By Carol Anne Eby
Garrett Mitman, a high school junior from Wisconsin, U.S., visited the Turks and Caicos Islands (in the Caribbean) while on vacation with his family. Garrett describes himself as a basketball junkie, loving the game and using every spare moment to improve his game. While practicing dribbling drills on the resort’s court, he was approached by one of the workers, who suggested, “You should go off site and play with my nephew.” That sounded like an adventure, so he set out, not knowing this would lead to a life-changing experience.
When he walked up to the Bight Community Court, he got a lot of strange looks from the other players. He figured perhaps he was the first tourist to play with them, but when he started to play, he became just one of the guys. They invited him back night after night, and their kindness touched his heart. He witnessed that basketball had the power to bring people together.
When Garrett returned to the States, he felt he had left a piece of his heart with his new friends.
Garrett wondered how he could give something back to them. Going to his computer, he began to research. He discovered there was a Nazarene pastor in Turks and Caicos who had a thriving basketball ministry with youth. Five days later he had a Skype call with Pastor Nathalie Sweeting. They discovered they shared a love of basketball and a desire to improve the Bight Court.
The court had cracks and was so uneven that two players had actually broken legs. He hoped to get the court resurfaced and acquire new bleachers so more of the community could come together to watch the games.
Garrett filed as a corporation. Island Hoops Project (http://www.islandhoopsproject.org/) is now an official non-profit organization. He set a goal to raise $25,000 for resurfacing and extending the court, replacing backboards and hoops, installing bleachers, extending the fence, and adding dusk to dawn lighting.
Pastor Sweeting got the go-ahead from the island’s Minister of Parliament so that Island Hoops Project would receive public charity status from the IRS, making donations tax-deductible. She rounded up some of the teens Garrett had played with and they offered their help. Garrett has been interviewed on TV, giving the project good press in the Turks and Caicos.
As of early November 2015, over $12,000 has been raised. Once renovations are completed, tournaments and other activities hosted at the Bight Court will provide funds for necessary maintenance as well as opportunities for developing youth leadership and a positive basketball community.
A “Genesis” in Turks and Caicos
Sweeting and her family launched the Church of the Nazarene in Turks and Caicos in 2009, after God orchestrated their move to the Caribbean island nation from their home in the Bahamas, originally for her husband’s work. They had been lay leaders in their Nazarene church there, but in their new home, there was no Nazarene church.
Opening the denomination in Turks and Caicos fit perfectly with the Mesoamerica Region’s strategic plan for developing the church in 23 major urban centers of the region, and five island nations where the denomination previously had no presence. Regional leaders connected with the Sweetings, who were already in Turks and Caicos and motivated to plant Nazarene work.
Sweeting got things rolling with the basketball ministry to youth.
Early in their ministry in the Turks and Caicos, Sweeting was drawn to ministry to youth and she and her husband visited a nearby basketball court where teen boys were shooting hoops. She asked them if they would like to start a basketball team. They were enthusiastic and brought their friends to a meeting with the pastor. She explained that anyone who wanted to play would be required to attend a church youth meeting once a week.
A league of 10 teams with 15 players each was formed and Pastor Sweeting not only led her church team but was chaplain for the league. From this beginning, a number of youth found Jesus as their Savior, and became a core of the church. Since 2009, Pastor Sweeting has served as the assistant secretary for the Providenciales Basketball Association, treasurer, assistant treasurer, chaplain, and now action as vice president.
The church also has an adult team called Nazarene Kings.
In June 2012, a group of JESUS Film workers led by Rev. Darrell Leber visited the church and showed the film in different parts of the community. About 120 persons gave their lives to God. In October, Pastor Sweeting was officially installed as the senior pastor of the Holy Ghost Church of the Nazarene. The church held a three-day revival with three pastors from the Bahamas plus the district superintendent leading the services as well as the Sweeting extended family coming from the Bahamas in support.
Meeting challenges head on
At this time, the church was growing physically and spiritually. But hard times would come. Living on a Caribbean island with the wind, rain and lots of heat — sometimes up to 100 degrees or more (F) — the church tent became unbearably hot. Many left the church, and the Sweetings went before God to ask for new vision.
In June 2014, the church rented a building where a pre-school was held and Nazarene Technical Institute was born. They offered nightly English classes for adults (highly desired by their Haitian parishioners) as well as computer and theology classes. Nineteen students enrolled, and though many could not even afford the very low fee to help pay the teachers, the church was able to keep the school open. The building was also the answer for a relocation from the tent that was now full of holes and unbearably hot. Services were held there for about a year.
The year 2014 was a time of change for the church. In April the church received the message that the school was being sold. A month later, the Sweetings learned their landlord was selling the house they lived in. Attendance at the school and church were declining and Nathalie confessed she often sat in her vehicle on Sunday mornings crying out to God for direction.
Another blow came in November when their assistant pastor went to the U.S. to conduct a seminar, then decided to marry and relocate. As he had been a widower for nine years, they were happy for him, but sad they were losing his leadership in the church and school.
God answered prayer and the Sweetings found another place to live; they were able to have services in the members’ homes temporarily until just a few weeks ago, they held their first service in a newly rented, beautiful sanctuary. They also took in new assistant pastor Fred Cyriaque and his wife Fabuola (photo right). They credit the prayers and support of their children, grandchildren, and friends, Dr. Alvin Hepburn, Pastor Ruth Brown, and Sweeting’s sister Janet Turnquest, for getting them through the difficult times.
The Sweetings’ persistence has paid off. With new energy, new leadership and a new location, and now the support of Garrett’s nonprofit to infuse new energy and resources into the basketball ministry, things are looking up for the continued development of the church in Turks and Caicos.
This article was originally posted on 24 Nov. at Engage Magazine, a global mission magazine of the Church of the Nazarene.