More than three years after hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Caribbean island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), church members at Road Town Church gathered to witness the demolition of their church building, which was severely damaged by the storms. It was their church home for 40 years.
“The second floor of the church was destroyed,” Sylvester Williams, who leads the congregation, said. “The integrity of the remaining structure was compromised and, as a result, plans to expand were aborted, and rebuilding plans evolved.”
Since the powerful storms struck the island, the congregation of 183 has been meeting on the campus of the British Virgin Islands Adventist School, which also sustained damage but was repaired.
“There was destruction all around,” Wade Tobin, a church elder and principal of the school, said. “There were no trees around. You could see from one end of the city to the other; it seemed so transparent, and the church took a beating.”
Adventism has deep roots in the BVI community, church leaders said. Of the nine Adventist congregations in the BVI, Road Town Church is the oldest. In the early 1900s, the congregation worshipped in a structure located at Sea Cow’s Bay, which was destroyed by a hurricane in 1916. In the 1930s, property was acquired in Road Town, and the congregation moved to its current site.
“As it outgrew its humble beginnings of a wooden framework, the building was refurbished, but the membership growth outpaced the amenities,” Williams said. For sentimental reasons, he added, the members’ consensus was for the Adventist presence to remain in Road Town. On July 6, 2011, two small adjoining parcels of land were transferred to the church from the BVI government for the sum of one US dollar.
“The acquisition of these properties added some well-needed square footage to the new edifice, which offered more seating capacity, more child-friendly areas, easy access for those that are differently abled, accommodations for community humanitarian services, and additional restrooms with two showers,” Williams said.
For a time, the church also served as a community hurricane shelter and, in the past, had been the home of the Adventist school for many years.
“God is going to help you build back better, no matter the cost, and, moving forward, the church is going to need all the help it can get,” Williams said when addressing his congregation. He appealed for help to anyone who has a skill set that would be useful to the rebuilding effort.
Since Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, church members have been raising funds to assist in rebuilding the church, Williams said. The old church building had capacity for 150 people, and the new, two-story design is planned to house 250 persons in the sanctuary, he added.
“I have no doubt that the community will be right there with open arms to make sure that the church is rebuilt,” he said. “The new building will bring honor to God, enhance the image of the church, deliver ministry to the British Virgin Islands, and be celebrated by the community.”
Local church leaders plan on a ground-breaking ceremony for the new construction at the end of March.