“You are not alone. Your church family is with you and God is touching many hearts all over the world to help you endure through this process,” Peter Kerr, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Atlantic Caribbean Union, as he spoke to dozens of church members who evacuated Abaco and Grand Bahama after Hurricane Dorian destroyed their homes and communities earlier this month.
The nearly 100 displaced members gathered at the Hillview Adventist Church in Nassau, Bahamas, on Sep. 14, 2019. Many were driven by bus to pray, complete the process of registering each church family taking shelter on the island, provide information on how to apply for government housing placement and assistance, and receive goods as they stay in homes and shelters across the island indefinitely.
“We wanted to see you, talk to you, listen to the experiences you are having, and let you know that we care for you,” said Kerr. “Although this may take time, we will get through this together.”
Support coming in
Kerr shared how church leaders across the Inter-American Division and its many unions are praying and offering assistance to the people affected by the hurricane in The Bahamas.
Inter-American Division Executive Secretary Leonard Johnson brought a special message of encouragement to the gathering on behalf of his fellow administrators and union administrators across the territory. “Your pain is our pain, and your loss is our loss,” said Johnson. “When something happens to you, know that you are not alone.” The Division has already sent funds to help with the many feeding and assistance provided to the members, he said.
Johnson encouraged members as he read Psalm 46. “Good is going to come out of this. Let’s keep the faith, believe in our God, in our church and lets support one another,” he said.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International office emergency response team, as well as ADRA Inter-America’s director, shared the assessment and projects in place like hygiene kits throughout shelters in Nassau.
“We want you to know that we are not here just for a couple of weeks but for the long term,” said Edwin Flores, ADRA International emergency response coordinator. Flores said that ADRA would be distributing cash vouchers to assist those affected within the church and the community by the end of the week.
Destroyed homes and businesses
Gentry Morris, a church elder from the Marsh Harbour Adventist Church in Abaco, has been busy ever since he fled his home a week ago with his family. His wife and two sons made it through the hurricane winds and storm surge that destroyed their home and the more than 350 client’s homes who insured their properties through his insurance company. “I can’t speak to friends about my experience because I end up crying,” said Morris. Morris took shelter right when Hurricane Dorian hit Abaco through the water, stayed there for a week before his son’s friend from aviation school secured a flight to Nassau for the family.
“Everyone here has been through the storm and has a personal story,” said Morris. “I am strengthened by a God who cares for His own and, despite the destruction, struggles and challenges before us, I believe God will help us make it through,” he said. “Let’s not despair for there are better days coming.”
As soon as Morris arrived on the island, he made himself available to help in any way possible. He was given the responsibility to track church members who evacuated Abaco and has been visiting and filling out all members’ information for the Atlantic Caribbean Union. He also informed those gathered at the Hillview Adventist Church about the assistance they can get from the National Emergency Management Agency in The Bahamas, as they do not have employment, have loans, and need to survive as they rebuild their lives.
Assistance to members in shelters
Those staying in shelters receive toiletries and warm meals every day. The meals are prepared by church members under the coordination of the South Bahamas Conference. The conference has been functioning as a command center since the hurricane struck, said Kenny Deveaux, president for the church in the South Bahamas Conference based in Nassau. A team of Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries deliver about 100 meals throughout the centers since church members prefer vegetarian meals.
Deveaux said the conference has been coordinating aid to assist all those evacuated and set up a hotline where people can call in and express their needs and pray with someone. “We have our ministers and health professionals to help those suffering during this crisis,” said Deveaux.
The Inter-American Division (IAD), through its Adventist Volunteer Services, and with additional sponsorship from Adventist Mission, IAD Publishing Association and children’s ministries department, donated more than 120 backpacks filled with school supplies to go towards dozens of children and throughout the shelters.
Tammy Dean’s three nieces, ages 8, 10, and 12, were among the dozens of children who benefitted from the backpacks. They wore smiles as they got to choose a stuffed animal. Dean’s sister and husband are back home in Freeport, Grand Bahama, where they stayed to find work while the kids get enrolled in public school in Nassau for now while they live with her. Dean heard about the church’s distribution of backpacks through her mother who took care of them last week. “I have to go back to work this week and have to get them enrolled in school but in the meantime I try to keep them distracted from the trauma they experienced,” said Dean.
Dean heard that the church will be holding counseling sessions for victims of Hurricane Dorian so she wants to bring her nieces to make sure they can process what they have gone through back at home and adjust to a new school away from their mom and dad.
Clautide Dormeus feels like she lived through a nightmare which still is not over. The hurricane destroyed her home in Abaco and flattened The Salem Adventist Church where she served as the assistant treasurer. “The church simply disappeared and the new church that was being built was completely destroyed too,” said Dormeus.
“It’s like I was sleeping and I woke up and saw the town destroyed, no grocery store, no gas station, everything destroyed,” she said. Dormeus, her husband and her 20-year-old daughter were able to seek safety in a shelter and then evacuate to Nassau where they are staying in a shelter. She worked as a teacher and knows that it will take a long time for things to get back to normal. But, she says, “I know God loves us and He will continue to see us through and will restore us again so this is a time to get ready for His soon coming.”
Church members were able to voice their questions on relocation, rebuilding efforts, and more.
Taking ownership of the crisis
“There are scores of Adventist believers from different parts of the world who are seeking to help with construction, site clearing, and your church here is exploring all those possibilities, and once we know the extent of the damage done to each one of you, we will be happy to share this information with those offering to assists us,” said Kerr.
Kerr encouraged every Adventist affected to take ownership of the crisis. “This is not the prime minister’s problem, it is not the government’s problem, nor is it the church’s problem. It is my problem. I have a crisis and I have to do my best to help my brother and sister in need,” he said. He commended the churches who have moved fast across the Atlantic Caribbean Union to assist in the midst of this crisis.
“When you get back to your regular church, have a serious talk with your pastor and let your pastor know what you can do to help. Let the response begin with you. Let’s hold each other’s hand and walk together through this,” said Kerr.
For more stories on the relief efforts and the church in The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, visit us at interamerica.org
Also, to assist victims of the hurricane in The Bahamas through ADRA International go to adra.org