By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — Although two months have passed since the Caribbean island of Dominica was besieged by Hurricane Maria, the after effects are still visible and prevalent.
It is estimated that 90 percent of Dominica’s structures were damaged or destroyed in September by the Category 5 hurricane, which claimed at least 28 lives and caused billions of dollars in damage. The storm produced winds of 160 mph, and stripped the island of much of its vegetation.
The recovery process will be extensive and lengthy — but Tennessee Baptists plan to be there for as long as it takes.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention has adopted the island, specifically the villages in the La Plaine area, and will provide relief materials and supplies to the area for the foreseeable future.
Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, recently traveled to Dominica with Nolachucky disaster relief coordinator Don Owen and Bellevue Baptist member Phillip Hardee. The trio traveled to the island for assessment purposes and were immediately compelled to take action, Jones said.
“We looked at the devastation there and we talked about how we (Tennessee Baptists) might can partner with them,” said Jones. “Between the three of us, we decided to look at a long-term plan (project), for at least a year, to try to rebuild that part of the island.”
Owen described the destruction caused by the hurricane as “heart-breaking” and “mind-blowing.”
During their visit, Jones, Hardee and Owen stayed in Roseau, the island’s capital city, which is located on the opposite side of the island from La Plaine. Jones said the capital city side of the island has received “most of the attention” in terms of the recovery efforts over the past few months, while little has been done to aid those in the La Plaine area. Tennessee Baptists will now try to change that.
Jones said relief teams will be sent to the island, in shifts, for the next several months. Jones said the opportunity to volunteer will be open to churches and associations across Tennessee. “This won’t be exclusively a DR project,” he said.
Hardee will be coordinating the project through Bellevue Baptist.
“The large-scale plan for us in La Plaine and some of the surrounding villages is to send in building supplies to rebuild the houses and the roofs,” said Jones. “We’ll be sending aluminum and 2x6s and 2x4s and that type thing.”
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief will also be supplying the island with a cement-block-making machine, Jones said.
“The hope is that the people can make blocks and build their own houses; stronger houses that will hopefully stand up against the hurricanes — which they will have again, sooner or later,” said Jones. “It can also lead to a small business type model where they can build at a cheaper, reduced rate but still give some employment.”
The children who have been affected by the hurricane will also be a focal point in the coming months.
Tennessee Baptists have established a new project called Operation Love Dominica’s Children, which will donate 300 backpacks to children on the island. The backpacks will be filled with toys, games, candy, soccer balls, school supplies, and various other items. The backpacks will be distributed shortly before Christmas.
Jones said the DR teams are also planning to rebuild a basketball court that was destroyed in the storm. “We want to restore it so the kids can have a place to play and have some sense of normalcy in their lives,” said Jones.
To help repair homes DR has purchased two large cement mixers, powered by small diesel engines, that will be used to mix materials for making blocks. In the weeks ahead, a dump truck and backhoe will be loaded onto a boat in Ft. Meyers, Fla., and transported to Dominica for moving supplies and materials in the rebuilding effort, Owen said.
Containers filled with re-bar, metal roofing materials, cement and lumber will also be shipped to the island.
While the DR teams and other volunteers demonstrate the love of Jesus through acts of empathy, God is working in other ways on the island, too.
“One neat thing that is happening there is the church (that is serving as the central post for the DR) has been given a small generator, and it’s one of the few generators in that whole area,” said Jones.
“So, each night, when they turn on the generator for a few hours, everybody in the area comes to the church to charge up their cellphones (the cellphone towers on the island are functioning). This has opened up doors for the pastor of that church to minister to the people and to share the gospel.”
In addition to the work being done in Dominica, Jones said relief efforts are also continuing in Puerto Rico.
“We’ve been asked to partner with four churches in Puerto Rico,” Jones said. “We have five associations who have stepped up and volunteered to help in Puerto Rico, so I have asked them to adopt those four churches. Our plan is to work there for about three to six months and see how things are going.”
From Wes Jones, TBMB disaster relief specialist
Information on how your Tennessee Baptist Churches can become involved in partnering to serve those in Dominica, Puerto Rico and Texas will be sent to churches very soon. Once again, we thank the churches of the Tennessee Baptist Convention for their continued support and giving through the Cooperative Program, Golden Offering for State Missions and generous donations that help make this possible.
— Wes Jones