Days after Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean Island of Dominica, leaving buildings, homes, roads, and trees in shambles, Seventh-day Adventist leaders visited with local church leaders and members to offer solidarity, assess their needs and be updated on churches and schools. The Category 5 storm was one of the strongest to hit the island, killing dozens of people, overflowing rivers, destroying bridges and leaving the island without power, food, water, and communication.
“There is destruction all around,” said Pastor Samuel Telemaque, Sabbath School director for the church in Inter-America who visited his homeland on Sep. 24-27. “There are no trees, no more coconut trees, no more banana trees. You can see one end of the island to the other, it seemed so transparent,” said Telemaque, who grew up in Dominica and experienced Hurricane David in 1979, an event which has been etched in his mind. “I have never seen anything like this,” he said.
Sent by the Inter-American Division (IAD) with Pastor Aston O’Neil, Community Services director for the church in the Caribbean, Pastor Telemaque met with church leaders in Roseau, the capital city and surrounding parts of the island during the four-day visit.
All of the more than 7,000 church members in Dominica have been affected by the storm. “Our members need assistance in rebuilding their lives,” said Telemaque.
Need of Food and Relief Supplies
“There is a tremendous need of food, water, toiletries, materials for housing, and psychological aid,” said Pastor Felix Jack, district pastor in Dominica, recently appointed as the Ministerial Secretary for the East Caribbean Conference which services the islands of Barbados and Dominica.
“Many have sunk in the spirit of hopelessness and despair, and we really need to bring some measure of hope and relief to them and the community,” said Jack.
Nearly all of the 34 Adventist Churches in Dominica were completely destroyed, except for five which sustained damage but can be used, local church leaders reported.
The four Adventist Schools on the island sustained severe damage, reported Ursula Edwin, principal of the Roseau Adventist primary school. “Persons have vandalized and removed all computers and laptops from the schools, even books were taken,” said Edwin.
There’s a lot of work to be done in the schools, said Edwin. “It’s a start over. We are not sure how to even begin, but we are hopeful and know that something good will work out for us.”
Members Need Encouragement
Hope and encouragement are what the membership and the people in Dominica need, said Telemaque. He encouraged members that “beyond the clouds the sky is still shinning, the sky is still blue.” Reflecting on Isaiah 61:3, Telemaque reassured leaders and members that God will take away the ashes and bring beauty, and “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
“You as people of Dominica are strong and resilient, and you will rise again and be moved to greater heights,” said Telemaque.
Besides spiritual encouragement, pastors across the island need food, tarps, cash, and gasoline to be able to visit and help members and the surrounding communities affected.
“Everything is shut down, the banks, the supermarkets, the whole infrastructure and we need to make sure leaders can get to ministering to the members,” explained Telemaque. “They are running out of the supplies they had from before the hurricane, but it is going to be desperation times next week.”
Telemaque met with leaders from St. Lucia and said logistics are in place for a container to be filled with food, water, and supplies to reach the church membership in Dominica. The IAD is releasing the funds to get the relief supplies to them as soon as possible next week, explained Telemaque.
After much needed basic supplies, leaders need to find options for congregations to be able to gather for worship every week, Telemaque said.
ADRA in Action
Two days after the storm, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in the East Caribbean Conference based in Barbados, sent a container of food, water, toiletries, tarps, bedding and hygiene kits, said Colin Thorne, ADRA Coordinator in East Caribbean. The goods were distributed by the government to people in need.
“There is not just one community affected but the entire country”
During his recent visit last week, Thorne said he met with government officers in Dominica for updates on the needs and briefly toured the only accessible parts in Roseau. “Landslides and broken bridges have prevented access to other parts of the island,” said Thorne. Looting and vandalism are among other criminal activities occurring, he added.
Part of the strategic plan to assist in the wake of the hurricane will include fundraising to assist in sending food, water, tarps, and medical supplies, as well as volunteers to clean up, skilled professional volunteers to help rebuild, and counseling services, reported Thorne.
ADRA Coordinator in Dominica Priscilla Prevost said that the government is looking for partnership with the Seventh-day Adventist Church through its relief agency. “They know ADRA has been there because the houses that were built after Hurricane Erika were built are still standing as a testimony that we do good work,” said Prevost. “They are looking to us for help, and we want to make sure to assist those in the community.”
“There is not just one community affected but the entire country,” Prevost said.