The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the North Caribbean Conference territory is counseling church members and community members as they continue to recover from the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
A team from the CW Educational and Behavioral Center based in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, toured several churches and communities in St. Croix and provided crisis counseling, which helps individuals cope with life after traumatic events, from Oct. 22-29.
“Going through a disaster is traumatic, and we all have experienced some level of anguish since the passage of Irma and Maria,” said North Caribbean Conference president Desmond James. “The islands have been totally rocked, and we have hundreds of church members whose houses were flooded and staff members who have gone through traumatic experiences.”
The plan is to expose the entire conference territory to the opportunity of self-care, added James.
Since the passage of the hurricane, residents have experienced a mixture of emotions such as sadness, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, emptiness, fatigue, helplessness, disbelief, numbness, and anger, stated CW Educational and Behavioral Center director Vincentia Paul-Constantin.
“Our philosophy is holistic,” said assistant director of the center Jessica Whyte. “We count it one of our greatest privileges to assist God’s people to understand who they are and the story God is writing in their lives.” Both Constantin and Whyte are Virgin Islanders and are affiliated with the Adventist Church, so they provided their services free of charge.
Constantin guided members into identifying signs of unhealthy grief such as avoiding and excluding friends and family as well as prolonged feelings of the worthlessness of life. She urged members to find opportunities to show God’s love to individuals whose lives have been touched by this tragedy.
“Surely God has not abandoned you,” said Whyte. She challenged members and community members to “search for those who need a word of encouragement, a heartfelt prayer, or someone willing to listen and let them know people still care.” Whyte explained that if the experiences are not dealt with, they could over time be expressed in chronic mental illnesses, depression, anxiety and conduct disorder.
Pastor Vashni Cuvalay, who has visited many of the affected islands, said it has been heartbreaking to see the state of many church members and what they have gone through in St. Maarten. “It is now affecting them mentally, so the counseling service can offer them some help.”
Conference leaders are planning to coordinate crisis counseling services in St. Thomas and St. Maarten in the coming weeks.
The need for mental and emotional wellness is great, and members who are trained counselors have been volunteering, local church leaders said.
Pastor Danny Philip was among a number of individuals who have been counseling families to cope during this difficult period. “The ministry of the visiting counselors, though short, was well received in light of the overwhelming—and unexpected—need,” he said.
It’s about helping those affected to find appropriate language for their feelings after experiencing such disasters that disrupted their lives, said James.
Conference leaders are in talks with Loma Linda University International Behavioral Health Trauma Team to assist in the territory soon, James said.