One year after Hurricane Dorian destroyed the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama in The Bahamas, there are still reminders of the devastation and much remains to be rebuilt.
With the coronavirus pandemic still threatening in an island territory heavily dependent on tourism, Seventh-day Adventist leaders took time to pray for the nation. During a special September 4 online program, they expressed gratitude for God's mercy and His protection during the current hurricane season and the pandemic crisis.
“We are here to thank God for how far He has brought us, for we recognize that, but for the Lord, where would we be?” said Eric D. Clarke, president of the North Bahamas Conference, at the start of the program. “We went through a special and particular way through Hurricane Dorian, but we want to reflect on how God has been so gracious to us.”
Church leaders read Scripture verses, prayed together, and listened to church members who are still praising God for His providence after the surging winds and waves that touched their lives.
Eric Auguste can’t forget his family’s ordeal in his home in Abaco that night of September 1, 2019. The 185-mile-per-hour (298 kph) hurricane winds tore through his house, took his right arm, and swept his mother away. “It was tough, very tough to go through,” Auguste said. Since then, he has endured many surgeries and has been able to recover in the United States with his family. “I could only make it through thanks to the power of God,” he said in a video clip. “God helped me with medical expenses, a place to stay, to get my life back together.”
William Brown, a church member in Freeport, Grand Bahama, stood in front of the place where he and his family had to swim from their house in seven to eight feet of water to get to safety as the hurricane raged on. “I thank God even right now because He brought us through this. If it weren’t for the love and grace of God, my family and I would not be here,” Brown said. “I stood on His Word that He will never leave us nor forsake us.”
Wilson Isnord, who was the pastor of the two churches in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, reflected on the day before the hurricane struck. He went through communities with a loudspeaker, warning residents to take shelter before the storm. Isnord and his family survived the surging waters and had to flee to a shelter, he said.
Amid so many families still grieving the loss of their loved ones, still struggling to rebuild their lives, disrupted by the pandemic crisis, there is still hope in God and His goodness, church leaders said during the online program.
“Looking Back Must Propel Us to Look Ahead”
Leonard Johnson, executive secretary of the Inter-American Division (IAD) of the Adventist Church and former president of the Atlantic Caribbean Union, encouraged members and viewers to use every opportunity for growth without fear. “In the midst of the trials and tribulations, God has a purpose for us,” Johnson said. “God has given us power, love, and good judgment to keep going forward. Our looking back must propel us to look ahead.”
Hiram Lewis of the Ministry of Disaster Management in The Bahamas government thanked the Adventist Church for its unfailing commitment to providing relief and spiritual leadership in the islands. “As we move forward in our recovery, we give thanks for the lives being restored,” Lewis said. “We still have a long way to go, but we declare that with God’s help, all things are possible.”
Deputy Leader of the Opposition the Honorable Chester Cooper thanked the church leadership for putting on the special prayer meeting for the nation. He pleaded for the church to keep displaced persons in prayer and continue to do all it can to provide basic needs to those affected. “Please continue to pray for the government and the opposition, as nation-building is heavy lifting,” Cooper said.
Peter Kerr, president of the Adventist Church in the Atlantic Caribbean Union, which oversees the work in The Bahamas, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos, said there are still many needs in Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
“The forced lockdowns have slowed some of our efforts to rebuild, volunteers are no longer traveling, and so we are doing the best we can with limited funds, limited skills, and workers,” Kerr said. For now, Abaco has been cleared of a lot of debris and has returned to some sense of normalcy, he explained.
“For the first two quarters of the year, church members were more scattered across different islands, but many have returned since the summer to try to repair their properties and find employment on the island,” Kerr said. The pandemic has disrupted church meetings, but the two congregations in Marsh Harbour have been meeting online for weekly worship programs. Lowered restrictions will allow for in-person worship services with a limited group of members, he said.
Great Abaco Island
The Marsh Harbour Adventist church membership had been meeting together with the Salem Haitian Adventist church group at the Long Bay School, a school owned by a church member, before the pandemic. Both have seen 50 percent of their members return to the island.
Kerr said the site of the destroyed Salem Haitian Adventist church has been cleared for a new structure to go up. “There’s a new plan submitted to the government for a temporary structure to be placed on the site, to include a concrete slab and wooden frame,” he said.
Peter Watson, who has remained on Abaco as pastor for the congregations and coordinating the rebuilding, said the new structure is expected to be completed before the end of the year.
According to Watson, the rebuilding slowed and changed during the lockdown, as a team from the United States had been planning to assist with the project, but church leaders moved quickly to do what they could to plan for a place to worship.
“Salem church members are eager to have their home church to continue impacting the community here,” Watson said.
Church leaders are looking for options for the Marsh Harbour Adventist church to relocate and build a new place of worship, since Dorian heavily damaged the structure.
It’s a challenge, Kerr said. “We are still dealing with real needs that exist among the people on the islands. Folks are doing the best they can with what they have,” he said. Many villages are still without electricity because of the nature of the repair that needs to be done in Abaco.
Grand Bahama is in much better shape, Kerr said. “The church is managing well, but there are still housing needs and the repairing of homes to be completed.”
Because of the pandemic, Grand Bahama Academy has been hit hard financially, since it’s more difficult for parents to send their children to private schools. “Our challenge is for teachers to be paid when fewer students have registered for the school year,” Kerr said. The school is scheduled to reopen in September for online learning thanks to a supply of tablets and equipment supplied by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Bahamas.
There have been 74 deaths related to COVID-19 in The Bahamas, with more than 2,500 positive cases as of the first week of September, according to national statistics.
ADRA Puerto Rico has also assisted in funding repairs of dozens of homes. “Just two weeks ago, we received additional funds from Puerto Rico to assist with roof repairs and household effects for ten more families,” Kerr said. “We appreciate assistance from donors and friends who have not forgotten us in our struggles and still reach out.”
Despite the disruption of the pandemic and the uncertainty and anxiety that many people feel, the church has doubled its efforts across the islands to offer hope. Many churches have engaged in online evangelistic efforts. As a result, more than 50 new believers have joined the church in the past two months, Kerr said.
Continue Rebuilding Efforts
“We take care of each other with what we have, and the Lord continues to bless us,” Kerr said. The sense of family among Adventists around the world is something that has deeply moved him ever since the hurricane came through. “I have learned to appreciate so much more the love and compassion, the affection, concern, and support that we received from our Adventist Church community.”
It’s about how “we have to value each other,” Kerr said. “Take no one for granted. Appreciate the blessings that God gives you, the comforts and conveniences that we enjoy each day.” It’s about appreciating the opportunity to improve the lives of others and their livelihood.
“We are only as strong as we seek to make others strong, and we are only as safe as we seek to make others safe,” Kerr said. “God will continue to see us through, and we continue to pray for His protection and guidance.”