By Rick Burnette
As Hurricane Dorian moved over the northwestern Bahamas on September 1, Ray Johnson, Coordinator of CBF of Florida, continued to check in with the leaders of CBF Bahamas churches on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. Just before communications were cut, Terrance and Shoine Strachan, pastors of Lifegate Christian Ministries in Abaco, reported that the wall of their home appeared ready to collapse.
Ray learned later that the Strachans, with their son, Terran, were forced to flee their doomed home, seeking refuge in another structure until it was torn apart. Pelted by wind-driven rocks, they managed to ride out the remainder of the storm in their battered car, partially sheltered from the hurricane’s blast by a sheet of plywood that was blown against the vehicle.
Other stories of trauma and survival have emerged, including how Pedro Baillou, son of Pedyson Baillou who pastors a CBF Bahamas congregation in Sweeting’s Cay on Grand Bahama, clung to a mango tree for two days to escape the storm surge.
So many others were not so fortunate. Among current reports of 52 dead and 1,300 missing are 25 members of eight affected CBF Bahamas congregations on Grand Bahama and Abaco which have a total membership of approximately 500 people.
On Grand Bahama, the church structures and homes of Pastors Edwin Pinder (McLean’s Town), Pedyson Baillou and Freddie Laing (Pelican Point) were destroyed whereas the church at Freetown—pastored by Preston Cooper—still stands but will require months of recovery.
On North Abaco, currently only accessible by boat, three churches served by John McIntosh (Mount Hope), Elon McIntosh (Wood Cay) and Marvin Mills (Cedar Harbour), as well as their homes, were also seriously damaged with recovery expected to take more than a year. The recovery prospects for the church of Terrance and Shoine Strachan remains uncertain.
Like others on Abaco and Grand Bahama, the vast majority of CBF Bahamas church members are displaced, with many having relocated to Freeport, Nassau and the United States.
For CBF Disaster Response, CBF of Florida and church partners, Dorian has presented an extremely challenging response situation. Even though we are not first responders—instead, focusing on long-term recovery in underserved communities—the destruction of ports, airfields and roads has challenged our ability to mobilize resources for short- and long-term recovery efforts. Additionally, the displacement of affected residents has presented enormous communications challenges that have affected our ability to coordinate an appropriate response in behalf of the survivors.
Despite these challenges, due to the ongoing communications efforts of Ray Johnson and other CBF of Florida representatives, needs are being identified with short- and long-term response efforts beginning to be implemented.
This week, the first shipment of equipment and supplies are being shipped by ferry from Ft. Lauderdale to Freeport. This cargo includes electrical generators, equipment for water treatment, solar chargers, tools and other materials needed to repair damaged roofs of four CBF Bahamas churches on the two affected islands. Most of these items were purchased with CBF Disaster Response funds contributed by CBF congregations and individuals.
In addition, Gerry Hutchinson, CBF Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care Manager, and CBF of Florida’s Rachel Gunter Shapard, are preparing to deploy qualified spiritual care provides to minister to those traumatized by the storm.
As the Fellowship has been very responsive to needs such as those on Grand Bahama and Abaco, we continue to receive inquiries about how to best engage.
Regarding volunteers, due to persisting transportation obstacles as well as inadequate housing and other limited resources, we will not recruit volunteer recovery teams until CBF Bahamas leaders indicate that they are ready to host outside groups. But as soon as that time comes, we will announce opportunities for the involvement of volunteers.
In the meantime, CBF Disaster Response will continue to coordinate with CBF of Florida and Bahamas to source equipment and other materials needed for preliminary recovery as well as provide spiritual care for survivors. To maintain these efforts, we invite the CBF network to continue to contribute generously to CBF Disaster Response efforts in the Bahamas as well as continued response efforts in Puerto Rico, North Carolina and the Florida Panhandle.
And we must continue to pray. Pray for the eight affected congregations on Grand Bahama whose members and neighbor have lost homes and struggle with displacement.
Pray for CBF Bahamas and Florida, and engaged congregations such as Christ Journey in Miami, as well as CBF Disaster Response as we coordinate recovery efforts.
Together, we thank the CBF network for its concern and generosity.
Rick Burnette serves as Domestic Disaster Response Manager for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.