FREEPORT, Bahamas (BP) — After three days surveying the damage from Hurricane Dorian, an eight-member team of Southern Baptists returned to the United States with a keen appreciation of the Bahamian people and a commitment to partner with Baptist churches on the Grand Bahama island to help them rebuild and expand their ministry in the community.
Representatives of Baptist Global Response (BGR), Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR), the International Mission Board, and two state Baptist conventions toured the island last week to scout out ways for Southern Baptists to support Baptist churches on the islands.
“The island is recovering quite quickly,” said Shane McGivney, the director of Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief.
“The Bahamians are an amazing people,” he noted. “They are a very spiritual people. They love the Lord. From what I understand, a couple of weeks ago when our team was there, they weren’t quite smiling. They were still in shock. But when we were there this past week, they were smiling and laughing. This is a very resilient people. They understand that their hope is in the Lord, and they are loving on their church families and their communities.”
During the team’s time in the Bahamas, they finalized partnerships between 13 state Baptist conventions and 10 area churches. Several state conventions will work together on some of the most intense projects. Through the partnerships, the state SBDR teams will help rebuild the churches and support opportunities to minister in the community.
These partnerships come less than a month after Hurricane Dorian rocked the island with historic devastation. After sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, the most severe hurricane in the island’s history killed at least 56 people. Officials are still reporting at least 600 people are missing. Initial reports suggested the hurricane made 70,000 people homeless.
Jeff Palmer, the chief executive officer of Baptist Global Response, wrote in a report after the team’s return last week that the availability of local services, food supplies and other goods are returning to normal on the island.
“Some homes and structures can be rebuilt. Others will simply need to be leveled and rebuilt,” Palmer wrote. “There is much water damage in many areas that will require specialized cleaning and sanitizing.”
BGR is leading and coordinating Southern Baptist engagement in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian.
The SBDR partnerships will focus on rebuilding 10 damaged Baptist churches. According to Sam Porter, the national director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, SBDR will do this with the hope that these congregations can become community hubs as the Grand Bahama island recovers.
Porter says the most urgent need communicated to him by Bahamian Baptists was for help in trauma counseling. Many area pastors in particular are facing massive personal and ministry challenges.
Some have lost family members, jobs and churches to Hurricane Dorian. To help these pastors, Porter says Mark Wakefield, the director of Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief and one of the most experienced trauma chaplains in Southern Baptist life, is making plans to visit the island in the next few weeks. While in the Bahamas, he’ll counsel pastors and train them in trauma counseling so they can help their congregations.
SBDR faces several challenges as they partner with local churches in the Bahamas.
First, a busy year has taxed the SBDR system. Porter notes every day since February SBDR teams have been responding to floods in at least one state.
Even now, SBDR is responding to the massive flooding that came with Tropical Storm Imelda in East Texas. Multiple state disaster relief teams are on alert and headed to the region in the coming weeks. SBDR also has teams serving on the outer banks of North Carolina, ministering in yet another location impacted by Hurricane Dorian.
“If someone is looking for a mission opportunity, they need to contact their state director of disaster relief,” Porter said. “I promise you they’re looking for people to step in there.”
The rebuilding projects will also be expensive. SBDR teams will need to ship most of their supplies to the island. Volunteers will also need to obtain flights to the island. The fundraising for the projects will come through the partnering state conventions.
Since it will take time before churches in the Bahamas can secure building permits and SBDR can get materials onto the island, the first Southern Baptist teams to serve in the there will probably focus on mold cleanup training in some of the churches. Porter hopes these trainings will provide the area churches opportunities to engage their neighbors.
“I can’t wait for my friends, the state [SBDR] directors and their teams, to partner with these churches and get over there,” Porter said. “I think it’s going to be a win for everyone. It’ll be a win for the International Mission Board, which relates to BGR, for Send Relief of NAMB, for SBDR, and then the Lord is going to win the most.
“I promise you,” Porter noted, “as we do this [partnership], it will be a great testimony to these communities.”
Porter recommends that churches and individuals who want to support these ministry opportunities give through their state Baptist conventions. SBDR is asking state conventions to make their churches aware of the needs of churches in the Bahamas and how their people can help.