An “oasis in the desert,” a “lighthouse in the tempest,” a “shelter from the darkness,” a ministry center in the swamp. The ‘Belize Camping Experience Base’ can be compared to and considered all these things to many, with the reality of it being, well, the latter.
To some “The Base” on its own might not be immediately striking as anything much other than just buildings, mangroves, murky water, trees, or anything else you can think about that you can easily find at the base.
A swamp in the middle of the highway for sure is not an ideal to make a home, ministry center, or host any of the other extraordinary things we all know happens here.
I’m sure our directors Leah and Alexander heard that countless times during the early phase of setting up their ministry and family. I’m sure they might still hear that comment from time to time. And to be honest I thought of the same thing when I came here around 3 years ago for the first time.
Yet the narrative around how the base began has seldom been given attention. Getting the answers to how we got here will inevitably allow us to see the base in a different light. This is why its story is important.
If we are to start somewhere in all that has happened at BCE and how it got to this point, then it is only appropriate to start with that place where all the “magic” happens. The place I now call home.
In my interview with Leah, we started by discussing how the ministry started which eventually led to the establishment of the base here at 4.5 miles on the George Price highway. In 2008 when Leah and Alexander had just gotten married, they were renting an apartment in Belize City. Leah explains, “we did everything out of there. It was just the two of us. But we were struggling because the kids of the neighborhood figured it out quickly, we were doing children’s ministry and they were always banging on our doors, always wanting to hangout. So, we knew we needed someplace with a little more space”.
Kids banging on my door- as much as I love kids and children’s ministry- would prompt me or anyone else to look for a better place to carry out ministry.
In their search for a place, they connected with Alexander’s long-time mentor and friend who offered him the location where the base is currently on. Leah recalls the conversation with him, “on the western highway, if you go to this point, there is a hidden driveway in the middle of the mangrove. A small clearing surrounded by mangrove. Go take a look around.” As Leah crudely puts it “we were young and dumb enough to go for it”.
If you look at the base now, while it is still surrounded by mangroves, it is a much better sight.
The work that has been done, speaks immensely of the vision the directors and everyone else that had a part to play in the founding of the base.
They took what God had given to them and became good stewards of it.
By the middle of 2009, they had bought a home and had moved it from the city to the property to start their life there. Leah recounts: “There was no water, no electricity, just the two of us. And the sandflies were so bad that the dog was crying at night.” The sandflies never took a break since then, but the work continued on the site nevertheless.
Leah remembers proudly “It was completely covered in mangrove. So much so that we couldn’t see the beach as we can. It was just a thick jungle of mangroves… I remember chopping, helping to chop. I was so proud of myself, I chopped until one hand was full of blisters, then I would use my other hand until both my hands were full of blisters.” That raw and explicit account is a testament to the work it took Alexander, Leah and everyone else involved to establish the base where it now sits.
For about the first 7 months they had no electricity and for about 1.5 years they had no running water or indoor plumbing. They lived in this place and began to make it their own, and used it for ministry since it is all they had to offer.
In due time many of the buildings we now see today at the base were established. The victory house and the alliance house, are both used to house volunteers during summer and now also interns and BCE missionaries throughout the year. The kitchen once built easily became the most important place at the base. The office and snack shop were also built after that. Yes, the work has come a long way and each building has a story of its own of the donors and builders who helped make it all happen.
Of all the development Leah says, “whenever we have been faithful of using the little, He has been faithful to give us more. And when we max out,(use all our resources fully that is) he has given more to meet that need. And now we are believing that God will give us what we dream of next, as we have just about maxed out this space.”
An insight into the development and the story of the base has come to be, has led us to this invaluable nugget of wisdom. (Matthew 13:12)
The directors have been faithful, hardworking, sacrificial to see the base is established with the vision of how this place will be used as a tool to help see Belize change Belize.
In her closing remarks, Leah states, “I hope [the BCE base] is seen as a community and that everybody sees it that way. When you come in summer and see 35-40 girls in the bunkhouse and 15 boys in the other building and a volunteer family staying in the guest room and the kitchen is packed; the buildings are just buildings, but it all makes sense when you see them being used.”
For many of us that have served, grown, and learned to cherish this place we might have not heard many of the details surrounding its establishment. Yet many of us have beheld its purpose because in some manner has been part of this great vision and purpose of the ministry.
They are not just buildings in the middle of the swamp, but a COMMUNITY exactly where it needs to be.