“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We arrived on the ground in Orlando the afternoon of Tuesday April 23rd. The “Sunshine State” was everything I thought it might be: hot, humid and bustling with tourists ready to soak up some Florida sunshine! Personally, I love the commotion of a busy airport. The sights, the sounds, the smells. It’s a “people watchers” paradise.
We had to check a number of things off of our list in the airport before heading to where we’d be staying in Bithlo. While picking up our mini vans for the week Mr. E and I had an interesting conversation with the women helping us at the rental car counter. We had been told that Bithlo was oftentimes the “butt of jokes” and that a number of Orlando locals are nieve to what the living conditions truly are for those who live in this impoverished community. However, what we didn’t expect was to experience it firsthand right off of the plane!
You see, as we bagan to chat with the women helping us at the rental car counter she asked us where we’d be staying. We told her we were planning on staying in Bithlo . After giving us a look of confusion, shock and disgust she asked, “Why would you go to Bithlo?” If the fact that we were planning on residing in Bithlo for the week wasn’t shock enough, we went on to explain to her that we had come all the way from Seattle, WA to serve the people in that community. Needless to say, we had her attention. Moving forward in our conversation, we began to share the various facts we’d been briefed on relating to the poverty found in this community. She began to shake her head out of what I thought for a moment might be disbelief. I was a wrong, she was shaking her head out of adamant unbelief! When told her that Bithlo didn’t even have clean drinking water she became quite defensive. “Have you ever even been to Bithlo?” she sternly asked. “No, we haven’t. This is just what we’ve been told.” we shared. “You’d better check your facts.” she said. She went on and on explaining to us how she had friends who lived out in that direction who most certainly had clean drinking water! Not knowing quite how to respond, we just listened to what she had to say and thanked her for helping us.
The Lord only knew what we were getting ourselves into. We had an address plugged into our phones, but we had little idea of what realities awaited us when we arrived at our destination. Two van loads of college students and a 20 mile drive later we pulled into Orange County Accademy in Bithlo.
After being greeted by a fun and friendly group of teachers, students and volunteers. We were ushered into the lunchroom where we shared lunch with the students. I mentioned in a previous post, one of our students had lost his wallet in the airport. So Mr. E and he immediately got back into the van and returned to the airport to pick it up. As lunch wrapped up, both O.C.A. and Adelphia students enjoyed some time getting to know each other and playing on the playground that had been built/donated last year.
Our first day was a little confusing. We weren’t quite sure of the agenda O.C.A. had for us and the director who I thought we were supposed to report to had left for the afternoon (he’s an incredible man with a lot on his plate). So I figured I would take the initiative and get our students into the classrooms.
After asking the teachers how we could be of help in their classrooms and dividing up the Adelphia students into groups according to the need of each class I realized I had failed to find a spot for me. It all worked out though because this gave me an opportunity to spend some brief moments in prayer and quiet reflection. I also had the privilege of meeting the school’s counselor, a number of the volunteers and even some of the family members of the students at O.C.A. These interactions bagan to provide for me a better perspective on the brokenness and hurt that truly exists in the personal lives and homes of the young students at O.C.A. While illiteracy is extremely high, this is not the soul reason United Global Outreach originally began O.C.A. Domestic, sexual and verbal abuse oftentimes go unreported in their homes, drugs, alcohol and promiscuity are a staple in many of the homes, and neglect, poverty and sickness are common. These children are forced to grow up far too quickly, all the while maturing ever-so slowly due to a lack of love and belonging. Each of the thirty-five students at O.C.A. have been hand-selected to attend. For many of them this has become their only source of stability. What O.C.A. offers their students is more than just an elementary education, they offer each student a chance to grow and learn like never before. To develop some of the life skills many of them have never had modeld for them. To put it simply, O.C.A. offers their students hope in Jesus’ name.
At the end of the day, our entire team was amazed at just how open and transparent the people of Bithlo were with us. We all knew that each story , interaction, hug and smile shared were precious gifts. It was our desire to steward these gifts well. As director, Tim McKinney, would say, “The people of Bithlo are V.I.P.’s.” So as we came together as a team that night we began to thank God for all He had done even in that first half day and to ask for His help. We were going to need it! After all this was only day one and were just beginning to soak it all in.