Investing in a Neighborhood Outside of My Own

This post is a part of Volunteer Time Off series, which gives employees a chance to reflect on their trips, ask critical questions, and share what they’ve been learning. To learn more about our VTO program, check out David Fouse’s post.

The men's side of the nursing home in Trinidad and Tobago is one big room lined with cots. There are varying degrees of ability and infirmities among the aging population. The building is hot and humid in July without air conditioning. On the day we visit the nursing home, I find my two teenage sons interacting with the elderly who live there, deep in conversation -- tall, tow-headed young men unashamedly and without trepidation sharing the love of Christ.

Last summer was my third summer traveling with a group from our church, partnering with Trinidad and Tobago Urban Ministries (TTUM), spreading the Good News of God’s love. While both boys had been to Trinidad in previous summers, the day I found them interacting with the inhabitants of the nursing home was the day I knew that this particular trip had made an impact, not only on those sweet elderly men, but also on each of us.

The rural village we visit has its own unique beauty with overgrown plants and a tropical setting. Folks in the village have a roof (mostly) over their heads and they do their best to feed their families. The streets are lined with small homes covered by tin roofs and splashes of pink, green and turquoise paint. Children play in empty lots littered with broken glass and trash.

Every morning after breakfast we head off to host bible school, setting up tents and activities in an empty lot -- welcoming the children in the village. Some who come are kids as young as three years old, some are teenagers, some are single moms in need of a listening ear. Throughout the morning our team hugs little ones, distributes snacks, sings songs, creates crafts and tells Bible stories. I am in charge of registration -- welcoming new children, assigning them to groups and keeping us organized.

After lunch our team spends time in local orphanages, nursing homes and the occasional youth detention center. Often children are placed in safe house orphanages due to crime, drugs or abuse in the family. Their wariness with strangers is heartbreaking, but we do our best to show unconditional love and safety.

Each evening we return to the village for an old-fashioned tent meeting. The loudspeakers pipe music out, encouraging people to come see what we were doing. The gospel of Christ’s saving grace is loudly proclaimed via song, dance and spoken word. The tent is full, but the dark streets behind the tent are as well. Young adults are sitting on cars, fences and gathered on the street corner listening to what is happening in the tent, hearing a message of hope and love.

Our team’s short time there is about strengthening the work that TTUM has been doing in their own backyard. They have an ongoing, growing ministry to the people of Trinidad and our prayer is that in some small way, God uses us to bring people into the fellowship and ministry that TTUM provides.

I’ve spent countless hours volunteering in my local community, schools and neighborhood. These trips to Trinidad have been about investing in a neighborhood outside of my own, teaching my sons that we are a global community. There is always a place to impart kindness, grace and good values, push comfort zones and increase flexibility -- both in your own backyard, and one that might be in another country.

Gretchen Pascoe is Director of Operations at Pinkston.