Caribbean - Disaster Relief in Barbuda

OM Caribbean encompasses 28 countries yet operates with a staff of just 21 people.

It exists to recruit people from the Caribbean to go into missions. But in recent years, just as the region hosted OM’s ministry ship, the Logos Hope, and at a time of particularly devastating hurricane activity, OM Caribbean and the Logos Hope were called on to do the work of disaster relief and recovery.

Energetic volunteers from the Logos Hope worked alongside a disaster response team

Energetic OM volunteers from the Logos Hope’s international crew worked alongside a leading relief agency’s disaster response team on the island of Barbuda, as residents returned to devastated properties to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Irma.

Most buildings had their roofs blown off and many homes were completely destroyed when Irma pounded the small island with peak winds of 185 miles per hour. There was one fatality, and 1,800 Barbudans — the island’s entire population — were evacuated to neighboring Antigua in the aftermath.

Irma had pounded the small island with peak winds of 185 mph

Residents recalled riding out the storm. Joyann, a schoolteacher, wept as she described huddling in a corner with her three-year-old daughter, her boyfriend and her elderly father. When their roof was ripped off, they shielded themselves under a heavy jacket and a piece of board. She looked up at a terrifying sky as the rain fell in and her little girl screamed at the wind. When the eye of the storm granted a brief respite, they climbed over their twisted fence and went in search of a sturdier building. Joyann carried her daughter; her boyfriend carried Joyann’s eighty-year-old father on his back.

“As we were singing and praising, something told me, ‘OK, it’s time to go.’”

Meanwhile, eight members of Shiraz Hopkins’ family sheltered in a bathroom at his mother-in-law’s home. Shiraz recounted, “That’s the strongest area in the house. I was holding the door closed and we were hearing all kinds of sounds: the wind and waves battering, debris flying and hitting the house. We all held hands together and prayed, asking God to have mercy upon us. We started singing songs, rejoicing, because there was a peace that just came over us that everything was going to be OK.

Most of the plywood boards on the roof lifted off and a lot of water was coming inside. I thought we should get out of the house. As we were singing and praising, something told me, ‘OK, it’s time to go,’ and as we opened the door, there was a calm. That was the eye of the storm—the best time to move."

Shiraz took refuge in his church, a two-story building with concrete between the ground and first floors. There, he encouraged his neighbors—including Joyann—to praise God while the second half of the storm swept through.

One-hundred-fifty Logos Hope volunteers were flown in from Antigua on daily shuttle flights by partner mission agencies, bringing their own electrical and carpentry skills to the work of reinforcing homes and making them water-tight. The crew’s willing hands cleared debris from properties and worked with Barbudans to sift through the few belongings to be found, while figuring out how to begin putting lives back together. Small generators and a water filtration system had already been loaned in the absence of a functioning infrastructure.

Personal items littered the island––a guitar in the grass; a smashed fish tank with its pebbles scattered. Crumbled walls revealed exposed rooms in disarray. Bedclothes and Bible pages flapped in the breeze. Damp laundry lay tangled around wooden poles in gardens. Twisted sheet metal was caught in trees. Some cars were left on their sides; most had cracked windshields. A key glinted in the dusty street, separated from its door, which could be anywhere. Surviving farm animals roamed wild.

“My lovely island has been torn apart like a bomb…but we are very thankful for …Logos Hope.”

“My lovely island has been torn apart like a bomb was dropped in the middle of it,” said Devon Desouza, a hospital worker. “But we are very thankful for…Logos Hope coming over and assisting us, showing there are people who care and want to help us in whatever way they can.”

It’s not the first time Logos Hope crewmember Johanna Silva (Sri Lanka) has seen widespread destruction. Johanna and her family helped out after a tsunami killed 150,000 people in her native Sri Lanka, in 2004. “Coming here to Barbuda, I didn’t expect the devastation to be almost to that magnitude,” Johanna said, while standing in a rubble-filled street. “Everything that they had is gone in the blink of an eye. It’s heartbreaking. I was overwhelmed at the beginning, but it’s so encouraging to work with a hardworking team to make a difference in a community that really needs it.”

Logos Hope electrician Timo Eschbach (Austria), offered his practical skills to help Barbudans and encourage them in their faith. “I know we are here in a Christian country and people know Jesus,” Timo said, “But it can be (at) times like this that people lose their faith. We can say, ‘there is a God, and He has sent us to help you.’ So I’m really happy to be here to bring hope to these people.”

“There is a God, and He has sent us to help you.” - Timo (Austria)

Partnering with Logos Hope was a morale boost to the on-the-ground relief agency. Its area coordinator said, “The teams have been incredible. They’ve worked tirelessly, had incredible attitudes, brought a joy and excitement that invigorates us every day. For me, that’s the Body of Christ, serving others and not expecting anything in return—and it’s also such a beautiful image of the Church at large, with so many countries being represented.”

Logos Hope Director Pil-Hun Park added, "We are not professional relief workers…but you made it possible for us to help others in need and because we're a family of God, we could do it together.”

Docked in a port at neighboring Antigua, the Logos Hope held a special on-board event for displaced Barbudans. Shiraz Hopkins' voice was one of the loudest as he continued singing and praising God, grateful for all that his family and his community have been brought through.

He beamed. “Possessions we can replace and they will come. We see that God has already sent Logos Hope … and He will send others, so we just thank God for His goodness. He will raise Barbuda again.”

“You don’t just walk away and say ‘sorry.’ You step in and help.” - Henry

OM Caribbean’s former field leader, the late Henry Janowski offered, “We are not a relief and development organization; we’re recruiting people to go into missions from the Caribbean. But if your church you’re recruiting from got totally destroyed, you don’t just walk away and say ‘sorry.’ You step in and help. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Response work continues

Earlier, Hurricane Matthew had significantly affected OM’s work in Haiti. That led to OM later focusing on providing relief to Dominica, Barbuda and several southern islands in the Bahamas. OM has partnered with relief agencies and partner churches in the eastern Caribbean.

“Our help is all done through the local church, so the local church is the spotlight, not OM,” Henry said. “We’re opening the door for relationships [with the churches] so people who don’t know Christ might know [Him].”

The Logos Hope has moved on to South America but OM Caribbean remains in place, building relationships for missions and rebuilding its own communities with relief where it’s needed. It’s a holistic approach to building God’s kingdom on earth, and one OM is eager to continue.

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