Salvation Army in the Islands: Part Three

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Cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of The Salvation Army's Family Store in the Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands. Turks and Caicos.

The following was contributed by Erik Sundman, Divisional Worship Arts Director for The Salvation Army Northern Division, and is part of a series about how employees of the Northern Division are helping with the new Salvation Army branch of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

We’re all familiar with the relatively small sacrifice required to assist those in the poorest parts of the world. Organizations like Compassion International, Samaritan’s Purse and of course, The Salvation Army are adept at providing amazingly high returns from relatively small investments, in terms of improving the lives of those they help.

Through Kiva and its microlending partners, I’ve made several $25 loans to people in places where $50 or $100 or $500 or $1000 can put a family on a pathway to provision of needs and ongoing self-sufficiency. But how do you help those in a country where the cost of living is astronomical? What if you were desperately poor and lived in a country where nearly everything needed to be imported, and was therefore exponentially more expensive? What if gas cost you $6.50 a gallon and a gallon of milk cost $8.00?

In the Turks and Caicos Islands, $50 or $100 isn’t going to change somebody’s life; it can merely provide a few days’ worth of groceries.

Sadly, one doesn’t need to look very far to see the vast gap between those of extreme means and the less fortunate Turks and Caicos Islander. Hilltop multi-million dollar mansions not only overlook the stunning aqua waters of the Caribbean Sea, but they are also likely to overlook squalid shanty towns or crude, dilapidated houses. Loose banking laws and a corrupt government (so corrupt in fact, that Great Britain, of which the Turks and Caicos Islands are an “Overseas Territory,” rescinded the Islands’ right to self-government back in 2009) have created a haven for the ultra-wealthy, and raised the cost of living in the process.

When a friend heard that I would be going to the Turks and Caicos Islands to do missions work, she reacted as most people seemed to.

“Must be rough.”

She was jealous, with good reason. It’s a spectacularly beautiful country nestled snugly in the Caribbean, which is part of the reason why so many people are keen to visit. On our flight down to the Islands, a fellow traveler asked why The Salvation Army would need to send a missions team to such a paradise. It’s a fair question, when considering what images come to mind when the Turks and Caicos Islands are mentioned. Peerless pristine beaches, uninterrupted relaxation, and unparalleled luxury; these are among the reasons why the well-heeled flock to the Turks and Caicos Islands in droves. My teammate replied that we were going to see parts of the Islands that most tourists avoid. It is in such places that The Salvation Army is meeting the needs of struggling humanity.

It’s easy to take awareness for granted. The Salvation Army ministers in 124 countries throughout the world, but what happens when it decides to begin working in a new country for the first time? It’s easy to forget that in some parts of the world, the Red Shield, the red Christmas kettles, and the uniforms worn by Salvation Army officers and soldiers are unfamiliar to those who encounter them. What if there is no legacy of service to draw from? What if there is nothing in place to inform those in need that The Salvation Army is there to help them? How can you find opportunities to demonstrate God’s love when people don’t know who you are?

Captains Matt and Rebecca Trayler must have asked themselves similar questions as they disembarked their plane at Providenciales International Airport four years ago. As the Turks and Caicos Salvation Army’s first officers, they were charged with finding ways to serve their new neighbors, but they had to deal with some extreme limitations. The Army didn’t own a church building where they could minister, an office space where they could work, or a house they could call home.

The Traylers prayed for wisdom, direction, strength, guidance, humility, patience. And God heard their prayers. Today The Salvation Army has a solid foundation on the Islands and is helping young and old alike.

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Click here to read Salvation Army in the Islands Part One.

Click here to read Salvation Army in the Islands Part Two.

Click here to read the entire series from The Salvation Army Northern Division.