Though Chad Ward valued the mission work he and a group of Forsyth County high schoolers did annually at the Quest Fellowship Church in Cebu City, Philippines, he wanted to do more.
“Initially, we had been going there to do various projects,” Ward said. “But I said to [Quest’s Pastor] Les Tilka, ‘I don’t want to do what we usually do if there’s more we can do.’”
That was four years ago.
This July, Ward, along with 11 other leaders and a group of 51 Forsyth County high school students, will travel to Bantayan Island, a Philippine island about four and a half hours from Cebu City, for the fourth time.
Though still partnered with Quest Fellowship, the mission trip, which originates from Browns Bridge Church in north Forsyth, now sets its sights on Bantayan elementary schools, which are still recovering from a Category 5 typhoon, Typhoon Haiyan, that hit the island in 2013.
“As immediate disaster relief organizations pulled out, Quest Fellowship wanted to reach out to that community even though they were four to five hours away,” Ward said. “Les said, ‘This is what you can do.’
“The first year, we had 32 [participants], the next year 42, last year 53 and this year 63.”
Browns Bridge Church, which is one of North Point Ministries’ six metro-Atlanta churches, offers several mission trips yearly for Forsyth teens.
Inside Out, the church’s high school ministry, works with Global(x), an organization that offers mission trips to give participants “opportunities to pursue spiritual growth and healthy relationships through serving.”
While Browns Bridge teens have been traveling to the Philippines for about eight years, Ward said he thinks the trip has especially grown in the last four, since the shift to Bantayan Island.
“The first year, we supplied Tarong Elementary School students with backpacks, and the second year, we built about 200 desks for their classrooms, though we found out the elementary school had about 300 students,” Ward said. “During that [trip], we come to find out Bantayan Island has 13 elementary schools that obviously have a crazy amount of need, so we said, ‘What can we do to continue to partner with Quest while helping these schools?’
“Last year, Tarong needed painting, and we installed a rainwater collection system because the school doesn’t have access to fresh water. This year, we’re going to visit San Agustin Elementary, which has 576 kids that we’ll be working with.”
Ward said this year’s project is collecting “Books for Bantayan” so local students, who are taught English as a second language, have physical books to use instead of stacks of paper from which to learn.
“We started asking around [for books] and ultimately partnered with Kelly Price, director of academic standards for Forsyth County Schools, who helped supply thousands of used educational books that were going for recycling,” he said. “Students are packing boxes of books as we speak, and it will take about 60-70 days for them to reach the destination.
“While there, we’re also going to be building bookshelves for 17 classrooms and supplying the classrooms with books.”
The trip is scheduled to run from July 6-18.
“It really allows us, the students and leaders to put aside what we know and who we are and our own selfishness and get out of our place – Forsyth County and the U.S.,” Ward said. “It really changes our perspective on life and world while also meeting a need and sharing the love of Jesus.
“While we have the opportunity in class each day to play with kids and tell Bible stories, we’re not going there just to teach about Jesus; we’re meeting a need in their lives, their education needs. When you put aside your normal routine, it really begins to open your eyes to the fact that there’s a lot out there and we [have] a great responsibility to share who we are with other people.”