Grace UMC Responds to the Bahamas
By Chamus Burnside-Savazzini, Director of Children’s Faith Formation
Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God can do more than we can think or imagine through His power within us!
God did do more than we could have imagined for Freeport Grand Bahama, Bahamas, and the members of the Grand Bahamas Circuit of the Methodist Church because of his power within us! On behalf of Reverend Kenneth Lewis, Superintendent, I say thank you for responding without hesitation to the devastation after hurricane Dorian.
During and immediately after Dorian hit the Bahamas, the members of Grace UMC joined in prayer and expressed concern for those affected. There were so many asking about the Bahamas, my family and checking in on me. I was saturated with positive thoughts, prayers and encouragement. After seeing the aftermath and my daughter Luisa blurting out, “Mummy, we have to help them!,” I knew the Holy Spirit was moving me to respond in a selfless way.
I called around and got the contact information for the Superintendent who shared what the church was doing to respond immediately to the community. I asked about the immediate needs and he shared that food, relief supplies and personal hygiene items were needed because most families lost everything they owned. At this point, I truly felt that this was a big job and I was not sure I was ready or skilled to do it. What I did know, is that I had the support of my church and WE wanted to respond.
I contacted the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to find out how and when they would respond and was told they were not planning on going in until 2020, so that solidified in my mind that I needed to help with the immediate needs. After lining everything up and publishing the needs and ways to support, the United Methodist Women also mobilized a unified effort in addition to the church at large. This was encouraging and gave me the “can do” power to keep going. I cannot explain how fear and anxiety melted away as everyone showed that we could do this together! In addition to that, my sister-in-law and niece committed to coming and helping. I was overwhelmed by their willingness to come and serve with me.
On October 20, I flew down to Ft. Lauderdale on the last flight and on October 21, I stayed with my younger cousin who not only graciously welcomed all the packages for a month prior, but welcomed me and prayed over me and my journey. I still get teary-eyed because her mother, my aunt Charlotte who passed away a few months before, always prayed over us when we left her home. The Holy Spirit was reminding me that I was not alone every step of the way.
I gathered all the donations that were already shipped into a van that I rented. I then went to Kendall Community Church of God in Miami, Florida, where Rev. Lewis gave me a contact to get food items that were just sitting but not picked up, possibly because of shipping costs. I, along with Carolyn and Miguel, an employee at the church, stayed with me for a few hours to sort and load the van.
I arranged for my best friend’s daughter to meet me at the shipyard with a friend and we unloaded the items onto a pallet in record time and realized we could make it back to the church before the shipyard closed. She came in a pickup truck and we were able to drive back to that church, load both the van and the pickup truck and travel back to the shipyard and load two more pallets with food, water, supplies, clothes and medical equipment. This was one of the most prayerful days of my life. It was remarkable because I truly had no idea how this would happen; all I knew is that we were going to make sure it happened. God delivered as always.
The next morning at 6 a.m. I checked in to the Balearia Fast Ferry and rode with the shipment 2.5 hours to Freeport, Bahamas. We arrived at 11:30 a.m. and sat and waited for the pallets to be unloaded. I watched as entire contents of a functioning home showed up pallet after pallet, which intensified the revelation that everyone was rebuilding their lives, piece by piece and this was going to be a lot of work. Then it also dawned on me, that not everyone was able to do this. There were families who did not have the resources to go to Florida and purchase their needed items. That is when I knew that this mission was important and it was only the beginning.
After five hours and 15 minutes of waiting, a Customs Officer announced that they were stopping the unloading and clearing for the day and we should come back the next day to identify and clear our shipments. This was not what I wanted to hear because my best friend had lined up a flatbed trucking company to come help move all three pallets and they were not available on the next day. Anxiety set in, but my cousin said, not to worry we will get the items to the church and I should relax.
The next day we went back to the warehouse where the items were stored and it took almost 3 hours to find and clear 2 of the 3 pallets. One of the pallets did not make it on the ferry. My cousin called a friend who owned a pickup truck and worked transporting items. He had a one-hour window of time free and he was able to bring the items from Freeport Harbor to the church. I used Facebook to call for help to unload and friends showed up and we unloaded in record time. It felt like a dream had come true and I had one last pallet on my mind. They told me at the Harbor that it should arrive by Thursday. Panic set in again because I was scheduled to leave on Thursday evening. Writing this reminds me of how quickly we forget that God can do more than we can imagine. I felt like I was in exile and seeing God work repeatedly, yet still doubting His ability to do what he had called me to do. For the remainder of the day, we sorted donated items with the volunteers at the church and gave water and supplies out to those who needed them.
On Thursday, October 24, we volunteered on the 6 a.m. shift at the church to prepare a hot breakfast for the children, parents and teachers at the school nearby. This was a huge operation and we prepared 380 meals. We then got to go over to the school and personally deliver the meals. This was amazing. Some kids wore uniforms and others who had lost everything came with whatever they had. I was wondering what was going through their heads, especially the kids that had lost everything. We heard stories of children who did not want to get in a bathtub or ride through a puddle because they thought the water would swallow them up. Heartbreaking, but reality for those affected.
After serving breakfast, our team of 10 volunteers along with the Superintendent unloaded a 40-foot trailer that arrived with food, supplies and hygiene kits. It was uplifting to see meals made at places like Feed My Starving Children and hygiene kits delivered safe and sound. This was another sign to me that God wanted me to know that He will provide through us!
We received a call from the ferry around 1 p.m. saying the ferry would be leaving earlier because of bad weather, so we returned to the harbor and the pallet was unloaded and cleared within an hour and a half. We hired an “unloader” to help move the pallet and get it outdoors which lead up to our ferry check-in time. I did not get to personally deliver the last pallet but paid for the truck to remove it from the shipyard before I left. My dear older cousin and his son stayed with the pallet until it was picked up. They delivered it to the church and sent a text to let me know it was finished!
I cannot explain, and will not focus on the physical fatigue I felt, because it was overshadowed by the joy of serving! I am so thankful for the prayers and encouragement from everyone that supported by praying, encouraging, providing resources and sending words of love and support through cards and on social media. I cannot explain adequately enough what this meant to those who received the items, which also included a Samaritan’s Purse delivery of medical supplies.
Outside of a local mission, this was the first time I felt called to respond by giving of myself completely and I know it was possible because of God’s grace through Grace UMC. As we enter the Christmas season, our mission-focused church family continues to mimic what Christ did, giving of themselves completely for others, and not focusing on the possible obstacles, but keeping our eyes fixed on the power of God within us. The mission has just started and I look forward to serving in any way that I can with all who are interested because help will be needed for a long time to come. I pray that we can be that ray of hope for the people of Freeport, Bahamas. May God continue to show us ways to be of assistance and may we be blessed as we bless others.