View of the damaged Freeport Adventist Church in Freeport, Grand Bahama, after Hurricane Dorian battered the island for more than 30 hours, Sept. 1-2, 2019. The church, which has a membership of 1,117, was being used as a shelter when the roof and walls of the fellowship hall began to fall apart. School and church properties have yet to be assessed for damages. Photo: Eric D. Clarke/ATCU

 September 4, 2019 | Miami, Florida, United States | Libna Stevens/IAD

Seventh-day Adventist leaders in Nassau, The Bahamas, are still waiting to know the fate of the hundreds of members who have been affected by the devastating effects of Hurricane Dorian on the hardest hit islands of Abaco, Grand Bahama, Bimini and the Berry Islands.  The Category 4 hurricane pounded the northern Bahamas for over 40 hours starting on Sep. 1, packing winds of over 185 miles per hour, flooding the islands, stranding residents and killing at least seven people.

“This is something for the record books,” said Peter Kerr, president of the church in the Atlantic Caribbean Union during a phone interview today from the union’s headquarters in Nassau, The Bahamas.  “We have never seen anything close to this,” said Kerr who oversees work of the church in The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos.

“Hurricanes have come and made their path and moved quickly out of the way but this one had trapped us for more than 40 hours, sitting on Grand Bahama for over 30 hours,” said Kerr.

Abaco Island

So far leaders are trying to account for their members but communication is difficult especially in the Abaco Islands, north of Nassau, where five churches and a membership of more than 900 are located.  “We know there are three churches, one in the north and two large churches in the center of Abaco which is in Marsh Harbour and those are completely cut off from the south of the island where two more churches are.”

Pastor Peter Kerr, president of the church in the Atlantic Caribbean Union overseeing the work in The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos, speaks to church leaders on Sep. 3, 2019, on logistics for the response after Hurricane Dorian hit Abaco, Grand Bahama, Bimini, and Berry Islands Photo by John Garcia/ATCU

Pastor Kerr said leaders had made contact with a church member in south Abaco, who has been busy assisting with relief efforts. However, rising waters have made it impossible to get to other affected areas to the north of the island, he explained. “One church elder on the island, who is president of our union’s Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASi) chapter, owns a school, and another member operates another school on the island.”

Grand Bahama Island

On Grand Bahama, the stories have been so painful to hear, said Kerr. “Makes me want to cry,” he said. “The number of people who have been trapped on their roofs for so many hours and only to be rescued after the storm left… is just so sad.”  Church leaders have yet to receive assessment reports from that area.

Only today Pastor Kerr was able to hear from the union’s Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) director Rodger Moncur who lives in Freeport, Grand Bahama.  “He is doing assessment of the territory as much as he can right now,” said Kerr.

“The North Bahamas Conference is headquartered in Freeport, and we know that the office is completely flooded as well as our Grand Bahama Academy, a K-12 Adventist school with over 200 students,” said Kerr. The church next to the school was being used as a shelter and is flooded as well, he explained.

There are seven churches with over 3,000 members on Grand Bahama, church leaders reported. Assessment of the status of church members and church buildings will only be available once assessment of the damages will be possible when accessible.

Church leaders meet at the church’s Atlantic Caribbean Union Headquarters in Nassau, Bahamas, Sep. 3, to coordinate response throughout the affected islands. Photo: John Garcia/ATCU

ADRA International personnel is scheduled to arrive in Nassau tomorrow and will coordinate efforts in the church’s union office to bring first aid and relief supplies to victims of the hurricane.

Urgent need

The National Emergency Management Agency of The Bahamas has asked the Adventist Church to supply baby and children’s clothing, said Pastor Kerr. “We are undertaking this task and seeking the assistance that we can get to prepare the packages as much as we can,” said Kerr. “Our local churches are mobilized to support the efforts. I know churches are spending their own funds to procure supplies for relief efforts.”

One of the urgent needs is money, said Pastor Kerr. “Our main goal is to supply drinking water, food and provide shelter, clothing, and tents for those who have lost everything,” said Kerr, who is looking forward to touring those affected areas in The Bahamas as soon as it is possible.

The Prime Minister has asked Bahamians to take in displaced families during this critical time, said Kerr.

Logistics, challenges, and opportunities

“We are creating a database of Adventist members who are able to make space in their homes to assist additional church members who have no place to stay,” said Kerr, who has already signed up to bring a family into his home.

Church employees and member volunteers in the South Bahamas Conference office in Nassau, sort out supplies and assemble care packages for those displaced by Hurricane Dorian. Photo: Jamal Franklyn

In the mean time, Kerr said church leaders have met to discuss the logistics, challenges and opportunities inherent in. “We plan to activate our soup kitchens and coordinate to send supplies over to the folks so soup kitchens can operate until they have supplies on ground,” said Kerr.

“We are looking to send toiletries, beds, sleeping cots and sleeping tents, mosquito repellents, nets and generators for schools and churches to function,” he added.

Today, at the South Bahamas Conference located in Nassau, church employees are gathering supplies and putting together care packages.

Comfort and support of church family

“We are confident our God whom we serve remains our refuge and strength…He is our present help in trouble…He is the rock on which we stand and He remains our shelter in the time of storm,” said Pastor Kerr.

Church member volunteers at the South Bahamas Conference office entrance sort out coolers to organize for those affected by the hurricane. Photo: Jamal Franklyn

The encouragement pouring in from everywhere has been so reassuring, he said.

“We are comforted by the fact that so many people have been praying for us, and have been calling and sending messages of comfort,” said Kerr. “Many of our Inter-American unions and the Division have pledged their support in the restoration and rebuilding efforts,” said Kerr. “We are not alone. We are part of a big family and feel loved and supported at this time.”

To help the church membership affected by Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas, you can send your financial contribution to the Inter-American Division, payable to the Inter-American Division – Hurricane Dorian Relief. (Only financial contributions are accepted)

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