To mark the first anniversary of the people’s perseverance in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) government hosted a national commemorative service in Tortola. United as hurricane survivors, the more than 800 attendees, including residents, politicians, business executives, and spiritual leaders, reflected on the nation’s rebuilding efforts at the government’s Administration Complex in early September 2018.
Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, struck the British Virgin Islands during the daylight hours of September 6, 2017, causing widespread destruction and taking four lives. The hurricane left extensive damage to property and infrastructure in the territory, and caused significant levels of depopulation, officials reported.
“As we recognize and celebrate how far we have come, today is also a day to rejuvenate ourselves to continue our recovery,” said Governor Augustus Jaspert during the thanksgiving, reflection, and restoration service.
The governor warned residents not to be complacent in continuing restoration efforts. Despite having accomplished a lot since the hurricanes ravaged the territory, the journey to rebuilding is far from finished. “There is still a lot to do,” Jaspert said.
“We worked hard to come up with temporary solutions to get homes, businesses, and services up and running again. These were vital and commendable and allowed us to function again. However, we need to guard against complacency. We must not allow temporary solutions to become permanent,” Jaspert emphasized. “We must not get used to this state.”
Several speakers celebrated the progress the territory has had over the past year, and representatives from faith communities highlighted the mercy and goodness of God in the lives of residents.
Representing the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Tortola, Pastor Howard Simon shared remarks of hope and invited the gathering to take personal inventory. “That is why we are here,” Simon said. “It gives us the opportunity to reflect on where God brought us from and contemplate on what is to come. We cannot live in the past but in the hope of the coming of Christ.” As he built his address around biblical lepers in Luke 17:11-19, Simon said Irma made the British Virgin Islands ugly and leprous.
“Our hillsides looked as if they were burnt with fire, and our beaches, buildings, and homes were broken, battered, or blown away,” Simon said. Though Irma was a terrible storm, and many would declare that it was worse than leprosy, he said, there is something beyond both leprosy and Irma.
Simon lifted their attention from the landscape of hurt and pain. “Hurricane Irma stole everything from us, but a day is coming when Jesus returns for His children, when there will be no more hurricanes, no more sickness, and no more sin, because the former things will have passed away.”
He also reminded attendees that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the British Virgin Islands, through its Community Services and Adventist Development Relief Agency (ADRA), was among the first responders in the aftermath of the hurricane.
The church provided immediate relief in the form of hot meals and gifts of food and personal items. ADRA offered extended support to the educational system of the British Virgin Islands by providing grief counseling, cleaning and portable toilets for schools, and generators for some schools that did not have electricity, as well as food packages for 500 families.
Church leaders reported that the Road Town and Carrot Bay Adventist churches were destroyed by the hurricane and both still need to be rebuilt. The Belle View Adventist Church still needs repairs to its roof. The Adventist primary and secondary school on Tortola began its school year recently with 341 students, the highest enrollment to date.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the British Virgin Islands, which is composed of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada, has 2,000 church members in eight congregations. The islands are overseen by the North Caribbean Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which also operates the British Virgin Islands SDA School, an accredited institution with a primary and a secondary division.