“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,” said Peter Kerr, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Atlantic Caribbean Union (ATCU) as he spoke to dozens of church members who evacuated Abaco and Grand Bahama islands after Hurricane Dorian destroyed their homes and communities in early September 2019.
The nearly 100 displaced members gathered at the Hillview Adventist church in Nassau, Bahamas, on September 14. Many were driven by bus to the church, where they had the opportunity to pray, complete the process of registering each church family taking shelter on the island, provide information to apply for government housing placement and assistance, and receive donated goods as they stay in homes and shelters across the island.
“We wanted to see you, talk to you, listen to the experiences you are having, and let you know that we care for you,” Kerr said. “Although this may take time, we will get through this together.”
Support Coming In
Kerr shared how church leaders across the Inter-American Division (IAD) and its many unions are praying for and offering assistance to the people affected by the hurricane in the Bahamas.
IAD executive secretary Leonard Johnson brought a message of encouragement to the gathering on behalf of his fellow division and union administrators across the territory. “Your pain is our pain, and your loss is our loss,” Johnson said. “When something happens to you, know that you are not alone.” IAD officials have already sent funds to help with food and assistance to be provided to members, he said.
Johnson encouraged members as he read Psalm 46 from the Bible. “Good is going to come out of this,” he said. “Let’s keep the faith, believe in our God, in our church, and let’s support one another.”
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International office emergency response team, as well as the ADRA director in Inter-America, shared their assessment and the projects put in place, such as hygiene kits sent to 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 noted 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, said he has been busy since he fled his home with his family. His wife and two sons made it through the hurricane winds and storm surge that destroyed their home and the homes of the more than 350 clients who insured their properties through his insurance company.
“I can’t speak to friends about my experience because I end up crying,” Morris said. He took shelter as Hurricane Dorian hit Abaco and stayed in the shelter for a week before a friend of his son from aviation school secured a flight to Nassau for the family.
“Everyone here has been through the storm and has a personal story,” Morris said. “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 better days are coming.”
As soon as Morris arrived in Nassau, he made himself available to help in any way possible. He was given the responsibility to track church members who had evacuated Abaco, and he has been visiting them and gathering information for ATCU. He was able to inform those gathered at the Hillview Adventist church about the assistance they can get from the National Emergency Management Agency in the Bahamas, since they no longer have employment or access to loans and need to survive while they rebuild their lives.
Assistance to Members in Shelters
Evacuees staying in shelters receive toiletries and warm meals every day. Church members prepare meals under the coordination of the South Bahamas Conference (SBC). The conference has been functioning as a command center since the hurricane struck, said Kenny Deveaux, SBC president. A team of volunteers from Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASi) delivered 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,” he said.
The IAD, through its Adventist Volunteer Services, and with additional sponsorship from Adventist Mission, the IAD regional publishing house, and the division’s Children’s Ministries department, donated more than 120 backpacks filled with school supplies to help dozens of children return to school.
Tammy Dean’s three nieces, aged 8, 10, and 12, were among the dozens of children who benefited from the backpack donations. They wore smiles as they got to choose a stuffed animal. Dean’s sister and husband returned home to Freeport, Grand Bahama, to find work while the three girls attend a public school in Nassau. Dean heard about the church’s distribution of backpacks through her mother. “I have to go back to work this week and have to get them [three nieces] enrolled in school, but in the meantime, I try to keep them distracted from the trauma they experienced,” Dean said.
Dean heard also that the church would be holding counseling sessions for victims of Hurricane Dorian and said she plans to bring her nieces to make sure they can process what they have gone through and adjust to a new school away from their parents.
Clautide Dormeus said she feels as though she lived through a nightmare that still is not over. The hurricane destroyed her home on 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 destroyed too,” Dormeus said.
“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 find safety in a temporary shelter and then evacuate to Nassau, where they are staying in a shelter. She had worked as a teacher and said she knows it will take a long time for things to get back to normal. But, she said, “I know God loves us, and He will continue to see us through and will restore us, so this is a time to get ready for His soon coming.”
Taking Ownership of the Crisis
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 across the ATCU who have moved fast to assist in the midst 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,” Kerr said.
“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,” Kerr said. “Let the response begin with you. Let’s hold each other’s hand and walk together through this,” he said.