Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas on or about September 25th, 2019. It came ashore as a Category 4, carrying winds of up to 160 miles per hour. The storm was centered over Grand Bahama, Man of War Cay, Abaco Island, and Elbow Cay. The main distinction between this Hurricane and all of the others that have come through this area over the years is the fact that the storm “stalled” over the area for over 36 hours, dumping very heavy rain and bringing a record breaking storm surge of upwards of 23 feet in some places. This was a truly a devastating event in so many ways. The Eastern Side of Grand Bahama Island was leveled pretty much. There was very heavy wind and water damage throughout the other Islands mentioned above, and Samaritan’s Purse International is currently on all of those Islands tarping and gutting out houses. There were 12 Chaplains assigned to this deployment, with 4 of those being sent to Abaco and Man of War Cay. I was with the group on Grand Bahama Island. We ministered to many individuals who had lost everything, and many also lost loved ones in the storm. There were originally over 1,300 people missing, and the last count of fatalities was at 59. Many of the bodies of those swept out to sea by the storm surge will never be recovered, so those would be added to the final death toll……no one is really sure how many that may be, but most certainly it will exceed 100 individuals.
I can share a couple of stories of what happened to folks we talked with and prayed for.
The first story is concerning a gentleman named Clarence, who my Fellow Chaplain and I noticed while enroute on another ministry assignment. We had been asked to minister to those picking up aid supplies at a government building in downtown Freeport, so we were dropped off there, to be picked up later. The entire team only had one vehicle to work with, as rental cars were at a premium….and that’s another story how they got this van. Anyway, I am focused on getting the both of us to our “place of ministry”, and was going to just walk by this guy. The Holy Spirit had other ideas, however, and He directed me to go over and talk with Clarence. He was sitting on a covered porch of an abandoned commercial building, out of the rain (it rained every day….95% humidity and 100% chance of rain, high temperatures in the low 90’s). This is what we Chaplains refer to as “ministry on the way”. We all know it happens frequently, but I for some reason had some trouble hearing The Lord here….anyway, enough about my problems ! So, we went over to Clarence, and he was sitting on this elevated porch (about chest high to us on the ground) and he was behind some wood railings. I peeked through the railings and said “Hello, can we come into your place to talk”? He chuckled, and said “sure, come on in!” So we both went up onto that porch. I sat down next to him there, and asked him how he was holding up. He said he was doing o.k., but was feeling, especially today, that he needed to make a drastic change in his life…..interesting ! He went on to explain that he had been homeless for several years, and had no job, no money, and really no place to stay. I explained to him what Chaplains do, that we pray for people and point them to Jesus Christ for answers and deliverance. He said he knew about Jesus and church…..as a matter of fact, virtually all of his immediate family and extended family were all Christians, and had been sharing with him about Jesus for many years. I then said “you mentioned you thought it was time to make a drastic change in your life”…..how about right now, right here, today ? He said “I don’t see any good reason not to !” So I pulled out a Steps to Peace with God Tract, showed it to him, and asked his permission to share it’s contents. He was fine with that, so I took him through the entire Tract. At the end of it, it gives a sample prayer to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord….and he said he would like to do that with me, so we prayed together. I then had him sign his name and date it, and explained to him that he was now a New Creation in Christ, and was part of Jesus’ family. His face lit up then, and I asked his permission to take a photo, which we did. When the Chaplain Coordinator contacted the follow up church we were aligned with, he explained the situation, that Clarence was homeless, had no phone, and no place to stay. The lady on the phone said that it was o.k., since she knew Clarence personally, knew where he hangs out, and would send some folks out to get him that day….it seems that everyone in Freeport is related somehow. Anyway, we passed by his “spot” on that porch just about every day for that next week, and he was gone. Our new Brother in Christ is in The Body, and being cared for now. God is so amazing !
I will speak now of another individual we encountered when we traveled to the East End of Grand Bahama Island….the area where the damage was most severe. We drove out there as a team on extremely rough roads, and through a checkpoint at an oil refinery that was under repair from storm damage. It took us almost 2 hours to get there, but we arrived. Our information was that there was an “outreach center” there serving food and handing out supplies. We had ministered in several such settings already this week, so we thought there would be a good number of people needing prayer and encouragement. We finally got there, and there was a guy and his wife with a hotplate and some bottled water, in what was a small village called McLean Town. Probably 90% of the buildings we saw were either heavily damaged or only had a foundation left. We talked with the man and his wife, who were both Christians, and were able to encourage them. While we were doing that, I noticed an older gentleman across the street, and asked our hosts about him. They told us that he was the Pastor’s brother (there was a fairly newly constructed church across the street that was still intact, though flooded on the inside). There was also a brick house next to the church that was still standing, but was being gutted out for rebuild. This older gentleman was just walking around, picking stuff up, and looking at it. I told my fellow Chaplain that we should go across and talk with him. So, as I approached, I held out my hand and gave him my name and that of my fellow Chaplain. I asked him what his name was, and he boomed out “ISAIAH”……so I was taken aback a little, and said, “Well, we have a Prophet and and Apostle then !” He chuckled at that. I asked him to tell us his story about where he was when the storm came, and how that all played out. He then told me he was 83 years old, and had decided to stay at the family home after sending everyone to Freeport. He decided to stay because his whole life was in that home, and he had heard many horrific stories of looters taking anything and everything they could get their hands on from evacuated homes….he was not about to let that happen to him and his family. As he stayed there, the storm surge came and the high winds (180 mph in some areas). He stayed inside the house until the level of the water forced him to go up on the roof. He remained on the roof, holding on to pipes that protruded out of the roof, until the roof and the entire house actually fell down under him, placing him in the “river” of the storm surge. He hit his head on something when he fell, and his scalp was bleeding….he was under the water for a bit, and thought maybe he was “Goin’ to be with His Lord”…..but he came up, saw a floating tree, and grabbed onto it. As that tree carried him about 500 yards inland, he held on for dear life, watching as huge pieces of various types of sharp debris headed right for him, but then would go around him just before they got there…..he truly believed that The Lord or His Angel was causing that. The tree he was floating along with finally came to rest against a grove of trees that had not been toppled over, getting stuck there with him hanging on to it. One of the reasons he stayed at his family home is that all of the other 8 hurricanes that have come in the last 20 years only stayed over the island for 4 to 6 hours maybe…..not 36! He could not believe how long the storm kept howling about him, and was getting pretty weak…..then at about the 12 hour point, the storm surge began to go down, and he was able to wade back to where his family home was, finding nothing but the cement slab. He was rescued a few hours later by a guy riding a jet ski. When I initially asked him how he was holding up, he replied “Good….I got The Lord ! I got my family, and I am still alive !”….amazing ! Then I thought, would I be able to say that in his situation ? I don’t know………….but we talked to many people who made those same statements, all over this island. These are an amazingly resilient people, many of these folks are the “real deal” in their Christian Faith, and demonstrate that in their attitude.
We had many opportunities to pray with people, encouraging them and being encouraged ourselves. We ministered at the local YMCA (where the manager was a Believer); we ministered at several churches where the Red Cross was handing out relief supplies; and we also were invited to speak with employees at a major resort hotel in the area by the human resources manager who himself is a strong Believer in Jesus. When this gentleman approached our Chaplain Coordinator, he explained that many of his employees were distraught and having a hard time processing this disaster. Our Coordinator quickly made clear to him that we Chaplains are not mental health workers, counselors, or psychologists/psychiatrists. He said “That’s o.k., I have those people on the 9th Floor of the building, we want to put you guys on the 10th floor, and emphasize prayer and the ministry of The Word.” So cool that God used this guy to set all of this up. We were able to meet with 6 or so people the first couple of days that this room was made available, and frankly, we were kind of disappointed that we did not get more people. That changed the next week though, as that H.R. Manager had returned from a business trip out of town and once again began to emphasize the need for employees to avail themselves of this opportunity. The next Chaplain Team was able to lead 4 people to Christ that following Monday, and a couple more people came to faith that next week…..PRAISE GOD !
There are literally dozens of other stories I could tell…..but I am impressed that you have read this far !!
To God be all the Glory! John Kern