Park Ridge church preparing for youth mission to the Bahamas

Travel to the Bahamas is typically dedicated to tourism and vacation, Park Ridge Community Church Assistant Pastor Mollie Foster knows, but said a church group’s upcoming trip will be focused “on the other side of the island.”

The church is partnering with Praying Pelican Mission, a Minnesota nonprofit, for its weeklong youth mission from June 8 to 14, according to Foster. The church is taking 40 Park Ridge youth between middle and high school ages, as well as 13 chaperones, to oversee the trip. The group will focus on construction, working with kids, learning how to make local cuisine and visiting people who cannot leave their homes.

Foster said she made the decision to go to the Bahamas in collaboration with the youth committee and the church’s senior pastor before the U.S. State Department put out a warning of caution due to crime in certain areas. The church puts together a mission each year and cycles between local, urban, rural and international missions. The last three were in Knott County, Kentucky; Denver, Milwaukee and the Chicago area.

“I am really proud of our kids for saying yes to this opportunity when they have a million other things that they could be doing in their summertime,” said Foster. “Even though they’ll be in the Bahamas, they’ll be sweating and working hard and being in uncomfortable positions and stretched outside their comfort zones.”

Foster said in the past school year, students learned about equity and equality and that the Bahamas has great luxuries available to tourists but also has high levels of poverty for people who live on the island and need to rebuild when natural disasters like hurricanes occur.

Foster said Praying Pelican would take care of the details of where the mission will be and has established ties with communities in the Bahamas.

On Jan. 24, the U.S. Department of State put out a travel advisory for increased caution for Americans visiting the Bahamas. The advisory said there was increased crime on the New Providence (Nassau) and Grand Bahama (Freeport) islands and there is “gang-on-gang” violence that affects the local population of those islands. The Department of State has four advisory levels, with the Bahamas at level two and more hostile countries, like North Korea and Russia, at level four.

“Violent crime, such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assaults, occur in both tourist and non-tourist areas. Be vigilant when staying at short-term vacation rental properties where private security companies do not have a presence,” the advisory read.

Foster said the Department of State put out the advisory only after the church made the decision to go to the island and that Praying Pelican would not send the mission to an area that is not safe for them.

Foster said the cost for the 53 people to participate in the mission would be just over $100,000. Each person would pay $1,000 to Praying Pelican for food and lodging, and airfare would cost around $900 a person, according to Foster.

The church is doing a Bahamas-themed fundraiser to help volunteers fund the mission. The church usually does a pumpkin patch fundraiser that brings in $10,000, said Foster, but this time the church is organizing a “Bahama Bash” silent auction with reggae music and food scheduled for March 3 at the church, 100 Courtland Ave., Park Ridge.

Donors can sign up online. Foster said the items auctioned off would be donated from local businesses and would include items like gift cards and tickets to local events like beer tastings.

The church has a goal of $27,000 for the fundraiser. Foster said the funds would be split evenly among the 53 participants to reduce the costs they would have to shoulder for the mission.