UMCOR begins efforts for Bahamas relief

As Hurricane Dorian threatened the U.S. east coast in September, United Methodists were connecting with Methodists in the Bahamas to start relief efforts.

The Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church fielded requests to help those evacuated from the "unprecedented devastation" to receive basic supplies and find a place to live, says its president, the Rev. L. Carla Culmer.

But the survivors also need someone to hear their stories. "We want to see how we can counsel and listen and be there for them," she told UM News in a Sept. 5 phone interview.

UMCOR has awarded a solidarity grant to Bahamas Methodist Habitat for immediate, emergency short-term funding to address basic human needs. The relief agency also expects to partner in the Bahamas with the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas.

Your gifts on UMCOR Sunday helps support lay the foundation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to share God's love with communities everywhere.

A NASA satellite image captures Hurricane Dorian over the Bahamas on Sept. 1, as the powerful Category 5 storm was directly over Great Abaco Island. Dorian became the strongest hurricane on record in the northwestern Bahamas. NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview.

After striking the island nation on Sept. 1, Hurricane Dorian caused "vast devastation" and left 70,000 people in need of immediate humanitarian relief, says Mark Lowcock, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis called Dorian the most damaging storm ever to hit the island group, Reuters reported. Worst hit was the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas and Grand Bahama Island. As of Sept. 5, the death toll was 20.

"People were traumatized because the storm lasted so long," Culmer, pastor at Wesley-Grants Town Church in Nassau said.

Her conference's disaster response ministry, Bahamas Methodist Habitat, is based at Camp Symonette on Eleuthera Island. 

About 80 miles south of the Abacos and Grand Bahama islands, Camp Symonette escaped major damage from Dorian.

The Rev. Stephanie Gottschalk, executive director of Bahamas Methodist Habitat, noted that the population of the Bahamas is similar to Pittsburgh and that the 70,000 or so in the Dorian-affected areas "represents about 18 percent of the population … so this is felt nationwide."

Donations to UMCOR are the best way for church members to respond, Bishop Bickerton said.

United Methodists in the U.S. have emotional and familial ties to Methodists in the Caribbean. UMCOR and its parent body, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, hope to use what they learned in working with the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria as a way to respond in the Bahamas.

"One of our goals as Methodist Habitat is to have teams come in to do disaster mitigation work," she said. That includes making structural repairs before storms arrive, so there is greater resiliency and fewer deaths.

Gottschalk expects Dorian will require at least a two-year recovery period. "There will be significant portions of both islands that will need to be totally rebuilt," she said.

Linda Bloom, assistant news editor, UMNS, New York and Sam Hodges contributed to this story.

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, UMCOR Sunday calls United Methodists to share the goodness of life with those who hurt. Your gifts to UMCOR Sunday lay the foundation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to share God's love with communities everywhere. The special offering underwrites UMCOR's "costs of doing business." This helps UMCOR to keep the promise that 100 percent of any gift to a specific UMCOR project will go toward that project, not administrative costs.

When you give generously on UMCOR Sunday, you make a difference in the lives of people who hurt. Give now.