By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
LA PLAINE, Dominica — After three months of sending volunteers to help reroof homes in the village of La Plaine in Dominica, “the rough edges” are in the process of being smoothed out, said Phillip Hardee, a member of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, who is coordinating volunteer teams for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Each team that has been to Dominica thus far has provided “positive feedback,” Hardee said. They have pointed out things that need attention such as on-site organization and supplies, he noted. “We are addressing those issues.”
Tennessee Baptist volunteers have come away saddened by the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria and subpar living conditions faced by the majority of Dominicans. Six months after the hurricane, the majority of the island’s residents have no electricity unless they have gasoline-powered generators.
“I cannot begin to describe the devastation I saw,” said Gerald Bontrager, pastor of Tulip Grove Baptist Church, Old Hickory.
The island is “still awakening from a coma of destruction brought on by 170 mph winds. Everywhere I looked I saw the effects of the storm. Nothing physical was spared.
“But the one thing I learned was this: a category five hurricane cannot destroy faith! The believers were vibrant before the storm, but they are even stronger now,” Bontrager affirmed.
Larry Silvey of First Baptist Church, Millington, said the devastation in the country is overwhelming. The people live in poor conditions, he noted.
Silvey observed that despite the ordeal caused by Hurricane Maria, the Dominicans “have a smile on their faces. They are working through it.”
Volunteers also are quick to point out how impressed they are with the Dominicans.
Garry Maddox, medical/dental unit operations manager for Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, noted the Dominican people “are really wonderful. I’ve been in a lot of Third World countries and I have never felt as safe as I have in Dominica,” he observed.
“The people are loving and appreciate us being there.”
“The people are wonderful and helpful,” agreed Jon Zeiller of Tulip Grove Baptist Church, Old Hickory. He was especially appreciative of the members of La Plaine Baptist Church where team members worshiped on the Sunday they were on the island. “They have a passion to win all of the people of Dominica to Christ,” he said.
Malcomb Helton, another TGBC member, agreed. “The people are very friendly and appreciated the work that was done.”
Silvey was grateful for the Dominicans who worked alongside the volunteers. “We had a good working relationship,” he said. “We all worked together.”
Team members have done more than just replace roofs and do other repairs. They have shared their faith with the Dominicans and worshiped with them at La Plaine Baptist Church.
At least five professions of faith have been recorded. An elderly man whose home was repaired by Tulip Grove Baptist Church accepted Christ while four people were led to Christ by Millington volunteers. In addition, First Baptist “planted seeds” that hopefully will lead to additional professions of faith, Silvey said.
Maddox participated in a baptism service for 11 Dominicans who accepted Christ before teams began arriving.
He is grateful the church is there to continue ministering and meeting needs after teams are gone. “After we leave, the church is who the people we have helped will look to,” Maddox observed.
Some volunteers are looking at other ways they could assist the Dominicans.
Doug Morris, a TGBC team member, observed that “people resource” outweigh the material resources on the island. He would like to see basic training in areas such as drafting, air conditioning, and refrigeration provided to Dominicans. “We would be helping others to help themselves while building pride in their community,” Morris said. “I’m willing.”
Overall, each team has reported they have had a positive experience in Dominica, Hardee said.
He added that it is encouraging that of the three churches that have sent teams to Dominica this year, everyone “has booked another week. They are returning.”