By Rick Burnette
During the second week of December, I boarded the ferry in Ft. Lauderdale bound for Freeport, Grand Bahama. Upon arrival I was met by Pedyson Baillou, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church located on Sweetings Cay (pronounced key), an island just off the eastern end of Grand Bahama. Headed towards Sweetings, the effects of Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that remained stationary over the northwestern Bahamas for two days, were increasingly obvious as damage to trees and structures intensified the further east we drove.
Pausing in the settlement of Freetown, where Rev. Preston Cooper pastors St. Cleveland Baptist Church, we picked up sheets of plywood and 2x4s that had been purchased and shipped by CBF Disaster Response a few weeks prior. These supplies were being used for repairs to Rev. Cooper’s home and elsewhere.
Across the street, Rev. Cooper’s mother, Verna, toured us around her damaged house, pointing upward to the attic where she fled the surge with the help of her grandson. Trapped there for two days, she recalls looking down, “at the ocean in my home.”
A little further east, in the settlement of High Rock, we saw all that remains of Pedyson’s home; essentially a scattered pile of broken concrete and a battered, bare mango tree. For two days the tree was a life preserver for Pedyson’s son, Pedro, while the surge carried everything else away. Three months after being blasted by wind and water, green shoots are beginning to emerge from the trunk of the 20-foot tree.
Needing to reach the ferry that connects eastern Grand Bahama and North Abaco, we continued our eastward drive, noting the almost complete destruction of the Baptist church in McLean’s Town, a CBF Bahamas congregation pastored by Edwin Pinder. Arriving at the dock, I bought a ferry ticket while Pedyson hired a motorboat to deliver the load of lumber to his church.
With the ferry captain promising not to leave without me, Pedyson and I took our places behind the motorboat owner with the lumber situated on the bow. We then roared across the narrow strait separating Sweetings Cay from the mainland.
This fishing community is home to approximately 160 people. With much of the island destroyed by the hurricane, a large portion of the island’s women and children were relocated and are waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. Pastor Pedyson reported that most of the boats on the island were lost during the hurricane, a major blow to the local fishing economy.
Arriving at Sweetings’ small dock, while the wood was being unloaded, Pedyson took me on a quick tour of the damaged church property, pausing in front of the chapel to hear another amazing story of survival from Rojade, an articulate 14-year old, and his mom.
Despite some roof damage, the church sanctuary was in fairly good shape. Though repairable, the separate educational facilities suffered considerable damage.
Aid groups had installed an array of solar panels in front of the church, providing much needed electricity on an island where basic utilities have been wiped out. The panels also power an impressive air-to-water apparatus that provides Sweetings’ survivors with safe drinking water.
Two tents have been erected in front of Ebenezer Baptist, ready to host much needed small teams of volunteers who can assist with rebuilding.
Hopping back on the motorboat, we arrived at McLean’s Town just in time for me to board the ferry. After a 40-minute ride, the ferry docked at the North Abaco settlement of Crown Haven. There, Kenny Phillips (CBF Florida Local Response Contractor), Charles White (CBF Kentucky Volunteer Disaster Response Coordinator), and Jeremy Colliver (Minister of Mission, Communication, and Youth at Smoke Rise Baptist in Stone Mountain, GA) were waiting to accompany me back to the guesthouse in nearby Fox Town. Able to host up to 22 people, this lodging facility is where future North Abaco volunteer teams will stay.
Jeremy, Charles and Kenny made up the second CBF Bahamas survey team, assisting with initial recovery efforts on North Abaco. Besides roof repair, their job was to help CBF Disaster Response and CBF Bahamas prepare for additional teams of volunteers.
Working alongside their CBF Bahamas hosts, by the time I arrived, the team already had two productive days repairing the roof of Elon McIntosh, pastor of St. Thomas Baptist Church on Wood Cay. They were able to finish the job despite a limited supply of materials sent by CBF Disaster Response in November. Additional materials had been ordered four weeks prior. However, none had arrived due to shipping delays.
Logistics isn’t easy.
With building materials in short supply on Abaco, sorting out the purchase and shipment of supplies has been a priority for CBF Disaster Response. This effort requires considerable communication between Bishop John McIntosh and Christine Curry, CBF Disaster Response Contractors for Abaco, and Melissa Rodriquez, who works with CBF Florida and serves as a part-time CBF Disaster Response contractor. Kenny Phillips, a professional contractor, provides technical assistance for each order.
Over the next two days, I conducted rapid assessments with CBF Bahamas pastors in six of the eight communities affected by Hurricane Dorian on North Abaco and Grand Bahama. Bishop John McIntosh, who leads the CBF Bahamas churches and pastors New Hope Baptist Church in the Mt. Hope settlement, accompanied me to most of the North Abaco communities. Handling repairs to his own church and home while coordinating recovery efforts elsewhere, his hands are full.
Approaching Marsh Harbour, devastation was everywhere. On the edge of the city, we visit the gutted home of Rev. Terrance Strachan and his wife, Shoine, who lead Lifegate Christian Ministries, a CBF Bahamas congregation. The couple, along with their son, Terran, survived the storm by taking refuge in their car which was protected from flying debris by a large sheet of plywood that had been blown alongside the vehicle.
Currently, while the Strachans rebuild their home, the Lifegate Christian Ministries facilities is being used by a local school displaced by storm damage.
Reaching the port of Marsh Harbour around noon, we visited the offices of a shipping company to discuss how to better streamline the transport of recovery supplies from the U.S.
Afterwards, on the way back to North Abaco, we paused at the site of a Haitian shantytown that I had briefly visited before the hurricane. Completely wiped out by the storm surge, all we could see was a graded, empty field.
A few more impacted CBF Bahamas communities were visited that afternoon. In each, there were stories of loss and survival. Each was beginning to rebuild. And each congregation was ministering to neighbors, including Ebenezer Baptist in Cedar Harbour (pastored by Marvin Mills), which has offered its facilities as a community food distribution center.
While CBF Bahamas pastors have been counseling and encouraging affected people in their own communities, Teruco Tynes, another Bahamas-based CBF Disaster Response Contractor, has begun facilitating the involvement of qualified CBF and American Baptist spiritual care volunteers.
Back in Freeport the next day, Pastor Pedyson and Johnette Bullard, the CBF Local Response Contractor for Grand Bahama, and I strategized over lunch. Having visited some of Freeport’s building supplies stores, we concluded that unlike Abaco, local construction materials are adequately available. This will help simplify CBF recovery logistics for Grand Bahama.
A few hours later, I boarded the ferry back to Ft. Lauderdale confident that housing arrangements and other logistics are ready for recovery teams to engage on North Abaco, Sweetings Cay and Freetown.
Now, all we need are skilled volunteers and sustained donations to keep the recovery effort going.
To aid in CBF’s continued Bahamas relief efforts, visit www.cbf.net/dr and learn how you can get involved or donate.