Cat Island Background and Mission History:
by Ryan Roberts – SAMI Pilot
Cat Island Background and Missions History
I was a part of the original scouting mission to Cat Island in 2003. When we went there that first year, we had no idea that God would explode this mission into what it is today. This is now my 5th time being back on the island, and it is the fourth consecutive year that the Ft. Pierce Christian Missionary Alliance church is able to serve God on Cat Island. From those humble beginnings, God has now orchestrated a multi-week, 62 person team of individuals who love Jesus Christ and want to share His hope and joy of salvation with the residents and visitors to this remote Bahamian island.
Located 150 miles southeast of Nassau, Cat Island is known for it’s physical beauty and solitude. It is here that God has launched a movement to glorify Himself both on Cat Island and in the rest of the Bahamas. Donations of everything from building supplies to bibles to clothes were received from a variety of generous sources, enough to fill a 28-foot semi trailer with no room to spare!
Due to the size of the group, Servant Air Ministries Inc. (SAMI) was not used for the first time since we began going to Cat Island. SAMI’s Piper Aztec twin-engine airplane can only carry five people at a time, so six flights would be required to move everybody for the first week alone. Instead, MFI (Missionary Flights International) based in Ft. Pierce utilized their DC3 to transport up to 24 people at a time.
GOD QUEST 2006
On the morning of July 15th, 2006, Amanda and I arrived at the MFI hanger and helped to load the DC3 for its direct flight to New Bight airport on Cat Island. Excitement was in the air as people milled about, weighing bags and speculating what it would be like to fly in an airplane as old as their grandparents. Before departing, we gathered and prayed for God to bless the voyage. God’s spirit was evident with the peace and joy He provided.
Loading through the rear door of the aircraft, all 28 missionaries walked up the stairs to commence a life changing experience that was about to unfold. It was a cloudless bright blue sky that morning. Hot and humid, we were fanning ourselves as we waited for the pilots to finish their final preparations before departure. I broke a sweat from the heat, but it quickly subsided as we lifted off from terra firma, climbing skyward. Our cruising altitude that day was 11,000 feet. This took us directly over Freeport and northeast of Nassau along our route of flight.
I’ve had the opportunity to fly a number of planes, but being in a piece of flying history was a sensory delight. I made my way up to the cockpit to take a look around and speak with the full time MFI missionary pilots. Passing North Eluthra Island, there are a number of sand bars lined up which looks like a God-made sand shaker. A smile swept across my face as I reveled in the majesty of creation. The captain invited me to sit in the jump seat for landing, just behind the captain’s seat. I eagerly accepted since I had never flown in a tail wheel airplane, let alone a DC3.
As we got closer to the ground, rising hot air rocked the airplane around, causing Amanda to feel nauseous in the rear of the cabin. The landing was succinct, and stopped in less runway distance than the Aztec typically needed, which is why a DC3 is such a good airplane to use for missionary flying. We taxied back to customs in New Bight, unloaded the plane and met up with Dan Pennell and Paul Kuhn who had flown in the previous day. Pastor Newbold was also there to greet us on our return to the island.
He is such an amazing man of God. He hears the voice of Christ and seeks Him in everything he does. Out of any living man that I have personally met, Pastor Newbold best exemplifies Jesus Christ with skin on.
We rode in the bus 40 minutes north to the Doc’s house. ‘Doc’ lives in Tampa, Florida, but has a beachside home he rents to visitors. It is a large two-story home with a couple of beach houses located beside and to the rear of the main house. There are 8 rooms in total, giving our group the ability to stay in one location. Bennett’s Harbour, where the Doc’s house is located, has a pleasant charm and atmosphere. Many of the small settlements located up and down the coastline of Cat Island are a mix of old and new, broken down and built up. Bennett’s Harbour is no exception. With only one main road running north and south on the island, even the most geographically challenged manage to find their destination… most of the time.
We pulled into the Doc’s house ready, excited and expectant about what God was going to do over the course of the next week. After making our way to the ‘special’ arrangements they had for me and Amanda, we were surprised to find something that we were not accustomed to in previous visits – air conditioning! Since we were the most recently married couple in the group, we were blessed to get this exclusive room with hearts on the wall cut from lined paper and our nameplate on the door stating: “Honeymoon Suite: Ryan and Amanda”.
With nothing else planned for the afternoon, we decided to test out the water and determine if it was still as much of a fantasy as we remembered. It was. Walking westward out of the side beach house, we feasted our eyes on the most beautiful beach in the entire universe. Every time I leave I wonder if it will ever be as good as I remembered. And each time I go back, it is always better than even my best memory can recall.
Galloping carefree into the lukewarm sky blue and emerald green water, we were on sensory overload. Praise God for making such an amazing place in His creation. The island is known for its limestone deposits and nearby reefs, which allows for swimming in shallow water without the risk of encountering much adverse underwater sea life.
The remainder of that Saturday proved to be exceptionally relaxing as we let our cares and worries from home melt away in God’s natural white sand cove bathtub. The sun highlighted the distant ocean that evening, sparkling off the shimmering waves as we gathered for a time to collectively praise God. That was just one of many nights we came together to enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit as Dan taught us from the Word of God.
We awoke Sunday to devotions on the beach. Dan wrote incredible morning devotions for each person who came on the trip. God used those times in the morning to reinforce what He was doing in my own life as each day progressed. After having an incredible breakfast prepared by Ann and Faith, we hopped into the bus and lazily drove down to Pastor Newbold’s church in Stephenson. A half dozen local worshippers united with us that morning for church. It was a time of celebration for what God had done in their lives. The music was catchy and full of islander beat. God can be praised in so many different and exciting ways, unique to each culture. After service, Pastor Newbold and his family treated us to BBQ ribs for lunch. They were absolutely delicious!
That afternoon we enjoyed the beach once again during the afternoon (which would become a tradition after returning to the Doc’s house). Evening soon came and the heat subsided. We casually walked 10 minutes from the house to reach the Bennett’s Harbour Church. Noseems, sand flees and mosquitoes abounded, each trying to have their fill of flesh. Bug spray didn’t seem to deter these cannibals, even through it gave at least some psychological reassurance.
That night God’s spirit moved in power and might as we enjoyed the worship and the message by Pastor Strong. It was great to once again spend time with the men of God on this island. God has created an unexplainable bond between us ever since our first visit four years ago, a bond that will surely last a lifetime.
Monday morning soon came, and it was off to work! The missions group participated in three main ministries. The construction ministry focused on electrical work, roofing, plumbing, tile, and any other needed repairs to the churches of Arthur’s town, Dumphrees, Bennett’s Harbour and Stephenson. The second ministry set out to evangelize the entire island for Christ. The final ministry that week was the VBS (Vacation Bible School) for the kids.
We had been doing VBS for the kids in Arthur’s Town for the previous 3 years, so they were excited that we would be doing that again this year as well. The problem arose when the kids showed up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to go on Monday morning… without us! This year, the decision was made to do a VBS in the middle of the island instead. It was an attempt to reach a completely different group of kids. But the kids of Arthur’s town broke our hearts by showing up without us there, so we announced there would be an ‘impromptu’ VBS Wednesday and Thursday.
The VBS went extremely well for not being planned. There were over 60 kids in attendance. God said ‘let the little children come to me’, and we want to be like Christ.
One of the ministries that gave us an open door to speak with the people of Cat Island was the construction that had been done in years past. Many churches were improved over the past 3 years, which paved the way to evangelizing. Every year, we would bring down donated materials. Every year there would be a hold up with customs. This year was no exception. The construction team was delayed for a couple of days, but God managed to open up the 28 foot semi-trailer packed full of materials donated by generous individuals and businesses from back home.
The same day that the container was opened, we also had a special night at the cross. Wednesday night is a time to surrender everything to God, allowing Him to heal any area of your life. An old rugged cross stood on the beach, a reminder of what Christ did for us a couple of millennium ago. There is nothing too small that Christ can’t take away, and nothing too great his blood cannot atone. Tears were shed, burdens were lifted, and the cross stood tall, majestic in the torch’s flickering light illuminating the darkness. Where light abounds, darkness cannot.
Evangelism over the course of the week was an enormous success. We brought gift bags with candy, hats and toys inside to each home and business. We made sure they knew about the upcoming VBS for the kids, as well as the basketball tournaments happening each Friday. Our sole purpose was to exemplify the love of Christ through service. All but a handful of settlements were reached, and God brought in the harvest. There were a couple of first time decisions for people who accepted the free gift of salvation from Jesus Christ! Praise God!
The basketball tournaments were also an enormous success with people coming from every corner of the island to participate. There is no better way to touch the lives of youth than by taking to them in their language – sports. When Vic gave his testimony just prior to the final game, there were 8 young men who committed their lives to Christ. Wow – Praise God. We would go on to finish second in the tournament, but those young men were now in first place in the game of life!
Saturday morning came all too quickly. Were we really on the island for 7 days already? It hardly seemed real. But God had worked in the lives of Amanda, myself, and every other person on our team. We were different. We were changed. We were HIS.
Those of us who weren’t staying for the full two weeks hesitantly meandered back to the airport for our ride back home. The DC3 greeted us with a fresh new batch of missionaries that were ready and eager to experience Christ outside of their comfort zone. After completing all of the paperwork and loading bags, we again set sail into the sky. This time the destination wasn’t a foreign island. No. This time the destination was our earthly home. I look forward to that day when God will take us home with Him, for you see, our eternal family just got bigger with new brothers and sisters from Cat Island.
God Quest 2006 – Making a memory for the glory of Jesus Christ.