"You're My Sister"
WHY we do it
During that unforgettable week of summer camp, when Linda Hackenbracht landed in St. Thomas along with another team of volunteers from Humbly I Serve, she wasn’t quite sure what would be awaiting her. Other than crystal blue water and white tropical sands, she did not know what to expect, but she was prepared to embrace everything with an open mind and a willing heart.
Having worked as the Finance Director for over a year, Linda had only seen the business aspect of this nonprofit organization. But after catching the fire of Melinda Wilson’s (CEO) passion for the people of the island, Linda couldn’t wait to bring her teenage son along and become a part of the mission field across the Atlantic. As a territory of the United States, St. Thomas provides visitors with easy access to the island. Guests do not face the challenges of a language barrier, unlike Linda’s experience in her previous missions trip to a Spanish-speaking island.
After arriving on the island, Linda was struck by the extreme poverty and destitution of the natives. While tourism is the primary source of revenue in St. Thomas, the local people see none of that bounty in their income. Given the overwhelming expenses of life on the small island, many families occupy meager dwellings with tin roofs, minimal (if any) electricity, and little access to inexpensive, fresh food. As a result of this financial burden, families often feel confined to the island with no hope of escaping to a new life. To raise money, some turn to illegal drug sales, while further endangering their children. Linda remembers one tragic story of three teenage orphans now living with aunts and uncles after their father was killed in a drug deal and their mother died in a fatal car accident while under the influence of drugs.
Unfortunately, these children from orphaned, broken, or single-parent homes lack the presence of a consistent, reliable role model who will instruct them in the way of the Lord and away from the darkness of their future. Naturally, many children living in these circumstances respond to the pain of loneliness in anger and hostility. They tend to display their frustration through harsh words without understanding the powerful affect their words have on others, simply because they have never been taught how to encourage and love one another. Linda noticed the initial hesitancy of older teens to trust adults, while the younger children desperately longed for the attention and warm, loving touch of a parental figure. Linda fondly recalls one little boy crawling into her lap and praying to receive Christ as his Savior. Understanding that he was now a part of the family of God, he looked up at her excitedly to say, “You’re my sister!”
Linda understood the importance of building their trust so as to “tender their hearts to the Lord.” As a result, she and others had the opportunity to clearly present the Gospel of Christ and watch the softened hearts of the children respond in faith to the teaching of His Word. That is why the focus of Seaside Adventure Camps is to build godly relationships with the children by nurturing, supporting, and listening to them. Through discipleship and mentoring, their faith will grow and start a blazing revival sweeping across the island.
During her “humbling” trip, Linda was overwhelmed by there being “such great needs” in St. Thomas. She was amazed at the welcoming response she and HIS staff received from eager, spiritually-starved campers. One of the volunteers went out into the villages to round up children to be recipients of the extra ten donated scholarships. Immediately, he returned with all ten, new campers ready and waiting to respond to the invitation. Summer camps provide an outlet for the children to avoid negative temptation by seeking a positive escape from their boredom. By coming to Seaside Adventure Camp, students searching for hope will find refuge in a safe atmosphere of spiritual and physical encouragement. From playing basketball to singing praise songs, staff and campers alike grow in their faith and create memories that will stay with them forever.
And while the long-term vision of Humbly I Serve is to secure a more permanent presence of leaders and counselors that mentor and disciple children and adults alike, for now, week-long summer camps have the potential to impact an entire generation through the servant-minded willingness of volunteers, just like Linda. By being flexible, engaging with the natives, and displaying the love and compassion of Christ, volunteers share in the eternal joy of watching hungry souls turn to Him for salvation. For many of these children, Humbly I Serve’s ministry is the brightest beam of hope they have ever seen.
And as for Linda? Well, she continues to work at the office with a new zeal: “I understand now what we’re doing. I’ve seen the fruits of our efforts…in ministering to these kids and bringing them to Christ.” She returned home with a fresh spirit of gratitude and humility for God’s blessings that are often taken for granted, and she treasures this opportunity to go and help fill the needs of the islanders. For Linda, her role in being the hands of feet of Jesus to St. Thomas “fit like hand in glove.”