Resilience after the hurricane

Religion News Service | 9/27/2019, 6 a.m.
The president of the historically African-American Progressive National Baptist Convention traveled to the Bahamas island of Grand Bahama on Sept. ...
Pastor Jeremiah Saunders stands among the ruins of his church that was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, on Sept. 11. The book of Jeremiah reads, “I spoke to the water: ‘Peace, be still.’ It never listened,” Pastor Saunders said with a wide smile and then grew serious as he focused on the task that tens of thousands of Bahamians now face on two islands devastated by the Category 5 storm: The cleanup. Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press

The president of the historically African-American Progressive National Baptist Convention traveled to the Bahamas island of Grand Bahama on Sept. 11 to assess the damage from Hurricane Dorian and came away with stories of damage and determination.

The Rev. Timothy Stewart, a Nassau native and resident, also has fielded calls from clergy of his denomination’s 30-some churches in the Bahamas. The PNBC, with an estimated 2.5 million U.S. and international members, is spearheading an initiative to raise funds and collect supplies for the devastated islands of the country.

Rev. Stewart said the PNBC started its new ministry year on Sept. 1, the day Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas with Category 5 force, leaving at least 50 dead and at least 1,300 people missing. The denomination’s new focus is “In Pursuit of Wholeness” — a timely topic, Rev. Stewart said.

“We’re looking at the revitalization of the community,” he said. “I think it seems as though God knew something even before I did.”

Rev. Stewart talked to Religion News Service about what he saw and heard in Dorian’s aftermath, how people in the Bahamas have been affected and how he views the tragedy as an opportunity to put his faith into action.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rev. Stewart

Rev. Stewart

What struck you most during your visit?

What struck me most probably would have been the tremendous devastation and, simultaneously, the resiliency of the people, the ability of the people to want to recover from that disaster.

I saw many homes where the contents of those homes were basically thrown out of the home. I observed varying degrees of structural damage. And we saw persons doing their best to clean up and to try to determine what would be the next step that they would take.

Well, first, we prayed with them. Secondly, we assured them that we as a convention will assist and do all that we can to help in whatever way we possibly can with regard to bringing relief and bringing assistance at this time.

What are your main plans in relation to that relief and assistance?

I think it will be multifold. One, it would be, obviously, directing and also providing funds so that persons and especially leaders of churches would be assisted with regard to some of the repairs necessary for churches and also for membership homes. And secondly, I think the opportunity to provide supplies, food, nonperishable and other items, water and some basic necessities would be definitely helpful. And then I think thirdly, when the stage requires it, we will try to provide some building material where and when we can, and fourthly, be available for counseling, fellowshipping and ministry opportunities also.

Are churches in the affected areas serving as shelters?

Not many because most of them have been compromised. Even the ones that were serving as shelters, most of them have been compromised.

What have you heard from clergy, pastors, lay people in your denomination or beyond who’ve been affected?

On the island of Abaco I’ve heard from a pastor who literally lost everything, had to evacuate, come to Nassau. He and his family and others are now living under very, very humbling conditions.