Tennessee Baptists have the opportunity to be involved in disaster relief on the island of Dominica, which was nearly totally destroyed. Phillip Hardee, of Bellevue Baptist Memphis, is leading that effort and answers questions in this episode for how you can be involved.
Lonnie Wilkey: Hello, this is Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector, and welcome to this edition of Radio B&R. With me today is Phillip Hardee of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova. Phillip is a long-time member of the church and works in disaster relief at Bellevue, and Phillip is going to be coordinating rebuilding efforts on the island of Dominica, which was pretty much destroyed by Hurricane Maria early last fall. So, Phillip, thank you for joining us today.
Phillip Hardee: Well, thank you. It’s good to be here.
Lonnie Wilkey: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you became involved in disaster relief and what you do with Bellevue Baptist?
Phillip Hardee: Well, for disaster relief, we were members of Bellevue when Hurricane Katrina and Rita came through, and Bellevue took an active part in trying to help with the recovery down there. So I joined a chainsaw team, got the training, went down several trips to Slidell, Louisiana on a chainsaw team. Actually, I think I went five times to Slidell. Actually, I was down there on a trip when Rita came through, and we were evacuated. Came back home, and then we turned right around a couple weeks later, went back to Sulphur, Louisiana and helped out down there after Hurricane Rita, so that’s how I got introduced to disaster relief.
After that I’ve done a lot of stuff around Memphis as we help the local community, and then this past fall went to Texas a couple of trips down for flood recovery after Harvey blew through down there. And then we heard about what happened with Puerto Rico and Dominica with Maria, also a little bit around Florida, and me and some other guys committed that we would go to Puerto Rico if the need arose for us to form a team and go. During that timeframe, Wes Jones and some others decided we need to go take a look at Dominica. They had heard about Dominica and the need there, and that there wasn’t a lot of help being administered there, and I was in the church office when Wes Jones called to see if somebody from West Tennessee could go with him from Middle Tennessee and Don Owen from East Tennessee, and Kent Mathis, our international missions pastor and disaster relief pastor. I was there. He said, “Would you be willing to go?” And I said, “Sure.” So that’s how I got involved in Dominica.
Lonnie Wilkey: Tell us what you saw when you went to Dominica and the devastation you saw.
Phillip Hardee: It was eye-opening and jaw-dropping. It looked like, Dominica is a mountainous island. It’s very much like being in the Gatlinburg area. The switchback roads, small roads going through up and down, but when we first got there and could get a look at the island, it looked like it had been on fire because I’ve been to the Caribbean before and everything. It’s lush and green and beautiful, but everything there was stark gray. All the trees was just the trunks and a few limbs. They said, and I can believe it, that every leaf on every tree was blown off when Maria came through. Talking to some of the locals, they said Maria was supposed to miss them by a few miles, be a category two and just a lot of rain. About three days before the hurricane actually hit, they were told it’s going to be closer and it’s increased to a category three, and then the night before Maria came through that’s when they got the word it’s coming right over Dominica as a category five, and it did, and the devastation is just unbelievable.
Streams that flowed through the villages and the cities became massive rivers. They showed us one place where there’s a bridge. It’s about 50 feet wide, but they said the river where it came through there was 200 feet wide and about 30 feet deep. Boulders the size of small automobiles were washed down the mountains and came through and took cars and homes and everything with them all the way to the ocean. We drove by a car dealership, which was previously like on the left side of the road. Now, all their cars were on the right side of the road just piled up against a huge warehouse, and trees and mud and rocks all piled up around them. We saw homes that the roofs were completely gone. If the homes were made out of wood structures, they were flat. If they were block homes or brick homes, some of the walls were up, but most of them had severe damage to the windows at least. The authorities there told us when we were there that 90-something percent of the roofs on the whole island if they were not destroyed were severely damaged.
We had a meeting one day with a member of parliament that wanted to know, you know, why we were there, and wanted to know what we were going to try to do. We were in his home and we were sitting under a tarp. I mean, no one was excluded. The rich, there are some more well-off people on Dominica. Their homes sustained the same damage as the poor people. A lot of the people on the island that had the opportunity to take family members, especially children, off the island have sent them away. They told us that initially the population of the island was like 76,000. Now, it’s below 74,000 because many of the children are living with extended family on other islands or even in the US because school is out. The schools were all damaged.
We did see on my second trip there where an elementary school has tents that are set up, and the smallest children, like preschool, kindergarten, first graders that are too small to fend for themselves during the day while the parents are out trying to forage for food, they have a place for them to be, but from the third grade up they’re out of school and they’re helping their parents as best they can to try to find something to eat or something to do or make repairs that they can on their homes.
Lonnie Wilkey: Okay. You mentioned you’ve been in Texas and other places here in the United States following hurricanes. Describe the difference between the help that people here in the United States can expect from their government, from churches, compared to Dominica. There’s not much help offered in Dominica I imagine. Is that correct?
Phillip Hardee: That is correct. Here in the US, you hear a lot of bad about FEMA, and maybe a lot of it is warranted, I won’t make a judge of that, but FEMA is there. FEMA brings stuff in, but there’s a lot of other organizations that are ready, willing, and able to come and help in all parts of the US. You know that if something happens to you disaster wise, within a week or two people are going to be there helping you. But on Dominica, an independent island nation, they have no infrastructure like that. There are no big organizations on Dominica that can work with them like that. I’ve been told that they were looking to Europe to help them out, and it didn’t happen. Europe has not come to their aid and rescue. There’s been a little bit of efforts by some US organizations to give a little bit of aid, but most of the aid from the US organizations is going to Puerto Rico because of its relationship with the US.
Lonnie Wilkey: Okay. So Tennessee Baptists are needed there.
Phillip Hardee: Tennessee Baptists are desperately needed there, and they are welcome there with open arms.
Lonnie Wilkey: Tell us about how what Tennessee Baptists can expect as far as who they will be working with in the La Plaine area and just whatever you can tell us at this point.
Phillip Hardee: Okay. Well, we found out about Dominica through a missionary. His name is Mike Coupe. Him and his wife Glenda had been on Dominica for about six years ministry working in the La Plaine area, and La Plaine is on the east coast. If you look at a map, you can find La Plaine. It’s easy to find the capital, Roseau, over on the Caribbean side, and just look straight across the island. You’ll see La Plaine, and the La Plaine community is where we’re going to focus our efforts because the small efforts that are being done on Dominica are mostly over the Roseau area, the capital.
In La Plaine there’s a small Baptist church there, the La Plaine Baptist Church, and the story behind that it’s a good story, but we’ll save that for another time, but the pastor there, Asha Laronde and his wife, they lost their home completely. They lived just across the street from the church, and when I was there he pointed out his home to us. It was just flat on the ground there, and the church itself lost its roof entirely. What the members did is they got together and they picked up tin from around the village that had blown off of several different houses, and they put metal roof over the back part of the church, which was their previous their kitchen and administrative office and one Sunday school class. They got a tarp, tarped over the front part of the church, the worship center. So Asha and his wife had moved into those three rooms in the back of the church. The kitchen, an office, and what was a Sunday school class is now their kitchen, their living room, and their bedroom for him, his wife, and the little girl.
But you hear that and you think, “Oh, how terrible,” and it is terrible, but you meet them and they’re like, “Hey, we are glad we are alive,” and the main focus they have is not on themselves getting their home rebuilt, not on getting their church fixed. They’d love to have that happen, but they look around their community and they see people that in their opinion need help more than them. They said, “We have got a dry place to be, but there’s families here that they have a tarp pulled over their roof but it’s leaking.” For months, they have lived under a tarp. That’s part of the heart of Osha and his congregation is to help everyone else first and them second.
Working with Mike Coupe is going to be a blessing for us because he’s been on the island for six years, and he’s recently moved away from the island before the storm to continue his ministry on another island in the Caribbean, but he’s going to be there with us for this next year giving us direction. He has construction background, which is going to be good helping the teams to be very pointed in where they’re going to work and what they’re going to do.
That side of the island, they do have running water, which a lot of the island does not. That water comes from way up high in the mountains. They have a pipe. They tell me it’s about two miles long. Goes way up to a mountain spring, and it’s plugged into the spring, and that brings ice cold water down to the village. But as far as electricity, electricity is out over almost all of the island. The capital Roseau they said … When I was there early December, they had about 20% of the electricity restored to the capital, but the rest of the island it will be a minimum of two years, maybe as much as 10 years, before they have commercial electricity.
Lonnie Wilkey: Wow.
Phillip Hardee: So you’ll hear a generator running during the night in La Plaine, a couple of them. One of them is running at the church. The great thing about that is that about … Well, let me back up a step. About 200 yards from the church is a cellphone tower, and it’s still standing. For some reason, the Lord chose not to let the storm knock it down. It’s still functioning. So the people on the east side of the island that have a cell phone, they have cell phone service, so they can communicate with each other or communicate with loved ones off the island.
But there’s no way for the people to charge their phones, but La Plaine Baptist Church has a generator, and at night, every evening when it gets dark they crank it up and they have some lights there. I’ve been there in the evening and the people from the community come and gather there, and they plug in their cell phones and charge them up. And while that’s charging they sit there and they communicate, gather with one another, fellowship, play games. The children come and play games. The adults play dominoes. If you’re a good domino player, they’ll teach you a few tricks there about dominoes. But it’s a great opportunity to interact with the locals, so you can share your faith with them and they can share with you how God has blessed them and protected them through the storm, and it’s a just great time to be there in the evenings.
Lonnie Wilkey: Okay. Tell us a little bit about what Tennessee Baptists can expect as far as once they get there, living conditions, what they can expect as far as what kind of work they will be doing and …
Phillip Hardee: Yes. Well, arriving on Dominica, you’ll have to fly in because it is an island nation. You will have to have a passport because it is an independent nation. The ride from the airport to La Plaine, while it’s just a few miles, I think they said it’s roughly 16 to 18 miles, it takes an hour and a half because the roads are twisty back and forth, a lot of switchbacks, up and down through the valleys, and there’s a lot of damage to the roads, so the traveling is slow.
But once you get to La Plaine, there’s a home that Tennessee Baptists have secured, and it’s being repaired. It needs most of the windows replaced, but that was being done the first week of January. A lot of roof damage, but the metal has been procured for that and a construction team is putting the roof on, and Tennessee Baptists are going to stay in this home. It’s a four-bedroom home with a big foyer up front, so we’re going to have two or three people in the bedrooms and the rest, the guys will camp out up at the front. So it’ll be a good place to stay. You’ll be dry. I’ll say warm because it’s never cold there. You won’t be cool because there’s no AC, but you’ll be able to lay down at night and sleep. Tennessee Baptists sent over on containers some bedding, so you’ll be sleeping on a mattress. You won’t be sleeping on a sleeping bag or on the floor or a cot.
Then there’s the local people are … Food is I won’t say readily available but it’s adequately available. We went to a couple of stores while we were there, the advance team, to make sure that we’d be able to get frozen meat and some fresh vegetables. Rice and beans are readily available. Anyway, so the local people are going to cook for us, and they cooked for the two advance teams that went down, and we all enjoyed the meal, and so I’m sure our Tennessee Baptists that go down and work will also. You’ll be fed right there near the housing and the work site.
Some of the people are going to be working with us, and the work is not going to be that difficult, but it’s not going to be overly easy. We’re going to be repairing roofs, metal roofs, tin as we call it here in Tennessee. Some of the roof structure itself is damaged, so we’ll be having to replace rafters or build trusses. There’s a lot of windows that have been blown out from the pressure of the storm that have to be replaced. They are, like I said earlier, the wooden structures most of them are completely destroyed, and the government in Dominica when we met with them they do not want wood structures built back. They want block buildings built back. That’s kind of a segue. I can get on a block machine here in a minute when we’re continuing, but at some point we’ll be building homes, new homes, with concrete blocks for the people whose homes were completely destroyed.
Also, two of our big projects that we have in mind outside of the homes, one is the church. We want to reconstruct the church in such a manner that it could be the hurricane shelter for the future. We want to instead of having a wood ceiling for the first floor we want to go in and form up and pour a concrete floor or ceiling. It’d be a concrete ceiling for the first floor, a concrete floor for a future second floor to put on the church. Hurricanes aren’t that unusual in the southern Caribbean, so there’ll be another one sometime, but we want to have a place where they can not only just look to the church for help after the storm, but a place they can go to to weather the storm there at the La Plaine Baptist Church.
And then nearby there is a recreation area for the community, a basketball court and a building that was pretty much destroyed by that storm, and we want to try to rebuild that so we’ll have a gathering place for the kids, a safe place for them to get together to play, play basketball or play games, whatever, in the local community center.
Lonnie Wilkey: I assume that will take place later on during the year.
Phillip Hardee: Yes.
Lonnie Wilkey: Initially, the teams will be helping to reroof the homes.
Phillip Hardee: Yes. Initially, we’ll be doing whatever repairs that we can do on the homes. Exactly right.
Lonnie Wilkey: Now, team members or volunteers who go, they don’t have to bring any tools or basically any supplies other than clothes and personal hygiene items. Is that correct?
Phillip Hardee: Yes. Your work boots, your gloves, and some work clothes. All the tools that should be necessary for the work was purchased and shipped over on a container that arrived the 28th day of December, and all those tools and building materials should be on site when the teams arrive ready to be used.
Lonnie Wilkey: I know we’re looking at 10-member teams, correct?
Phillip Hardee: Yes, sir. That’s correct.
Lonnie Wilkey: Will all 10 people be on one house, or will they divide them up to maybe work on two houses at once?
Phillip Hardee: It depends on what the work is going to be required for the individual house. We’ve talked about that, and we’d like to keep the teams together, but we may divide up into teams of two because we’re going to have locals working with us. That’s something that we discussed from the beginning that we wanted to do, and we’re going to continue to do that. So we may divide the teams up in groups of two, two teams to work on two different houses, especially if it’s a smaller job. Just a little bit of work needs to be done on a house then we’ll break off four or five from the team, pair them up with some of the local people to work on this house, and the rest will go to work on another house, another location.
Lonnie Wilkey: Okay. I understand the first team will probably go in at the end of January, and then you hope to have a team there every week for the-
Phillip Hardee: Yes.
Lonnie Wilkey: Tell us how long you anticipate it continuing.
Phillip Hardee: Well, Dominica would like for us to come every week for 2018. As soon as we can start coming, come every week, and so we’re scheduling teams beginning at the end of January, like you just said, through the week before Christmas with the exception of we’re going to skip each side of the Easter Sunday and we’re not going to go the week of Thanksgiving, but we want to go every other week for the whole year with a team of 10 people. So beginning like we were talking about with the homes. Then transition to the church and the recreation center, and then during the time when we’re doing the homes and recreation center, we want to scatter in there some teams that will do vacation bible school, maybe a women’s conference, some evangelism teams, some teams that will go down and help with job skills. We have a lot of ideas that we want to work to not just repair the storm damage but to build up the community of La Plaine.
Lonnie Wilkey: Okay. And team members while they’re there they’ll be able to share with the folks there and maybe even witness some [crosstalk 00:20:06] testimony?
Phillip Hardee: Oh, yes. The best thing about going to Dominica is it’s an English-speaking nation. You will hear some of the locals interacting with each other in a French Creole dialect, but they’ll converse with you in perfect English. They read and write English. That’s the national language, and it’s kind of neat. You’re talking to them, maybe talking to a couple of the locals, and you’re all talking in English but every now and then they’ll turn to each other and they’ll say a word or two and you’re like, “What did you say?”
It’s just so natural for them to break into that Creole, but, yeah, you’ll have ample opportunity to share your faith, and what we’re really wanting to do is these homes that were damaged that are not church, that are nonbelievers, when we go in there and fix their home and we don’t charge them anything, we don’t ask them for anything, they’re going to want to know why you did that, and you can share with them you did it because Christ loves you and is loving them through you. And that’ll give you a great opportunity to share your testimony, and then share the good news of Jesus.
Lonnie Wilkey: Okay. I know you already have a lot of dates lined up with churches and association teams, but I know you have a lot of dates that are still open. If a church or an association wants to put together a 10-member team or if they can’t get 10, I assume they can still do it.
Phillip Hardee: Yes.
Lonnie Wilkey: What do they need to do? Do they call you or Wes Jones, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board? Walk us through that process of how teams can get on the list to go.
Phillip Hardee: So if your church or association is interested in going to Dominica, call me, Phillip Hardee at Bellevue Baptist Church, and you can call my cell phone. I have it on me all the time and I’m not afraid to answer it. (901) 652-4553, or you can call directly to the mission’s office at Bellevue, (901) 347-5537, and someone will answer your call, tell you the weeks that are available, and you can … We’ll pencil in your church association and hold the week that you want to go. We are, like I said, limiting the teams to 10 because of housing and transportation around the island, but if your church or association can only get five or six together, then we’ll try to fill that team from some other church, either in your association or outside your association. So we’re going to work with everybody as best we can to get 10 people down there every week.
Lonnie Wilkey: And I think we need to stress that unlike a lot of volunteer trips, you do need a passport to go to Dominica, correct?
Phillip Hardee: That is exactly right.
Lonnie Wilkey: It usually takes, what, six to eight weeks at least?
Phillip Hardee: That’s right. Yep, six to eight weeks to get your passport. There’s no visa requirements, so once you have that passport you can go. When you arrive in Dominica, you have a little form to fill out, and they’ll welcome you gladly into Dominica to help them out.
Lonnie Wilkey: Okay.
Phillip Hardee: Getting to Dominica is not the easiest thing, you know, just tell you up front so everybody will know. You’re going to have to fly somewhere other than Dominica from the US. Most of the teams will probably fly to Puerto Rico, spend the night, and we have worked out an agreement with the North American Mission Board to stay at the old Baptist seminary just outside of San Juan for Friday nights. So teams can leave the US on Friday, make their way to Puerto Rico on Friday, spend Friday night there at the old seminary, and then Saturday fly on to Dominica and probably, well, no probably, you’ll see the team that’s leaving on Saturday. You’ll all hi and bye right there as you swap out there in Dominica at the airport, and the vans that brought that team out from La Plaine will take you to La Plaine to work.
Lonnie Wilkey: Okay, and I understand the cost is very dependent on where teams leave from, but I understand the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board is providing some scholarships. Can you talk about that?
Phillip Hardee: Yes, I can. Very graciously, Tennessee Baptist, because they want Tennessee Baptists going and helping in Dominica, have offered to grant every Tennessee Baptist going to Dominica through August, maybe longer but no promise on that, but a promise for every Tennessee Baptist that goes through August will get $300 grant from the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board to help offset the price of their travels to Dominica.
Lonnie Wilkey: So that’s great.
Phillip Hardee: That’s tremendous. I’ve never heard of anything like that before.
Lonnie Wilkey: Yeah. So that is super. So just to conclude, why should Tennessee Baptists consider going to Dominica?
Phillip Hardee: There’s a great need there for humanitarian aid, to help people that are in need, and at the same time there’s a open door of opportunity to share the good news of Jesus that has not been opened like it is now in many years.
Lonnie Wilkey: Okay. Phillip, I thank you for taking time to do this podcast. I thank you for your efforts in leading this effort there in Dominica, and just, again, thank you for your service.
Phillip Hardee: Sure. Thank you for giving me the opportunity. I appreciate it.
Lonnie Wilkey: And Tennessee Baptists, we encourage you to go and just remember that your gifts through the Cooperative Program, Disaster Relief, and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions help make efforts like this possible, so thank you.