Responding to those affected by Hurricane Dorian, Nassau, Bahamas

By Chamus Burnside-Savazzini

"And he said to them, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

On December 28, 2019, Grace Members had the opportunity to again, respond to the needs of those affected by hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. Hundreds of families were relocated to Nassau, Bahamas from Abaco and Freeport.  I was able to make contact with the Children’s Emergency Hostel and learned that they had children who were relocated there after the hurricane destroyed their homes, some because the entire family was relocated and some because the parents could not keep their kids.  I learned some of this after arriving at the facility.  

I worked with my sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and partnered with Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., to plan and host a holiday fun day at the hostel.  This included conversations of encouragement, a bouncy castle, STEM entertainment, a grilled hamburger, and hot dog lunch. Gifts, prizes at the game tables, snow cones, popcorn, and donated toiletry items as requested by the staff brought many smiles!   

In preparation for the event, Grace members, United Methodist Women and some of the Sunday school team members made contributions of resources, relief items and supplies to help make this happen. It was more than a blessing!  Lara Stanton met with me several times, to put together treat bags for all of the children and sent supplies for me to organize a craft table and simple relay games.  This was a hit and the kids were very attentive because they LOVED the items on the prize table.  When I checked for my flight, I had two large duffle bags, two large suitcases and Luisa and I put our personal items in 4 carry-ons.  It was creative packing at its best because I knew, there was no telling when I would be able to go back.  

We hosted the event from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. with lunch from 12 p.m. - 12:45 p.m.  I was able to get a popcorn machine, a snow cone machine and all of the supplies donated by a member of Zeta Phi Beta, so that helped to cut the cost of the event.  The current president of the Phi Beta Sigma chapter ran the errands with me and secured a grill that we picked up.  This saved me lots of time and resources because we were able to purchase items in bulk, and he knew where to go to cut the cost for the various lunch items.  
The men of Phi Beta Sigma cooked all of the meat, the ladies of Zeta Phi Beta prepared the toppings, served snow cones, popcorn and served the plates.  The children were entertained by “Fun with Bubbles” and the women of Zeta Phi Beta did games, face painting, STEM activities and facilitated the craft table.  It was a beautifully executed and over 30 volunteers came to assist.  

There were a total of 45 children there that day.  I had never visited this facility before, but I quickly realized why it was called the children’s “emergency hostel.”  We were not allowed to take photos inside the facility for the safety of the children, and this was clearly needed because some of them had been through so much in their short little lives. One little boy was very clingy and kept looking up to me, and I could not help but lift him up into my arms and look into his eyes and assure him that I saw him.  He was so tiny and he just wanted to be seen amongst the bigger kids.  As I picked him up and looked at his arms and legs, I realized that there were scars that no child should ever have.  This gave me chills. Even more chilling was that there were children present who probably had normal lives in their comfortable homes, but along came Dorian and changed that completely.

So now, here they are amongst children who clearly have experienced physical, emotional, psychological and social trauma and only God knows what has been going through their minds since being placed in that environment.  The caregiver mentioned that the children have a wide range of challenges and the ones who came from Freeport and Abaco have lashed out in anger at times, stay in silence most days, and are just frustrated with their current situation.  

I pray that many of them will get some of the scripture-based activity books and coloring pages that I left.  They had to be screened by the Director before distribution because some families have different beliefs.  I was thrilled when they recited a mealtime prayer before lunch that captured all that God has done for them and how they were grateful for what he continues to do.  

I know only the good Lord knows what’s next for our partnership with the Bahamas, but what I do know is that the recovery has just begun.  My hope is that we can partner with Reverend Kenneth Lewis, Superintendent, to help rebuild one structure at a time, and to be a part of rebuilding the spiritual strength of these islands.  The care and concern that Grace members have shown toward the Bahamas has been overwhelming, and I can’t thank everyone enough.  Please continue to pray for our world at large and all that is happening, and please remember those who feel discouraged as they try to rebuild their lives, especially those who are struggling for resources in the Bahamas.      
May God continue to show us how we can be his hands and feet locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. At this point last year, I had no idea that I would be visiting my place of birth to bring comfort and hope to people I actually know.  I just thank God for allowing the Holy Spirit to move so many at Grace UMC, Grace UMW, Linx organization, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity to respond as one.  

This is what we are called to do, respond in unity.  I thank God for the courage to ask for help.  This was a life-changing experience, and I have a new appreciation for those who dedicate their lives to missional work.  Let us remember the scripture at the beginning of this article and immediately below as we ponder what putting faith into action looks like.  I thank God for being able to witness this sacrificial love every day at Grace UMC. 

Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (ESV)