A student with First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., during a June mission trip to the Bahamas. (Photo courtesy of FBC Greenville)
A student with First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., during a June mission trip to the Bahamas. (Photo courtesy of FBC Greenville)

CBF Bahamas gaining strength

Led by CBF Florida, the Fellowship's partnership with Bahamian churches has become a two-way street, with island churches doing missions in America and looking for ways to provide disaster response in the U.S. when needed.

By Jeff Brumley

Bahamian pastor Preston Cooper said he most admires CBF churches for their commitment to missions and disaster response. But his and seven other Bahamian Baptist churches have recently partnered with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship not only to receive, but to give back.

“What we propose to do ... is prepare our side to do mission work even in Florida,” said Cooper, pastor of St. Cleveland Baptist Church in Freetown. He also serves as administrator of CBF of the Bahamas, which was formed in 2011. “We also want to see how CBF Bahamas can participate if there is a hurricane in America.”

Odd as that may sound to American ears, Fellowship leaders say there is more to come from its increasingly interactive relationship with Baptists in the Bahamas. It’s expected to take another leap forward next week when the Bahamian churches hold their third annual general assembly, said Ray Johnson, coordinator of CBF Florida.

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Johnson will be joined in attending the gathering by CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter.

Johnson said Fellowship Baptists stand to gain a lot from the relationship, including a possible infusion of passion for worship and service that are hallmarks of Bahamian Baptist faith.

“There is a spiritual vitality in our Bahamian partners, and the way they worship, that we would benefit from,” said Johnson, who has led the Fellowship’s efforts there. They also “help us understand that we are a part of a world that is much larger than white America.”

Theological institute

The seeds of the partnership were planted by members of CBF Florida who responded quickly with material and financial assistance following Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Johnson said. At that time, Lakeside Baptist Church in Lakeland, Fla., made initial contact with Bahamian Baptists and, with help from CBF, was able to respond quickly with aid.

That led to participation in the rebuilding of a church on the island of Abaco, which in turn resulted in the establishment of a theological institute for Bahamian pastors, who are largely untrained, bivocational ministers.

“It’s not accredited, but three or four times a year one of our (CBF Florida) pastors will go over there and teach classes in the evenings,” Johnson said. Topics covered range from introduction to the Old and New testaments to administration, music and Baptist history.

One of the locations for the institute is in the church pastored by John McIntosh, moderator of CBF Bahamas. McIntosh said it was CBF’s culture of inclusivity that ultimately drew his New Hope Baptist Church and the seven others to the Fellowship. “CBF has some of the qualities that we’re looking for that a lot of Baptists don’t have in the Bahamas,” said McIntosh. “For example, they don’t discriminate — they treat men and women alike in the ministry.”

Women ministers and preachers are common in those congregations where there is openness to calling women pastors. Johnson said one evening of the Bahamian general assembly, which runs Oct. 16-20, will be devoted to women and a woman will give the message.

‘A good problem’

That the relationship between CBF Florida and its Bahamian members is well beyond the ceremonial stage became clear for First Baptist Church of Greenville, S.C., this summer, said John Callaway, its minister of youth and families.

Callaway and a handful of other adults led more than 20 high school students on a mission trip June 17-21 which exposed the youth to a range of needs in the Bahamas. They ran the vacation Bible school program for St. Cleveland Baptist Church that week, drawing nearly 100 children from all over the island of Grand Bahama.

The South Carolinians also stocked the food pantries of area churches, which had been depleted following the passage of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But the real service was the mutual love and admiration the Bahamian and American Baptists showed each other, Callaway said.

“By the end of the week, the kids from the island wouldn’t let our students go, and our students didn’t want to let them go, either,” he said. “It’s always a good problem when you can’t get your kids on the bus.”

The whole trip was arranged smoothly thanks to the relationship between CBF Florida and the Bahamians.

“This whole partnership was built to build relationships,” he said.

Cooper said the partnership has already become a two-way street. In August, members of his church traveled to Orlando where they led a VBS and other youth programs.

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Ditto for McIntosh. “My church has been over there several times,” he said.

News of next week’s general assembly is already creating a buzz on the islands, and 800 to 1,000 are expected to attend, he said.

Cooper said the event will likely increase the ability of Bahamians to help do God’s work in America. Topics will include mission-exchange programs, youth ministry and mutual disaster response.

They want to “respond in kind because we have experienced the kindness of our brothers and sisters” in the United States, Cooper said.