Isabella Walton was amongst a group of energetic young people who headed to the Cook Islands over Summer, not for beach and sun and sublime surrounds, but for something more meaningful.

Embarking on Teen Mission International with the aim to “challenge, train and discipline young people and to channel the enthusiasm and energies of youth into mission work projects and evangelism”, a team of 25 teenagers ranging from age 13 to 19 years, and six leaders, headed to the Cook Islands in December.

Based in Rarotonga at the Youth with a Mission (YWAM) base, construction played a major part of the program, in particular assisting with the construction of the mission’s main building. Isabella said, “The YWAM Cook Islands base is quite poor, so the work we offered was of great help.”

During her stay, Isabella was assigned to ‘work team’ building efforts such as making 12 bunk beds from scratch and the reconstruction of a new set of stairs for the missionaries’ home. Isabella improved her skills in concreting, brick laying and woodwork.

Another experience was building a single room for a well-known resident. “The lady we built for always gave, and never expected anything in return, always giving so much of her time and money to the church, the community and other organisations, despite being incredibly poor herself,” recounts Bella. Such a venture involved levelling the ground, laying a stable foundation, cutting and constructing the frame, and nailing in walls as well as dealing with the monsoon hitting the islands on the last week.

“Painting was the fun bit!” said Bella of one of her personal highlights. “This was a minor job, but one that needed to be done, and one that was definitely enjoyed!”

Isabella’s team had two opportunities to work with the Cook Islands youth including holding a three-day camp at the base for children aged three to 13. The main mission for these three days was to love the children and share about the gospel. Bella said, “Unfortunately on the Cook Islands, a lot of children suffer various hardships.” In an attempt to heal some wounds, they offered involvement in team building activities.

Encouraging the children to support, care, love and help one another was a major part of the camp, “an incredible experience!” says Bella.

On reflection, she said, “We were so lucky to have many opportunities to experience and be involved in Island culture.” The Teen Mission team enjoyed colourful New Year’s Eve celebrations with nearby villages collaborating in dance and song. The mission team was fortunate enough to be included after spending the first three nights practising a traditional Islander song and learning a choreographed dance. Isabella wore a fresh frangipani lai and traditional hairpiece made by the village ladies.

Another highlight was every Sunday in church where the whole service was conducted in Maori. Bella recounts the singing in these churches as “absolutely phenomenal! Like nothing you’ve heard before, so much joy, love and happiness!” The journey provided Isabella with an amazing and an undoubtedly life and perspective changing experience.

Words by Laura Macdougall  |  Images supplied