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Bahamian missionaries to visit

Think of the Bahamas and most people conjure up images of pristine beaches, turquoise waters, drinks with umbrellas and lounging by the pool at a four-star resort.
But just behind the pretty, touristy façade are people living in abject poverty. Some members of Screven County churches have seen the seedy side of Grand Bahama Island during mission trips aimed at helping the people who live there.
Leading the missions are Raoul and Karen Armbrister, who are from Grand Bahama Island. He said he was an executive at a cruise line, making seven figures a year, and she was a television anchor for 22 years before giving up their jobs nine years ago to form Karazim Ministries. They lead short-term missions to help people on their native island.
The Armbristers will answer questions about the missions at 6 p.m. Sunday in the social hall of the First United Methodist Church in Sylvania. Organizers are hoping to attract many other churches and individuals to join in the missions.
Since the ministry began, people from about 40 states have made mission trips to the island, with about 1,000 people per year going for one-week trips in groups of about 20 at a time.
They feed people on the island and teach them skills so they can better fend for themselves. And, with donations and expertise of Screven County residents, they are building a medical and dental clinic.
People going on the missions pay about $700 for a one-week trip. Sometimes church groups help pay their way by raising money from such things as yard sales. They also must find their own way to Fort Lauderdale – frequently by driving a church bus -- where they board a Discovery Cruise Line ship for the five-hour trip to the island.
There, they stay in the Xanadu hotel, where Howard Hughes spent the last few years of his life in the penthouse suite.
The hotel is nice and meals are included, but that doesn’t mean the missionaries are on a vacation.
Armbrister said he’s found that missionaries are more productive when they stay in a hotel because they’re familiar with the surroundings, where they can get hot showers, a meal and a comfortable bed. “There’s not a lot of time to acclimate to sleeping in a village, or in a jungle,” he said. Staying in a hotel “makes it very easy,” he said.
Volunteers may pour concrete, lay concrete blocks or work on the ministry’s nine-acre farm. Some missionaries have taught islanders how to sew, so they can learn to make trinkets that they can sell to tourists to help support their families. People with a wide variety of skills and hobbies are needed.

Since the clinic is only just now coming up out of the ground, even doctors who go on mission trips may end up pouring concrete.

That’s partly what Sylvania Dr. Marian Lane did when she and her mother went on a mission trip. Lane has donated all the equipment and furnishings from the practice she and her late father, Dr. James Freeman, ran in Sylvania. Another Sylvania doctor, Joe Morgan, got students from Screven County High School to load the contents of the medical practice into a U-Haul, which he drove to Fort Lauderdale.

There, workers from the cruise line boxed up the equipment and shipped it to the island, where some of it is being used but most is in storage, waiting for the clinic to be built.

Lane said a number of doctors are willing to donate their skills on the island, but they need a building first.

Members of at least eight churches, from a variety of denominations, in Screven and Bulloch counties have taken part in the island ministry in the last several years. Organizers are hoping many more churches and individuals will join.

The camaraderie and the ability to pray with and learn about others are invaluable, Morgan said.

Everyone is invited to the meeting Sunday night. “It’s a great opportunity for a pastor or a mission committee to come, to learn how to organize their own team, or (for individuals) to sign up” for trips, he said.

More information can be found at the ministry’s Web site: www.karazim.com.