By Tyler Ward
Flying into Marsh Harbor on Abaco Island, one gets the impression that something horrible has happened. There are trees, but no leaves. There are buildings, but no walls or roofs. There are roads, but few cars. There are people, but there should be more of them. This is life on Abaco in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian. And it’s not changing anytime soon.
From February 9-14, I and a team of volunteers from Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., worked with CBF Disaster Response on the ground in North Abaco to assist partner CBF churches and their communities in recovery efforts. Mercifully, the northern tip of the island, where these churches and communities are concentrated, were spared the worst of the storm. However, everyone was affected and anything resembling a “normal” life remains elusive for many.
It didn’t take our group long to start interacting with local pastors and community members who shared harrowing tales of survival in the days and weeks following Hurricane Dorian. Christina and her niece survived by breaking into an under-construction library where they, and nearly 200 others, were crammed together with no food, water, air conditioning or bathrooms for nearly four days. John and his family had to change shelters six times in one hour while the eye of the hurricane passed due to rising storm surge. No matter where we went, or whom we met, everyone had a traumatic story of survival to share.
With those stories on our minds, we were eager to get to work in order to help these communities continue the slow, difficult work of recovery. But as with any missions effort, especially one plagued by the logistical challenges of working on Abaco (as well as learning to operate on “island time”), we embraced a spirit of flexibility as our week began.
Thankfully, everyone was willing to go with the flow. Working alongside CBF coordinators in the field, as well as a wonderful and skilled group from Calvary Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., our volunteers soon got into the groove with the work we were doing, and the limited resources we had to do it with. This spirit of cooperation and flexibility allowed us to complete more work than we thought possible at New Hope Baptist Church and the home of a local community member.
In no time, we had the back of the church cleaned and cleared of nails, screws and other fixtures so that new sheet rock could be hung. Chairs waterlogged by rain were cleaned, repaired, and returned to the sanctuary. Portions of the roof were removed and readied for new shingles. And perhaps, most importantly, the Bahamian flag was raised on the flagpole outside the church—something that hadn’t happened since before the storm.
These small indicators of progress helped us and the community see that things were changing for the better, albeit very slowly. But then again, recovery work is a marathon, not a sprint. Groups like ours come in and do what they can for a week, and then another group comes in and builds upon that work, and so forth and so forth. So, while we might not see a job completed in the span of one week, we rest in the knowledge that one day soon, it will be. And it will have been possible because of the work done by our team, and groups like ours, who gave of their time, talents and energy to help their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
That’s where you come in. For while any church can participate in recovery efforts through praying and giving, what’s required of our Fellowship at this time, for this work, are people—willing people who can give up a week of their lives to do the work that needs to be done.
For while we rejoice that many Bahamians from Abaco are finally getting back to work, we also realize that this transition takes them away from recovery efforts at home and in their communities. That’s where groups like ours can step in. Through hard work, prayer and acts of generous love, we can help speed the recovery efforts by doing intensive tasks that our Bahamian friends simply don’t have the time and energy to do on top of everything else going on in their lives.
God is alive and at work in Abaco. And by meeting and serving members of this tight-knit community, you’ll be able to see hope bubbling up on every job site, at every meal, and during every random encounter with a kind, generous and hospitable local. During our time in Abaco, we had numerous cars pull over at the church to thank us, talk with us, and even help out from time-to-time. And in the evenings, it wasn’t uncommon for local fishermen to bless us with fresh seafood as a way of expressing their thanks for our presence in their community.
So please, if your church hasn’t already done so, consider sending a group to help our brothers and sisters in Christ recover from this historic and devastating hurricane. We’re just now at the point of being able to welcome large groups of volunteers and, in several weeks, the logistical challenges and supply shortages mentioned earlier will be no more.
Forest Hills Baptist Church found our experience working with CBF Disaster Response and CBF partner churches in Abaco, to a joyful, life-giving experience. We hope and pray that your church will experience it too. So, pray about it; challenge your congregation to sign-up for a week and show up ready to join God in the work that God’s already doing.
Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen. It is the Caribbean after all!
Tyler Ward serves as the minister of missions and young adults at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. To learn more about how your church can be involved in disaster response in the Bahamas, visit www.cbf.net/dr or contact Rick Burnette at firstname.lastname@example.org.