DR teams continue recovery efforts on Caribbean island
By David Dawson
FRANKLIN — More than 17 months after Hurricane Maria left its devastating signature on the Caribbean island of Dominica, Tennessee Baptist disaster relief teams are still going strong in their efforts to help residents recover from the deadly storm.
And they won’t be slowing down any time soon.
Tennessee Baptist Mission Board disaster relief specialist Wes Jones said DR teams will continue to routinely travel to Dominica for the foreseeable future.
“In the coming months and throughout the coming year, we will focus on continuing to assist families, as well as doing more ministry in the community,” said Jones. “We will be helping La Plaine Baptist Church fix its building so that it can continue to minister to the community as they share the love of Christ.”
The Tennessee Baptist Convention “adopted” Dominica, specifically the villages in the La Plaine area, after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Although many projects have been completed, there is still plenty of work to be done in Dominica, which was almost entirely wiped out by the the Category 5 hurricane in September of 2017. The storm produced winds of 160 mph, and stripped the island of much of its vegetation.
Rob Caldwell, the co-coordinator of Team TN Dominica Mission Volunteers, knew the recovery process would be a long road. But he is excited about the work that has been done and energized about the work that lies ahead.
“We’ve seen God do some amazing things,” he said.
Steve Newton serves as co-coordinator with Caldwell. Newton has a background as an architect, and has been pivotal in helping with the renovation effort. He has also supported the team travel and project coordination efforts.
Caldwell and Newton traveled to Dominica last July and again this past December.
Last week, the DR leadership group got together to finalize plans for the coming months, and Caldwell noted there will be a slight shift in focus this year.
While last year’s recovery efforts had a broad scope, this year’s plan will be to focus primarily on the rebuilding and renovations of the church.
“As we moved through the year last year, we really wanted to support the community, not just the local church, but everyone who was impacted by the hurricane,” Caldwell said. “So, last year was a lot of rebuilding houses and roofs, not only for church members, but for community members who aren’t necessarily involved in the church. … We really wanted to be more holistic.”
“This year,” he continued, “we’ve made a point to refocus our efforts to support the church a little bit more. The church sits in a very central area, and a lot of people walk past it on their daily commutes. It’s a beacon in the community.”
The DR teams are currently working on adding an extension to the existing structure of the church, and will soon start rebuilding the roof. After the hurricane, the DR teams covered the building with a tin roof — a temporary fix that enabled the congregation to once again begin having services.
“Now, we’re going to go in and redo the roof, and really bolster that to be able to re-support any hurricane issues that they may be faced with going forward,” said Caldwell. “We’re also going to provide them with a concrete slab on the back of the church that will provide a hurricane shelter in times of need. It will be more of a place for them to find shelter if there are people in the community that don’t have places to go during the storms.”
Jones said that the two-part plan enabled relationships to be formed in the community, and helped the residents of Dominica understand that the DR teams were there to help.
“This is a far-reaching effort to help the residents,” he said. “We felt it was important to assist families to get back into their homes before making final repairs on the church building.”
Caldwell noted there have been some hurdles to clear in recent months — including the language barrier and the cultural differences — but said he has felt the power of God’s timing again and again while working on various projects.
“It’s something I’ve prayed about quite a bit,” said Caldwell. “We have prayed that the Lord will deliver the details when His will determines it. And it’s been pretty amazing. A lot of things have fallen into place the last few weeks that will help us get the renovation kicked off. We’re looking forward to doing that.”
The DR teams that travel to Dominica generally stay for about nine days, Caldwell noted.
Two teams just returned from a trip to the island. While there, they were able to repair the backhoe (which is being used for various projects) and put new tires on it. They were also able to repair the block machine — which the TBC provided last year — that had recently broken.
“The block machine will allow them to help rebuild homes in the community,” Caldwell said. “And not only will it allow them to provide block for the community rebuilds, but also block for the church renovation.”
Caldwell noted that the DR leadership team has connected with a contractor from Dominica whose wife and son are involved in the church, and that he will be overseeing the church renovation project.
“We’re very fortunate to have that oversight from him to provide a little bit more organization,” said Caldwell, “and hopefully, it will help us a little bit in terms of having more communication.”
In addition to the church rebuild, Caldwell noted several other ministries that are ongoing, including:
• Exploring the possibility of developing some evangelistic platforms such as Vacation Bible School, along with young adult, and men’s and women’s ministries;
• Helping the pastor of the church find someone who can perform surgery to remove a non-terminal cyst;
• Developing a community food program that will enable the church to offer a meal once a month. “Those who attend will hear the Gospel and get a hot meal — because some of the people aren’t always sure where their next meal is coming from,” said Caldwell.
Caldwell and Jones both said the need for DR volunteers who are interested in traveling to Dominica will continue for many months to come.
“We are definitely looking for new churches to join us,” said Caldwell. “And, really, it doesn’t have to be a church. Individuals can also be involved in whichever way they see fit — whether it’s going down there or helping the ministry through financial support. The bottom line is that we are certainly calling out for people to get involved with the church renovation.”
Caldwell recently designed a logo for “Restore Dominica” and has also designed a T-shirt to help create awareness.
Updates on the DR work in Dominica can be found at teamdominica.blogspot.com, which provides churches with information about volunteering, along with photos and recaps on the work that’s taking place. B&R