September 27, 2018 | Tortola, British Virgin Islands | Royston Philbert/IAD News Staff
To mark the first anniversary of people’s perseverance in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) hosted a national commemorative service a year later in Tortola. United as hurricane survivors, the more than 800 residents, high-profile politicians, prominent business executives and spiritual leaders reflected on the nation’s rebuilding efforts at the Government’s Administration Complex, on Sep. 6, 2018.
The Category 5 hurricane struck the British Virgin Islands during the daylight hours of Sep. 6, 2017, causing widespread destruction and taking four lives. The hurricane left extensive damage to property and infrastructure in the territory, and caused significant levels of depopulation, officials reported.
“As we recognize and celebrate how far we have come, today is also a day to rejuvenate ourselves to continue our recovery,” said Governor Augustus Jaspert during the thanksgiving, reflection and restoration service.
The governor warned residents not to be complacent in continuing restoration efforts. Despite having accomplished a lot since the hurricanes ravaged the territory, the journey to rebuild is far from finished. “There is still a lot to do,” said Jaspert.
“We worked hard to come up with temporary solutions to get homes, businesses and services up and running again. These were vital and commendable and allowed us to function again. However, we need to guard against complacency, we must not allow temporary solutions to become permanent,” emphasized Jaspert. “We must not get used to this state.”
Several speakers celebrated the progress the territory has had over the last year and representatives from faith communities highlighted the mercy and goodness of God in the lives of residents.
Representing the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Tortola Pastor Howard Simon shared remarks of hope and invited the gathering to take personal inventory, “That is why we are here,” said Simon. “It gives us the opportunity to reflect on where God brought us from and contemplate on what is to come. We cannot live in the past but in the hope of the Coming of Christ.” As he built his address around biblical lepers in Luke 17:11-19, Simon said Irma made the British Virgin Islands ugly and leprous.
“Our hillsides looked as if they were burnt with fire and our beaches, buildings and homes were broken, battered or blown away,” said Simon. Though Irma was such a terrible storm and many would declare that it was worse than leprosy, said Simon, there is something beyond both leprosy and Irma.
Pastor Simon lifted their attention from the landscape of hurt and pain, “Hurricane Irma stole everything from us but a day is coming when Jesus returns for His children, when there will be no more hurricanes, no more sickness and no more sin, because the former things would have been passed away.”
Pastor Simon reminded attendees that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the British Virgin Islands, through its Community Services and the Adventist Development Relief Agency (ADRA), were among the first responders in the aftermath of the hurricane.
The church provided immediate relief in the form of hot meals and gifts of food and personal items. ADRA offered extended support to the educational system of the British Virgin Islands by providing grief counseling, cleaning schools, providing portable toilets for schools as well as provide generators to some schools that did not have electricity, as well as provide food packages to 500 families.
Church leaders reported that the Road Town and Carrot Bay Adventist churches were destroyed by the hurricane and both still need to be rebuilt. The Belle View Adventist Church still needs to repair its roof while the Adventist primary and secondary school on Tortola began its school year recently with 341 students, the highest enrollment to date.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in British Virgin Islands which is comprised of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada, has 2,000 church members in eight congregations. The islands are overseen by the North Caribbean Conference of Seventh-day Adventists which also operates the British Virgin Islands SDA School, an accredited institution with a primary and a secondary division.