In many ways it was like going home. This week, I visited the island of Barbados where I spent many of my formative pre-teen and teenage years. Our family moved to this beautiful place in 1980 so that my father could lead the CLC bookstore ministry in the Eastern Caribbean. During those years, I learned how to spear fish and snorkel, and I discovered what it meant for my faith to become my own. My parents encouraged my growing spiritual inquisitiveness by finding a church where I could ask questions and get biblically grounded answers. For a part time job, I started to work at the local CLC Bookstore in Bridgetown and loved seeing and reading so many books that addressed the very questions I was wrestling with in my heart. The adults that mentored me where not afraid or intimidated by my questions.
One New Year’s eve my pastor preached a sermon that changed the trajectory of my life. He preached on the topic of being “lukewarm” and I thought he was speaking only to me. How could he have known the path that my life was taking? On Sunday’s I was winning Bible memorization contests and during the week, I was living a life that did not honor the God I said that I served. He challenged me to get off the fence, to be courageous in my faith even if it meant I would be ridiculed in school and to make my life count for Christ. I knew I had to make a decision and to go in a different direction. To God’s glory that direction involved publicly telling others about my faith, digging into God’s word for myself and leading a small student ministry at my High School.
The purpose of my visit to the place that meant so much to me was to be an encouragement and support to the local CLC team. Much had changed on the island since I had lived here and a recent change in my own role in the CLC ministry now means that I have oversight of the work in the North America and the Caribbean. Barbados has seen much growth and development in the last thirty years. Once known primarily for tourism, fishing and agriculture (primarily sugar cane), today the island is a hub for multi-national companies that are doing business in the Eastern Caribbean and has a significant industrial sector. Entire areas that were once sugar cane fields have now been developed into office parks and shopping centers. The middle class has expanded greatly and with their economic growth has come many typical consumer expectations and needs.
For a small island (only 21 miles by 14 miles), it has a significant population of over 250,000. Most people would self-identify as a “Christian” of some type and about 35% of the population would consider themselves to be evangelical. There are many good local churches of all different types including Methodist, Anglican, Baptist and Pentecostal. Like many churches in the west, however, there is a deep concern among the local clergy for the spiritual health of the next generation. I had the privilege of meeting with one of the most important church leaders on the island and he said there is no longer a generation gap, but instead it is a generation chasm. He is convinced that the church must refocus its energy on young people if it hopes to have a future.
The CLC Bookstore is located on the edge of the downtown area on a main road. It is easy to find and has served the Christian book resource needs on the island for nearly sixty years. Unfortunately, finding parking near the store can be challenging and with the explosive growth of cars and drivers on the island, it has become an even bigger problem over the years. As a result, foot traffic in our store has declined and the store has faced significant economic struggles. Earlier, this year, Wilbert Charles became the new National Director and he is seeking God for a new direction and growth of the ministry in the years to come. It was my joy to work with Wilbert in dreaming about a new future and planning to innovate and not stagnate. Right before I left, Wilbert and I worked on launching the CLC Barbados Facebook page and I pray that this effort to utilize social media will be a part of the move of God to reach this next generation in a way that is relevant and meaningful.