As fire engulfed the Bay Island of Guanaja off the northern coast of Honduras during the early morning hours on Saturday, October 2, 2021, Seventh-day Adventist leaders and members on the island moved quickly to prevent damage to its school, churches, and community. The fire destroyed or damaged more than 200 homes and businesses. The school sustained damage to its third floor, while 30 church members lost their homes and properties, church leaders said.
“From the moment we were notified at 5:00 a.m., pastors, conference leaders, and church members across Honduras began to pray for God’s protection over our church members on the island, the church buildings and school,” Adan Ramos, president of the Adventist Church in Honduras, said.
Sad and Tragic Scene
Jorge Mairena, executive secretary for the Adventist Church in the Bay Islands, which oversees the islands of Roatán, Guanaja, and Utila, said he and fellow administrators traveled from Roatán to Guanaja as soon as they were able. They arrived at noon. “It was a very sad and tragic scene,” Mairena said. “We had just been to the island the week before, visiting the churches, talking to the members as they had begun an evangelistic revival campaign.” Mairena added that the primary and secondary school, Instituto Adventista de Guanaja, which has 130 enrolled students this year, was also going through a revival week of prayer.
Upon arrival, Mairena and fellow mission administrators found the guest evangelists, pastors, and members working hard to ensure the fire was put out. “We found the English Adventist church had been saved from the flames, drenched from the efforts from the government's helicopter fire rescue operations that morning,” he said. The third-floor structure of the school had apparently blocked the flames from getting to the wooden church, he said. The Iglesia Adventista del Cayo in Guanaja was the first organized on the island in 1892. The church structure was built during that time and has been refurbished through the years, he said.
Adventists Move Quickly to Assist
Church leaders brought bread, food, milk, and water to Guanaja in their small boat. The Spanish Adventist church on the island immediately set up its building as a distribution site, where church member volunteers assisted in aiding those affected by the fire. “I saw members working hard, no matter if they didn’t speak the language, were united in helping to assist the community,” Mairena said. Other church members from neighboring churches prepared food for volunteers working tirelessly in the wake of the fire. The government of Honduras began sending goods to the distribution site for the church to assist from there.
Mairena said that many of the members echoed their thankfulness to God for His protection and deliverance through the fast-moving fire.
Churches in Roatán and Útila have become collecting sites for goods to send to Guanaja in the coming days, Mairena said. “The most pressing need right now is food and clothing, and that’s what we are focusing on. Later we will coordinate with ADRA [the Adventist Development and Relief Agency] how and when we can assist with rebuilding.”
Mairena said that even though the school suffered apparent damage to a classroom on the third floor, water from the fire hoses also soaked the floors below. Leaders won’t know the extent of the damage until structural engineers make their final assessment in the coming days.
The bilingual school began the school year with a hybrid in-person and remote teaching model. Now the school is closed indefinitely, he said. “We know that two teachers lost their homes to the fire,” he said.
Collecting Goods for Guanaja
Ramos said that churches across Honduras have been mobilizing their members to collect food, goods, and clothing for shipping to Guanaja. “We have also opened up a bank account to gather funds to assist during this difficult time for those who lost everything,” Ramos said.
ADRA in Honduras is scheduled to assess the needs on the ground in the next few days, Ramos said.
The island of Guanaja has a lot of meaning to the Adventist Church, not just in Honduras but all of Central America, Ramos explained. “The Advent message got to the island in the 1890s, and the first church organized was on Guanaja in 1892. Two years later, the first Adventist school was inaugurated.” It was from Guanaja that the Adventist message spread across Central America, he said. “At one point, the entire population was Seventh-day Adventist, and today, even though the island has grown [to more than 5,500 people], many consider themselves Adventists even though they might not be members or churchgoers.”
There are more than 3,600 Seventh-day Adventists worshiping in 31 churches and congregations across Roatán, Guanaja, and Utila, which are overseen by the Bay Islands Conference. The conference operates seven primary and secondary schools on the islands.