By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Editor’s Note: You can listen to Phillip Hardee discuss the rebuilding efforts of Tennessee Baptists on the island of Dominica during Episode 14 of Radio B&R, the official news podcast of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
FRANKLIN — The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria on the island of Dominica was “eye-opening and jaw-dropping,” said Phillip Hardee, a disaster relief volunteer from Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova.
Hardee was part of an assessment team (along with Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and Don Owen of First Baptist Church, Morristown) who visited the island in late November to assess the damage done by the Category 5 hurricane last September.
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief accepted the challenge to coordinate relief efforts on the island, specifically the village of La Plaine, and will provide relief materials and supplies throughout 2018.
Hardee, a veteran of numerous disaster relief trips in the United States, was chosen to coordinate the volunteer teams that will be traveling to Dominica throughout this year to help residents in La Plaine, on the eastern side of the island, and surrounding villages, roof existing homes and rebuild others that were destroyed.
Kent Mathis, international and disaster relief minister for Bellevue Baptist, said that when Jones asked Bellevue to coordinate the volunteers, Hardee was a natural choice because of his involvement with disaster relief efforts over the years.
One of the goals of Bellevue is to train up leaders, Mathis said. “As mission pastors, we don’t believe in leading every trip. We empower lay leaders and Phillip is a good example of that.”
The needs in Dominica
The damage done by Hurricane Maria was unbelievable, Hardee said. “We saw homes with roofs that were completely gone. If the homes were made of wood, they were flattened. If they were block or brick homes, some of the walls remained but most were severely damaged. … The authorities told us that more than 90 percent of the roofs on the island were destroyed or severely damaged.”
He observed that the hurricane was no respecter of persons. No one was excluded. Homes of the rich sustained the same damage as homes of the poor, Hardee said.
Sadly, residents of Dominica cannot expect the help from their government as citizens of the United States receive when disaster strikes, Hardee related. As a result, Tennessee Baptists are desperately needed on the island and, what’s more, “they are welcome there with open arms,” he said.
Tennessee Baptists will work with missionaries Mike and Glenda Coupe and pastor Asha Loronde of La Plaine Baptist Church. Hardee said working with Coupe will be a “blessing” for Tennessee Baptists because he has lived on the island in the past and he has a 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.”
As of now, electricity in the entire country is very limited, Hardee related. While 20 percent of the electricity has been restored to the capitol city of Roseau, it may be anywhere from two to 10 years before commercial electricity is restored on the rest of the island, Hardee estimated.
As a result, volunteers will hear generators running throughout the day and night.
Ironically, though there is no electricity, there is a cell phone tower about 200 yards from the church that is still standing and in use. The church has a generator and at night they “crank it up” and allow local residents to come and charge their phones, Hardee said. The church uses that time for fellowship and an opportunity to share the gospel, he added.
What to expect
Tennessee Baptists have secured a home that will be used to house volunteers, Hardee said. It is not heated but it never gets cold, Hardee said. He acknowledged the opposite is also true. There is no air conditioning but the house provides a place to sleep. He noted mattresses will be provided. Volunteers do not need to bring bedding.
While food is not readily available, the supply is adequate, Hardee said. Local residents will cook the meals for the volunteers, he noted.
Hardee said the work to be done by volunteers is not that difficult but it also will not be overly easy. Teams will be repairing or replacing metal roofs. In some cases it will be necessary to repair rafters or build trusses and replace windows, he continued.
Hardee expects some other projects to develop later in the year, but the initial thrust will be putting roofs on homes.
All team members need to bring with them to Dominica are work clothes, gloves, and work boots, Hardee said. He stressed that tools and materials will be provided on the work sites.
The Memphis volunteer noted that Dominica will be volunteer-friendly in the sense that translators will not be needed. “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.”
The fact they can speak and understand English will help volunteers as they share their faith while working on homes. “You will have ample opportunity to share your faith,” Hardee said.
He added teams will be repairing homes for both believers and nonbelievers who will work alongside the volunteers on the homes. The homeowners are tired of being wet following the hurricane, Hardee continued. ‘They are willing to help. They are not looking for us to do it all,” he said.
As volunteers repair the homes at no cost, they will be asked why they did it, Hardee predicted. “You can tell them you did it because Christ loves them and is loving them through you. It will give you a great opportunity to share the good news of Jesus.”
Things to know
Ten-member teams are needed throughout 2018. Churches and associations are encouraged to provide an entire team if possible, Hardee said. Ten is the maximum number because of housing and transportation issues, he explained. If a team cannot get 10 members, Hardee said they will try to complete the team with members from another church or association.
Hardee stressed that a volunteer MUST HAVE a passport in order to enter the country. It normally takes six to eight weeks to get a passport, so prospective volunteers should begin the process immediately. A visa is not required, he added.
Hardee also cautioned that flying to Dominica is not currently easy to do. “You are going to have to fly to somewhere other than Dominica from the United States. Most of the teams will probably go to Puerto Rico and spend the night,” he said. Hardee added that an agreement has been arranged with the North American Mission Board to allow volunteers to stay at the old seminary in Puerto Rico before flying to Dominica the next day. Vans will transport the volunteers to La Plaine.
The cost of the trip will vary depending upon where volunteers fly out of Tennessee. A bonus is that the Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief is providing a $300 grant to every Tennessee Baptist volunteer who travels to Dominica through August. Hardee said it could be extended beyond August, but there are no guarantees.
He encouraged Tennessee Baptists to prayerfully consider going to Dominica to serve. “There’s a great need there for humanitarian aid and to help people who are in need.
“At the same time, there’s an open door of opportunity to share the good news of Jesus that has not been opened like it is now in many years.”
Teams are currently scheduled through April. If interested in taking a team or going as an individual, contact Hardee at 901-652-4553 or call the church at 901-347-5537.