Written by Dr. Steve Whitaker, Head of School

As Central Floridians, there is no way that we can forget Hurricane Dorian and the devastation that it left in its wake in the Bahamas. At TFA, we served with First Baptist Orlando in collecting and sending many needed supplies down to the Bahamas in the weeks following Dorian’s three-day stay there. Over the Christmas break, some of our TFA families and faculty members made a trip to the Bahamas to serve and assist in the continued restoration in Freeport. I was able to catch up with Kara Pastis (3rd-grade teacher) and Fran Schuessler (6th-grade teacher) to learn more about their incredible journey and their passion to make an impact for Christ over the break.

After a long break last year at Christmas, Mrs. Pastis and her husband were tossing around the idea of a mission trip for their family. After Hurricane Dorian spent three days in the Bahamas, they knew that they wanted to focus on recovery there. Rick Schuessler (Mrs. Schuessler’s husband) runs Champs Missions and has been doing mission work in the Bahamas for 30 years. It was easy for him to find some needs in Freeport (where he currently runs the Falcons Boys Club). The area suffered extensive damage and even in the early stages of their planning, the airport wasn’t even open yet. Mrs. Pastis reached out to some friends (and their kids had some say) and they gathered a group of six families who committed to and funded the trip. TFA families that made the trip were the Pastis Family (Adam/Kara, Emma – 10th, Zoey – 8th, Luke – 6th), the Millar Family (Rich/Lisa, Emma – 10th, JR – 9th, Jack – 7th), the Miller Family (Eric/Megan, Harrison – 10th, Hadley – 9th) , the Bronson Family (Haley/Jenny, Dean – 10th, Anna – 8th), and Rick and Fran Schuessler. Another family from First Presbyterian, where Kara and her husband attend church, also joined them. The group worked in the Bahamas for three days, with some families staying longer to serve.

While they were in Freeport, their crew put a roof on a preschool building and painted two buildings at the Grand Bahama Children’s Home. The roofing crew had a contractor guiding them and they worked to clear off the old roof as well as lay the new roof in strips. Mrs. Pastis told me that this work was incredibly difficult, and those folks worked HARD. Mostly the men and boys worked on this project, with the younger guys having important jobs that were needed! The storm surge was waist high at the Children‘s Home, and while, thankfully, they were all (dramatically) rescued, they were left with nothing. The children were all sent off to homes in Nassau and other surrounding islands.

Recovery is slow all over Grand Bahama, but the Children’s Home had a contractor come on January 6 to begin work on the interior of the buildings. They are hoping to welcome the children back home at the end of February. The group was invited to the “Party In The Backyard” when the children come back. Mrs. Pastis sure hopes they can make that trip happen – her kids are dying to go back. While they were on the property painting, they found signs of the kids strewn all over the grounds and they said that it was heartbreaking. The girls on the trip also decided that they want to somehow raise money to buy supplies, toys, and clothes for the kids.

Mrs. Pastis shared that the hardest part of the trip was getting to the Bahamas. She said that Grand Bahama is HARDLY back up and running and the area where they worked was a poor area. They took a trip “over the bridge” to the East End of town where the wealthier people lived. The storm surge was the highest there and nothing survived. People were clinging to life on their roofs. They learned that It’s a total ghost town and still without power. Most of those residents just up and left. In a final note, Mrs. Pastis shared that the people of Freeport were welcoming and gracious. They really connected with several people they encountered (their bus driver, the woman Rick hired to cook for them, etc), and got some real personal stories of survival and hope. They will remain in touch with many that they met and hope to go back to continue to help with recovery.

This is truly a story of service, hope, and what can happen when our teachers and families come together to serve others and in turn, serve our Lord. We are Stronger Together and make a real impact when we serve together. I look forward to hearing more updates from Mrs. Pastis, Mrs. Schuessler, and the TFA families who were on the trip.

We want to hear more about how your family serves! If you have served in the community this year, contact our Communications Office today! Interested in participating in a Mission Trip or project? Contact Pastor Flores to get connected and learn more!