Snapped brown pine trees, downed electrical poles, mangled steel buildings, destroyed businesses, flattened neighborhoods, churches destroyed, and debris everywhere. That was the sight that greeted Seventh-day Adventist leaders from the Inter-America Division (IAD) during a recent tour of the damage caused by Hurricane Dorian on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Marsh Harbour, Abaco
“You look at it all and think where to start? Where to rebuild? When will it be possible for them [islanders] to restart their life?” said Elie Henry, president of the Adventist church in Inter-America. Henry, along with his fellow administrators, visited several church properties, and member’s homes and their businesses on Sep. 15, in Marsh Harbour, the largest city on Abaco.
Leaders stopped to see Marsh Harbour Adventist Church, which sustained extensive damage to its structure, roof, walls and interior. Most of the church’s 250 members evacuated to Nassau or the United States, said Peter Watson, associate pastor for the Abaco district, who stayed behind to help in the relief efforts.
“Many people died here,” said Watson. “You saw bodies on the ground and rumors of cholera began to spread so people just started to evacuate as quickly as they could.” Watson said very few church members are left.
The Salem Haitian Adventist Church, a wooden structure next to the Marsh Harbour Church, was destroyed. The 120 church members had been working hard to build a new church on a property on a nearby hill, said Wilson Isnord, head pastor for the Abaco district. “The members were looking forward to finishing the church by December,” said Isnord. The cement church seemed safe to many people who took shelter inside during the storm, explained Isnord. “But soon after the storm, eight bodies were found in the church. None were church members.”
“It is very sad to learn that a community of a lot of Haitian people lived right behind here…many looking for a better life and their homes were wiped out,” said Henry, a native of Haiti. “We hope that those on the island can rebuild because where there is life, there is still hope. So we continue to hope the Lord, who spared their lives, will give them hope to rebuild everything and continue to witness of the goodness of the Lord,” said Henry.
The trip was not just about surveying the damage caused by the hurricane, said Henry. “For me it was much more impressive to meet the church members and see the way they have great maturity in their faith. They understood how God saved them after they prayed to God for protection.”
Members making a difference
Nathaniel Hannah, who lives in the Spring City Community, was met by the caravan of leaders who came by to meet him. “It was terrifying what we experienced,” said Hannah. He said during the storm his wife and two children kept praying and singing hymns. “A tree hit our roof, plywood started flying off and the pressure we felt in the house was so powerful…it was crazy,” he said. “When we felt a calm we got in the car, kept singing, got out of the car with a help of a neighbor and headed for shelter at a library building. There were many there taking shelter already.” There is no electricity or running water in his home but Hannah and his wife are currently living there. The children are in Nassau so they can go to school. “This is our home, I didn’t want to leave. God has saved us and will help us through this.”
Hannah is watching several of his neighbors’ homes now. Many have left but check up with him when they can. Church leaders prayed for him and his family and delivered relief supplies.
The Abaco district is personal to Leonard Johnson, executive secretary for the Adventist church in Inter-America. “This is where I started my ministries as a young pastor for three whole years,” said Johnson. “I got a sense of home as I listened and saw in action the work of Peter Watson and Isaac Collie—an Adventist lawyer, business owner and ASi coordinator for the union, though having experience losses in terms of homes and businesses, are very positive, optimistic and confident that the Lord will help rebuild again.”
“Listening to Nathaniel Hannah’s testimony and the others only underscores that we are a disaster or storm away from the possibility of losing everything and our only trust and hope is really God,” said Johnson.
Church financial operations
Looking at the extent of the damage in Abaco, brought some concerns to Filiberto Verduzco, treasurer for the church in the Inter-American Division. “This trip allowed us to let the church in The Bahamas know that we are with them and this is the time to help our brothers and sisters in need, while quantifying ways in which we can help as a church.”
One-third of the financial operations for the church in the North Bahamas Conference which oversees Abaco and Grand Bahama, comes from the membership in Abaco, said Verduzco. “This definitely affects the operation of the local church,” said Verduzco. “Our members are displaced, have lost everything, are not able to work and they are not able to give to the church…but we have a great opportunity to help rebuild churches, help members so they can return to their island and can find normal life again,” said Verduzco.
Verduzco said it is IAD policy to assist church members in rebuilding their lives in the wake of a natural disaster. The Division has sent in funds to assist the union immediately after Hurricane Dorian struck, explained Verduzco. Three IAD Unions have already sent in funds to assist North Bahamas and other unions have pledged to assist in the recovery as well.
“The Atlantic Caribbean Union is assessing the scope of their needs after the hurricane and will present us their plan to help in the rebuilding and relief efforts in the days, weeks and months ahead,” Verduzco said.
Jose Alberto Rodríguez, president of the church in Puerto Rico, took a team from a national television station in Puerto Rico to continue raising funds for those affected by the hurricane. “It’s hard to see the destruction in this place,” said Rodríguez. “My heart is moved by so many affected. We will continue to assist in relief efforts indefinitely.”
The union, through its Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Puerto Rico, has been sending funds every week since the storm struck, said Rodríguez. The funds are assisting feeding programs in Grand Bahama and victims who evacuated to Nassau from Abaco.
Church leaders also traveled to affected areas in Freeport, Grand Bahama, on Sep. 15, to speak to church members, visit damaged church properties and visit on-going relief operations there.
To view a photo gallery of the visit to Marsh Harbour, Abaco, The Bahamas, Click HERE
For more stories on the relief efforts and the church in The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, visit us at interamerica.org