Church leaders and members serve hot meals in trays on Sep. 15, 2019, to hand out to hundreds of people in Freeport, Grand Bahama, still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. The church has been distributing 600 hot meals twice a day since flood waters receded on Sep. 5.  There are still many communities that still do not have electricity or running water on the island. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

September 23, 2019 | Freeport, Grand Bahama | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

Hurricane Dorian took the lives of seven of Shirley Smith’s family.  She struggles to articulate her grief, to express what she’s feeling. Smith is one of many in Grand Bahama who lost loved ones, lost everything in her home and is still dealing with debris, no electricity and no running water.

Smith makes her way to the Freeport Adventist Church in Freeport, Grand Bahama, to seek a hot meal for herself and family members.

“Everyone has been affected and was touched by this storm in one way or another,” said Arleen Sands, women’s ministries director for the church in the North Bahamas Conference, headquartered in Freeport. “It’s heart breaking, it’s all painful,” said Sands.

Shirley Smith (left) is comforted by Arleen Sands, women’s ministries director for the church in the North Bahamas Conference, on the loss of seven family members during the hurricane. Smith was given meals and was prayed for during her visit to the hot meal distribution spot by the church’s conference office. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

Hot meals every day

Grand Bahama had never seen a category 5 hurricane, much less one that parked itself over the northern Bahama islands for three days, bringing storm surge as high as 12 feet.

Sands’ home was affected but she’s been cooking along with eight others who volunteer to provide meals to 400 to 600 people for lunch and supper since the waters receded on Sep. 5. “We are keeping busy helping those in need,” said Sands.

She gets up at 6 a.m. to begin cooking on her gas stove for the 1-3pm meal distribution, goes to the grocery store for supper shopping and begins to cook supper to distribute at 6pm. By the time 11 pm comes, she is done and the next day begins all over again for her and her team of volunteers.

Damaged furniture and appliances are left in front of homes after the storm surge covered homes and buildings with 12 feet of water during the three days Hurricane Dorian battered North Bahamas Sep. 1-3, 2019.  Photo: John Garcia/IAD

“Like Jesus I have to put my needs behind and help others,” said Sands, who is also overseeing the distribution of goods through community services in the conference. “Many lost everything. They just have the clothes on their backs.”

Sands reaches over to Smith, embraces her, gives her words of encouragement and hope, and prays for her. “Bring your family members struggling or if you want, we can come over and visit,” Sands said to Smith.

The church’s feeding initiative also involves the delivery of hot meals to the homes of people who aren’t able to drive or get to the meal distributing spot, explained Sands.

L-R: Pastors Peter Kerr, president of the Atlantic Caribbean Union, Jose Alberto Rodríguez, president of Puerto Rican Union, Elie Henry, president of the Inter-American Division, and Eric D. Clarke, president of the North Bahamas Conference talk about additional funds to assist in the hot meal distribution initiative run by the church. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

“As long as there are funds to keep this going, we will continue to work at providing this basic need because so many are still without clean water or able to cook where they live,” said Sands.

Church leaders visit

Seventh-day Adventist leaders from the Inter-American Division (IAD), were glad to witness the ministry in action by so many church members on Sep. 15 in Freeport.  The leaders were on a quick stop to tour of Grand Bahama, to meet with local church leaders and members, and visit some of the affected churches, homes and the church’s K-12 school.

“You play an important part in this ministry, even as you have all been affected by the hurricane,” said Pastor Elie Henry, president of the church in Inter-America.

Pastor Peter Kerr, president of the Atlantic Caribbean Union (second from left), thanks church member volunteers for the ministry of feeding so many people with hot meals in Freeport, and introduces church administrators from the IAD office. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

Pastor Henry thanked church members for their dedication to serving so many in the community every day and joined in prayer for them and asked God to strengthen them.

Special funds have been allotted to assist in providing hot meals to church members and the community right after the storm and will continue to assist until it is necessary, IAD administrators said.

Church properties damaged

Church leaders also visited Grand Bahama Academy where the principal and a few teachers were preparing classrooms after the storm flooded the campus, damaged classroom furniture and school supplies.

Part of the campus of the Grand Bahama Academy which suffered water damage to its classroom roofs, computers, desks and teaching tools during the storm. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

“We just don’t know what will happen but we must re-open the school soon,” said Principal Avoney Wellington to visiting church leaders on Sep. 15. Wellington, who oversees 19 full time and 4 part time teachers and staff, said that many parents have relocated elsewhere outside of Grand Bahama and have asked for a refund on the tuition they paid during the summer. “Many of our teaching staff lost everything in their home as well as student’s homes were affected or destroyed.”

“The desks and chairs, filing cabinets, and our computer room was all flooded so we lost all that,” Wellington said.  The school closed last year with a total of 215 students and as the days go by they hope to see a lot of students back. Days after the visit, the school opened its doors on Sep. 18, 107 students showed up. A few days later there’s a total of 155. “I have seen the hand of God and we are going by faith, pushing to keep the school running, so we will work with what we have.” Wellington said.

Teachers start setting up the kindergarten classroom on Sep. 15 at the Grand Bahama Academy to open the school year days later. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

Four out of the seven churches on Grand Bahama sustained significant damage, said Pastor Peter Kerr, president of the church in the Atlantic Caribbean Union which oversees the church in The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Turks & Caicos. “While these are pending assessment, members are meeting in homes to worship and study the Bible together,” said Kerr.  On Sabbath, Sep.  21, the church gathered four of its church memberships from the Freeport Church, the Sunrise Church, Shiloh and the French speaking church to worship together at a non-denominational facility in Freeport.

“We are in the process of repairing the Sunrise Adventist Church which is a new church that needs some adjustments to it so that they can meet for worship soon,” said Kerr.

Local church leaders know that some of its 2,500 members from the island have left because they have no place to live. “We still don’t know how many yet but we should learn more their current living situation or relocation,” said Kerr.

Union and local conference leaders pray for Grand Bahama Academy Principal Avoney Wellington and her staff on Sep. 15, as the new school year begins with so many challenges to the school. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

Challenges ahead

The situation represents some challenges, said Roderick Sands, treasurer for the Atlantic Caribbean Union. “This is a hard financial blow that is going to really affect the conference,” said Sands. “It’s going to take a whole lot to get the church back on track but we are doing what we can to assist the membership and community in rebuilding as funds are available.

The church in Grand Bahama continues to provide drinking water, hot meals every day and has recently sent in beds to assist those who have lost everything in their homes.

In addition, church leaders have put in a request to Loma Linda University’s Trauma Team to assist church employees, church members and the general public with behavioral health counseling in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

The Shiloh Adventist Church in Freeport, Grand Bahama is one of seven churches on the island who took in damage to the interior from the storm surge from Dorian. Photo: John Garcia/IAD

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International office emergency response team has been on the ground in Grand Bahama to assess the needs and will take part in a number of projects. One of these include the distribution of cash vouchers for those who have been most affected by Hurricane Dorian on the island.

ADRA has also been engaged in hot meal distribution in Freeport serving 500 people each day and has established a second distribution point in the eastern part of Grand Bahama with plans to establish additional ones. ADRA’s response has also included sending food, cooking supplies, water and 700 hygiene kits to Freeport to be distributed at ADRA’s food distribution centers.

L-R: IAD Administrators Pastors Leonard Johnson, executive secretary, Elie Henry, president, and Filiberto Verduzco, treasurer share in a laugh after completing a tour of the hurricane damaged islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, in North Bahamas, on Sep. 15, 2019. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

For more stories on the relief efforts and the church in The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, visit us at interamerica.org

To help the victims of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas, you can donate to:

The Inter-American Division, 8100 SW 117th Ave, Miami, FL 33183. Make check payable to the Inter-American Division – Hurricane Dorian Relief, to assist church members and their efforts in the community. (Only financial contributions are accepted).

Also, to assist victims of the hurricane in The Bahamas through ADRA International go to adra.org

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