding their facilities, and Djernes and Peel volunteered the CA team.
After the CA students’ arrival, it was discovered that the church’s work crew was behind schedule in getting the floor and foundation poured for the new school. Because of this, other needed projects were identified as work continued on preparing the foundation. During the day, the students shoveled gravel, painted the outside walls of the church, and tied rebar for the foundation of the school, among other tasks
During their time on the island, the students of CA were able to meet many new people and experience the culture of the members of the Guanaja community. After a few days working, a group of local kids began hanging around the worksite and mingling with the students. Many of them even offered to help with the work, and they shared laughs with the CA students.
After a hard week’s work, the students attended church on Sabbath, and participated in the service. Paul Smith, pastor from McDonald Road Church, one of eight constituent churches of CA, gave a beautiful sermon. After lunch, everyone went on a hike on Guanaja, and made more friends along the way. Once the group got to the destination (a secluded beach), they enjoyed a couple of games together and a sunset worship. After a brief boat ride, the students were back on Bonacca, participating in evening group activities provided by the church members.
To end their trip, the students of CA took a 15-minute boat ride to a private island called Graham’s Place. They spent one day on the island, lounging about and enjoying the warm sun.
Overall, the trip was a huge success. The group worked to ensure that the community of Bonacca would soon have a school again. CA students knew that they would always remember their time in the Caribbean helping the church and school, in addition to making memories that would last a lifetime. Trips like these, designed to serve others, take the support of many people, say CA leadership. The CA students wrote letters to raise money for their experience and for the project, and organizations in the area also supported the rebuilding project. Peel notes, “Mission trips are a blessing to all who are involved – the participants who travel to do the project, the hosts for the trip, and those who support the work that is being done through financial means.”
Since returning from the trip, the school’s leadership 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 the high school students to return annually to help with the needs in Bonacca and surrounding area, the K-8 students will have opportunities to serve. CA’s K-8 chaplain, Tabor Nudd, who was on the trip shares, “It’s our intention for Collegedale Academy to continue a close relationship with them and to be a sister school. Our plan is for our K-8 students to help from afar with various forms of support ,including pen pals, online student interaction, teacher collaboration, and local fundraising for several projects to help their school.”
CA feels blessed by this opportunity to have a schoolwide effort to serve. The prospect of the longterm helping, relationships, and connections is exciting!
Georgia-Cumberland | August 2022