by Jerry Iamurri
EPC Assistant Stated Clerk
“This is the worst natural disaster in the history of the Bahamas—please don’t forget us.”
Sarah was not the only person in Freeport who asked me that. But she represents thousands of people who know that the news cycle is short, and that the media coverage that galvanized a wave of relief support since Hurricane Dorian ravaged the northern Bahamian islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco inevitably moves on to other things.
About a month after the storm, Mike DeHaven and I touched down in Freeport after a short Bahamasair flight from Nassau.
The airport terminal was completely destroyed. Baggage handling equipment, seats, and security screening conveyor belts were strewn around the broken walls of the terminal building. A bus waiting on the tarmac drove us a couple of miles to a tent in the parking lot of a strip mall. During the bus ride, we met some nurses from Samaritan’s Purse. They were there to staff a field hospital that had been set up behind Freeport’s main hospital—which was knocked out of service.
Ken Lane, Pastor of the EPC’s Lucaya Presbyterian Church in Freeport, met us at the bus.
We toured some of the areas of Grand Bahama most affected by the hurricane, and saw piles of destroyed furniture and debris in front of every home. Broken utility poles and downed power lines blocked some of the streets, and the smell of brush fires lingered in the air. Ocean water from storm surge had killed much of the grass and foliage, and that dry brush had recently caught fire. Flames came dangerously close to Lucaya’s food distribution ministry, which had previously flooded. Despite the hardships, they have provided thousands of pounds of food, cleaning supplies, and military style, freeze-dried MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat).
We also visited a non-governmental organization (NGO) that was distributing 22,000 meals per day, and had served about half a million meals total since the storm hit. That was only one of two such NGOs we saw in Freeport.
After the tour, Ken took us to meet some of the elders and members of the Lucaya congregation. Sarah is one of these faithful church members, and she is a long-time volunteer in the children’s ministry.
For several hours we listened to them describe their homes being flooded, the floors moving with the ocean waves, their apartments swaying with the hurricane winds, and their fear that they would be overcome by the storm. They showed us videos of waves crashing over balconies and into the second-floor windows of their homes. They talked of their prayers, their faith in the Lord to deliver them, God’s generous kindness, and His blessings on their lives and families. Though many had the thousand-yard stare common to those suffering from the effects of PTSD, they are amazed that the storm spared their church building and are hoping that electricity can be restored soon to the many homes that remain without power.
The Grand Bahama Children’s Home in Freeport has been closed. While the structure itself is sound, the contents are a total loss—including the possessions of its 32 resident children, who range in age from a few months to 14 years old. They were evacuated in the middle of the night during the storm, and now have been temporarily relocated to the Ranfurly Homes for Children in Nassau. These children’s homes have a connection to our churches in Lucaya and Nassau. Additionally, a large group of toddler-aged children were moved from Grand Bahama to the Children’s Emergency Hostel in Nassau.
And we were told that they share Sarah’s concern that people will begin to forget about them after the news media has stopped running stories on the Bahamas.
After spending the night in Freeport, Chrishon Ducker (Associate Pastor of the EPC’s St. Andrews Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau) took us to visit the areas of Nassau that have tried to absorb the influx of those evacuated from Abaco, which included the devastated town of Marsh Harbor. Some of these evacuees are living in the St. Andrews building.
“Abaco recovery still remains a military operation,” he told us. “The British Army just left, the Bahamian Defense Force, the Trinidad and Tobago Army, as well as the Jamaican Army are still patrolling the area around Marsh Harbor and providing for immediate needs.”
Gabe Swing, Pastor of the EPC’s Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor, is visiting displaced members of that congregation who have evacuated to Florida. Swing is an Associate Pastor of St. Andrew’s, responsible for serving the mission post in Marsh Harbor that is Kirk of the Pines.
“Bahamas recovery is going to be a long-term process,” Bryn MacPhail, Pastor of St. Andrews, told us. “We will need help for a minimum of several years, and the clock hasn’t even started yet. We’re still assessing the damage.”
While a full recovery in some areas is likely several years away, there are many, many short-term needs that EPC churches can help meet through continued financial contributions to the EPC’s Emergency Relief Fund. In Freeport, Ken told me that by next summer they expect to be able to host short-term mission teams of moderately skilled individuals, especially those with skills in the building trades.
Marsh Harbor will probably not be ready for mission trip teams that soon, but we encourage our EPC “prayer warriors” to pray for Bryn, Gabe, Ken, and their church leaders as they continue to seek discernment about how they can help with the rebuilding of Marsh Harbour. And please continue to pray for Sarah and the thousands of Bahamians like her.
If you are considering a mission trip or have skill in the building trades, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike DeHaven coordinated our trip, and also led mission teams to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. He is working with our churches in the Bahamas to help put together future mission trips to help with the recovery effort.