In 2014, the North Central Mission Area started a joint youth group as a way to provide formation for the youth at each parish and started to dream of a trip for young people to Belize. At the same time, clergy from Belize and Ohio started to imagine a joint mission trip to the Province of the West Indies. The logistics proved prohibitive, and so, instead, the idea of a joint pilgrimage came to be: Ohioans and Belizeans, together, exploring the spirituality of creation, worship, and community building, with the express intent of not “doing for” but “living with" while building relationships across boundaries. Each day we had a shared experience that tied in with a spiritual theme: the story of creation, experienced on our visit to a jungle waterfall; the commonalities across spiritual boundaries, explored in our time at a Mayan ruin while learning about indigenous life and worship; the call to service as we cleaned and painted at St. Joseph's Anglican Church and Preschool; and the daily pattern of morning and evening worship with reflection on the themes and experiences of the day. We also built bonds as we played UNO (the universal card game).
For eight days in July, we built a community of 15 young people and five adult leaders, supported in prayer and logistics by many more. We were from seven congregations in Ohio and three in Belize. We engaged in morning and evening worship; ate, played, and worked together; and engaged with the local community of Forest Home outside the city of Punta Gorda.
The Rev. Barbara McBride, from Belize, said, “It always amazes me that no matter how different our lifestyles, cultures, or languages, the universality of the love of God joins us together in bonds that transcend any differences that might exist. I look forward to another similar experience and the maintenance of the friendships created.”
The Rev. Daniel Orr, who pushed this trip into reality, said, “I am enormously grateful for the massive collaboration across Ohio. God has graced us with 308 miles of coordinated effort from Mansfield to Toledo to Cleveland. I could not have imagined better colleagues and youth to work with on the Belize trip. Also, Mary Staley of St. Paul's, Put-In-Bay has organized an Ohio Pilgrimage for the benefit of many of our younger kids. What is next, God?”
It was a mixed blessing to return home. While we were glad to be reunited with our families and the familiar, we very much valued the time in intentional community of work, play, prayer, and fellowship.