Among the donations is a truck loaded with building supplies. Kari Shipley recruited artists to paint it with the names of Delray Beach and Marsh Harbour. On the back are symbols for the two churches involved and the Bahamas Youth Network. ‘These are our neighbors, too,’ Shipley says. ‘They’re barely 90 miles away.’ Photo provided
By Janis Fontaine
The monster storm formed in the Atlantic at the end of August 2019, gaining strength until Sept. 1, when the most intense tropical cyclone on record struck the Bahamas with wind and water and an unbridled fury.
Hurricane Dorian is believed to be the worst natural disaster in the Bahamas’ short history. The Category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts recorded up to 220 mph. The deadly storm surge — more than 20 feet of water — flooded the islands. Across the Bahamas, more than 70,000 people were left homeless and economists estimated the damage at more than $3.4 billion (a quarter of the Bahamas’ GDP).
Marsh Harbour, the largest town on Great Abaco Island and a commercial hub for many smaller islands, lost 95% of its buildings, but one church, Kirk of the Pines, was left standing.
Soon after, members of First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach donated money for a water purification system and solar generators for the pastor’s cellphones. Life returned to rudimentary homesteading: water, shelter, food, communication.
Now the two churches have a mini-supply chain going. It took about a year, but in October, First Presbyterian shipped a barely used box truck filled with tools and building supplies to Pastor Gabe Swing, who lives with his wife, Jan, in a camper next to the church.
Delray Beach resident Kari Shipley, who suggested Marsh Harbour and Kirk of the Pines as recipients for First Presbyterian’s Christmas charity project, estimates the church raised more than $50,000.
First Presbyterian also got a deal on the truck through a parishioner with connections to the auto industry, for about $30,000, plus $5,000 to ship it, said Shipley, a longtime deacon and elder at the church who has ties to Marsh Harbour.
The truck is crucial for logistics — just about every car on the island was destroyed — to get the tools and supplies where they are needed.
“It will serve as a roving workshop,” Pastor Swing said, “readily accessible, that we can also use to move supplies.”
When he’s not swinging a hammer, the pastor is working with the Bahamas Youth Network, a community-based Christian organization that connects adult mentors and coaches with local teenagers and young adults.
“We want to grow these young people into tomorrow’s leaders. Programs focus on teaching participants to make good life decisions and building leadership skills,” he said. The BYN gets support from the U.S. organization, the Caribbean Youth Network.
Some things are getting better in Marsh Harbour. Small planes can land at the international airport. Two grocery stores are open. But the challenges continue: Jobs, except in construction, are scarce. School hasn’t resumed.
Pastor Swing, who has made his home in the Bahamas for about 10 years, five of them in Marsh Harbour, says his biggest concern is food insecurity. People are hungry, and few have enough work or money.
Many left for the United States or parts of the Bahamas that sustained less damage. Swing lost track of some of his parishioners.
Some people who remained live in tents and without tap water or electricity. The lucky ones live in campers and have generators.
Jan Swing coordinates the mission trips that bring hundreds of people to the islands to provide the labor force for the construction. She says in just six months she’s had to cancel 12 trips because of COVID-19 restrictions. Those are finally starting to lift, another good sign. But so much is still needed.
For more information, visitfirstdelray.com or call 561-276-6338.
Want to travel to Marsh Harbour? Although each island and community may have different rules, effective Nov. 1 the Bahamas removed the 14-day quarantine requirement that had been in place. But all visitors must complete an electronic Bahamas Health Travel Visa application before departure, upload the results of a negative COVID-19 swab test taken within seven days of arrival and provide contact information.
Visitors must also take a rapid test on day five of the visit, which is included in the cost of the Bahamas Health Travel Visa. All entry requirements can be viewed at www.bahamas.com/travelupdates.
Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and community events. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.