Every other year, students at the Collegedale Academy (CA) high school in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States, are given the opportunity to serve others outside their community. CA’s guidance counselor, David Djernes, and IT director Michael Peel plan the mission trips. “Their passion and expertise in providing a meaningful mission trip for our students is excellent,” CA’s high school chaplain, Chris Massengill, said.
For 2022, Djernes and Peel had originally planned to take a group of students to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to assist the Butterfly Paradise school and orphanage, the location of CA’s previous mission trip. Once COVID-19 intruded, however, Djernes and Peel had to change plans and chose a new location: a tiny cay off the coast of Guanaja, Honduras, known as Bonacca.
In October 2021, the cay experienced a fire that wiped out nearly one-third of its buildings. The local Seventh-day Adventist school burned down, as well as parts of the English-speaking Seventh-day Adventist church. The Adventist community there needed assistance rebuilding their facilities, and Djernes and Peel volunteered the CA team.
After the CA students’ arrival earlier in 2022, the team discovered that the church’s work crew was behind schedule in getting the foundation and floor poured for the new school. Because of this, other projects were identified for the volunteers while work continued on preparing the foundation. During the day, the students shoveled gravel, painted the outside walls of the church, and tied rebar for the foundation of the school, among other tasks.
During their time on the island, the students of CA were able to meet many new people and experience the Guanaja community culture. “After a few days working, a group of local kids began hanging around the worksite and mingling with the students,” participants said. “Many of them even offered to help with the work, and they shared laughs with the CA students.”
After days of hard work, students attended church on Saturday (Sabbath) and participated in the local church service. Ron Smith, pastor of McDonald Road Adventist Church, one of eight constituent churches of CA, presented the sermon. After lunch, the team went on a hike on Guanaja and made more friends along the way. Once the group arrived at their destination, a secluded beach, they joined in a couple of games together and a sunset worship. After a brief boat ride, the students were back on Bonacca, participating in evening group activities provided by the church members.
To end their trip, CA students took a 15-minute boat ride to a private island called Graham’s Place. They spent the day on the island, lounging about and enjoying the warm sun.
Participants described the trip as a huge success. “The group worked to ensure that the community of Bonacca would soon have a school again,” one of them explained. “CA students knew that they would always remember their time in the Caribbean helping the church and school, in addition to making memories that would last a lifetime.”
CA leaders explained that trips such as the one to Bonacca, which are designed to serve others, enlist the support of many people. “CA students wrote letters to raise money for their experience and for the project, and organizations in the area also supported the rebuilding project,” they said.
“Mission trips are a blessing to all who are involved,” Peel added. “[This includes] participants who travel to do the project, the hosts for the trip, and those who support the work that is being done through financial means.”
Since returning from the trip, the school’s leadership has found ways to continue the relationship between CA and the church, school, and community of Bonacca. In addition to a multiyear plan for the high school students to return annually to help with the needs in Bonacca and surrounding area, primary school students will also have opportunities to serve. “It’s our intention for Collegedale Academy to continue a close relationship with them and to be a sister school,” CA’s primary school chaplain, Tabor Nudd, said. “Our plan is for our [primary school] students to help from afar with various forms of support, including pen pals, online student interaction, teacher collaboration, and local fundraising for several projects to help their school.”
CA leaders said the school feels blessed by this and other opportunities to have a schoolwide effort to serve. “The prospect of the long-term helping, relationships, and connections is exciting!” they said.