When Hurricane Irma passed through the Caribbean in early September as potentially the most dangerous hurricane in recent history, it hit some of our smallest islands head-on, causing severe damage.
Several islands were devastated; some even declared “uninhabitable” by their governing authorities. Now, even as their inhabitants navigate the challenges of the immediate future, they face the daunting possibility of another direct hit - this time from Hurricane Maria - which is heading in their direction, and threatens to become a Category 3 hurricane over the next few days.
Disciples on two of the affected islands - Tortola (British Virgin Islands), and St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands), are still singing praises to God, grateful to have escaped without loss of life. The following is an update from the disciples who were directly affected by Hurricane Irma:
From Marva Smith in Tortola (from her Facebook page)
Church: Tortola Church of Christ
Number of disciples: 2
Sylvester and Marva Smith, son Jadan and daughter Jan
"Friends, words cannot express how very thankful I am to God for his mercies. As you know by now our family made it through Hurricane Irma with our lives intact! If you've seen images of the widespread devastation, then you know that was no small feat. For six hours on Wednesday 6th September I wasn't sure I'd be able to say that. Those were without a doubt the most harrowing 6 hours of our lives."
Many of you have asked for an update and more details.
Our little island nation of the British Virgin Islands -- formerly dubbed 'Nature's Little Secrets' -- were hit directly and ravaged by the Category 5, history making, most powerful hurricane to ever hit the Atlantic. Thankfully God was merciful beyond what we can imagine and we are alive to "tell the tale" and sing his praises.
A very big thank you to all who prayed, hoped and inquired about our well-being. Our home and cars suffered extensive damage (as did those of all our extended family members island-wide; no one was untouched) but with breath in our lungs we hope to recover and rebuild as God allows.
Please keep praying for families here in the BVI and other areas affected by this monster storm, including our sister community of the US Virgin Islands). Sadly, five persons lost their lives in the BVI and my heart goes out to their families who have been dealt a double blow.
The humanitarian needs are beyond our capacity to cope with a majority of persons having lost their homes and or livihoods (or both). Electricity and running water are curently things of the past and life as we knew it is a distant memory. In spite of what seems like a major setback, I maintain that God remains good and I invite you to sing his praises today.
By the way, if you wish to help, please pray for our continued safety (another storm is expected in the next three days). Also pray for the recovery process and for discernment in figuring out the next steps. You may also consider contributing to the GoFundMe account which was set up by Lori Schumaker and my Blessing Counters/Higher Ground Conference Retreat family. We also are in contact with Caribbean chapters of HOPE worldwide to offer wider support to our community.
Thank you for your love and support as we climb out from under this. In 2 Chronicles 20 I'm reminded that the battle belongs to God, not me. It will be some time before we can get back to 'normal' but I know you will be praying right alongside us. In the meantime, let's shine bright. With love and blessings (and gratitude in abundance), Sylvester and Marva.
The photo at the top shows the view from our home on the morning before and after Hurricane Irma. Every single tree was stripped of its leaves and pieces of homes (including mine) litter the hillsides. Yet, I will be joyful and praise the Lord! (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
From Dean Bump in St Thomas
Church: Virgin Islands Disciples of Christ
Number of disciples: 17
Led by Dean & Melissa Bump
"The situation in St. Thomas is very bad, but not as bad as Tortola and St. John. Many homes have lost roofs, and FEMA tarps are beginning to dot the landscape, just as they did after 1995’s Hurricane Marilyn. Banks were quick to get their ATM’s back up, since cash is the only form of payment being accepted since regular communications are down. The big difference between the two storms in the community’s response to this disaster is cell phones and social media. Communication is much better and families on the mainland have been able to check the status of their loved ones in most cases.
All the disciples in St. Thomas are safe, though the dwellings where three live have lost roofs, and one sister’s house was destroyed. With curfew being from 6pm-to-10am each day, we meet on Sundays an hour after curfew ends, and check the needs of the fellowship. Commercial flights, as of the time of this writing, have yet to be resumed, but goods are being brought in by the US Army and by volunteers. Most of the island will be without power for one to three months. Pray for our recovery and for us to be able to keep our focus and keep reaching out to the lost."
Caribbean Leaders Meeting cancelled; churches focused on recovery efforts
Another result of the passng of Hurricane Irma is the cancellation of the upcoming fall meeting of the Caribbean leadership, which was set for October in St. Thomas. All our attention is now focused on supporting the recovery of our brothers and sisters in Tortola and St. Thomas, and the other islands that were affected. HOPEww (Trinidad and Tobago) are spear-heading our Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the Caribbean, seeking to meet the victims most pressing and immediate needs. Most churches in the region will be collecting donations in cash and kind from our members throughout September and October, in an effort to assist.
Please continue to pray for the islands in the Caribbean during the hurricane season, and specifically the disciples and their families and neighbors who have already suffered the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma.
Note: We have not yet received reports from disciples in Cuba, which also received a direct hit. See this link for additional photos of some of the damage sustained in various islands from Hurricane Irma.