Below are some answers to questions we are receiving often. As questions come up and answers are available, this list will be adjusted.
What have we heard about the condition of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Freeport?
(As of 10/29/2019) Our Saviour Lutheran Church continues to partner with us as a staging ground for distributing supplies and relief efforts throughout the community. Pr. Stan Wickett has spent time in Freeport doing an assessment of needs and resources, and the Recovery Team is strategizing a comprehensive approach for going forward. Pastors will begin offering Pr. Lewis respite relief one Sunday a month beginning in November.
(As of 9/23/2019) On Friday, Sept. 21, Bishop Suarez and Aura were able to make a one-day trip to Freeport to visit the island and see the impact of the hurricane for themselves. Bishop and Aura met with Pr. Cliff Lewis and the community at Our Saviour Lutheran Church to hear their stories and to see the ways they have already been responding to the needs. He also was taken on a driving tour around the island, where he saw the devastation of the storm to homes and lives. There is a lot of work to be done, but the island is not ready yet to receive volunteer delegations. The airport traffic is very limited, and there is nowhere to stay. We are working closely with Lutheran Disaster Response International and ELCA Global Missions to strategize the efforts going forward.
(As of 9/9/2019) We have heard that no one in the congregation lost their life. One family’s home took in 5 ft of water, but they are safe. The congregation is ready to be a staging area for relief and response (supplies, personnel, etc). Pr. Lewis continues to offer pastoral care for the grief and trauma throughout the community. Some members lost relatives. Overall, the reported deaths are currently over 240.
As of 9/8/2019, we have received word that the congregation gathered in worship, where they shared stories of their experiences and found comfort in scripture and song together.
As of 9/6/2019, communication with Pr. Lewis is still intermittent based on technology on his end, but he has communicated to us that he and his wife Saida are safe and that there is extensive flooding and property damage throughout his community. He has reported that the church property is intact. Pastor Lewis’s initial assessment of the state of the community to Bishop Suarez was that “devastation is an understatement.”
What do we know about the specific needs of the community in Freeport?
(as of 10/29/2019) There are still significant recovery needs in Freeport, but the disaster response is moving out of the ‘relief’ phase (initial distribution of humanitarian supplies, etc), and moving into the recovery phase (rebuilding capacity, etc). The island is accessible by air. Electricity is restored. The water is drinkable. Grocery stores are open.
(as of 9/23/2019) Airport traffic is limited. The island is not yet equipped for volunteer teams. Clean water continues to be an issue. See this post for some pictures.
(as of 9/9/2019) We have heard that 70-80% of the island has experienced significant damage. Power lines are still down. Roads are clear. Sea ports are accessible. There is a significant need for clean water. Many people are choosing to leave the island.
(as of 9/6/2019) We do not yet have a complete assessment of the needs (physical, emotional, financial). Pr. Lewis has shared that the people are still in shock, and that there is an incredible amount of grief. But we do not yet have a specific list of needs. In the midst of their own needs, Pr. Lewis assured us that the congregation is eager to participate in the care and response to the broader community when the full extent of needs is clear.
What will ‘the synod’ and the ELCA do to respond?
(as of 10/29/2019) A disaster coordinator will soon be hired to continue navigating and coordinating the long-term response in the Bahamas. Pastors have been invited and are already volunteering to provide pastoral respite and support for the congregation in Freeport. LDR, LDR-International, Florida-Bahamas Synod leaders and ELCA Global Mission are continuing to work together in coordinating the overall response strategy.
(as of 9/23/2019) Bishop Suarez and Aura made an initial trip to Freeport. Pr. Stan Wickett has agreed to serve as the initial disaster assessment coordinator. He will make a visit to Freeport and, after conversation with local leaders and review of the situation, Pr. Stan will work with the synod, LDR-international, ELCA Global Mission, and LDR-domestic to create a response plan. Holy Spirit, Juno Beach, continues to collect, sort, and pack up supplies into a container that is delivered to Freeport. Our Saviour Lutheran Church receives these supplies and assists in distributing them.
(as of 9/9/2019) Through connections within their congregation and community, Pr. Frank Wagner, of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Juno Beach, and others from that community have made an initial visit to deliver supplies of over 2500 lbs of donated supplies. The congregation has offered to be a collection point/staging area for supplies, and has offered a list of needed supplies on their web site. They have the contacts and mechanisms to deliver supplies to The Bahamas, and are coordinating with Pr. Lewis to deliver and distribute those supplies.
(as of 9/6/2019) The uniqueness of this disaster is that while Our Saviour Lutheran Church is a congregation of the Florida-Bahamas Synod (a domestic relationship), The Bahamas is a different country (a global relationship). This disaster response will be coordinated by the Florida-Bahamas Synod, in partnership with LDR-Domestic, LDR-International, and ELCA Global Mission. As we respond, we are committed to being respectful to and working within the unique systems of a different country.
The ELCA is an active member of the (Action by Churches Together) ACT Alliance — https://actalliance.org/. The alliance has different forums and the ELCA belongs to the North America Forum. The Caribbean Forum will be heading to the Bahamas to conduct the assessment lead by ACT member SSID from the Dominican Republic (Dominican social service agency). The team is composed of different ecumenical faiths with significant experience in conducting humanitarian response in the Caribbean region. In addition to Florida-Bahamas Synod, LDR International will be supporting the appeal that comes out of the assessment.
We are waiting for the airports to open and will schedule site visits/assessments/pastoral care as soon as possible.
One of the immediate ways we want to respond is to hire a Synod Disaster Coordinator. The job posting for this position is available on the Employment Opportunities page of the synod web site. This person’s role will be to provide direct oversight and coordination of disaster response strategies and resources in the synod.
Is it better to send financial donations to LDR or the Synod Disaster Response?
Funds to both are necessary. Funds donated to LDR are used for long-term case management, relief and rebuilding throughout the entire area affected by the disaster. Through its participation in Church World Service, LDR works in collaboration with a broad network of relief organizations. Again, given the unique international dynamics of this hurricane, working with the skills and networks of our partners is essential.
Funds donated to the Florida-Bahamas Synod Disaster Response fund will help us work more specifically with Our Saviour Lutheran Church in whatever ways they identify.
Both sets of resources are essential in the long-term care and recovery from this storm. Both funds sent to LDR and funds sent to the synod disaster response fund are used 100% for disaster response. Gifts designated for ‘disaster response’ allows both the synod and LDR to respond to this and any other disaster that might occur.
Why the emphasis on financial donations rather than a collection of supplies?
(as of 9/10/2019) One congregation in the Florida-Bahamas Synod is collecting supplies and able to deliver those supplies through direct relationships in Freeport. Learn more about what Holy Spirit, Juno Beach, is able to do.
Generally, financial donations offer the most flexibility in obtaining the most-needed resources. Many charities specialize in providing relief in disaster areas, yet they face significant financial barriers to getting their staff, equipment, and supplies into impacted areas.
Your donation helps put experienced disaster responders on the ground, and gives them the tools they need to help survivors recover. Organizations typically prefer financial donations because they allow organizations to:
- Purchase food, water, medicine, and equipment from secure and familiar supply chains
- Buy materials locally. This can help rebuild the local economy.
- Conserve resources. Money is always necessary and cheap to send, but the cost to ship material supplies can be expensive.
What if we are willing and able to go to the Bahamas to help?
(as of 10/29/2019): Freeport (and specifically, the synod network) is not yet set up to receive teams of volunteers in the Bahamas. Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to connect with FL VOAD and wait for instructions and information about opportunities to get involved. Individuals with particular skills or resources (construction skills, shipping/distribution resources, pastoral care, trauma counseling, etc) can make themselves known to the synod office for when those specific needs/resources are requested. We anticipate that opportunities for volunteer teams will develop in 2020.
We recommend you register to volunteer through FL VOAD, a local extension of National VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters), or another recognized relief organization. FL VOAD recommends volunteers affiliate with an existing volunteer organization rather than ‘self-deploying.’ You can register with FL VOAD through their web site, or find a complete list of National VOAD members HERE. FL VOAD volunteers help in both domestic and international disasters.
Don’t underestimate the complexity of working in a disaster area. Until a need has been identified and the local community impacted has requested support, volunteers should not enter.
Immediately following a disaster, a community can become easily overwhelmed by the amount of generous people who want to help. Contacting and affiliating with an established organization will help to ensure that you are appropriately trained and supported to respond in the most effective way. The impulse to help when others who are suffering is commendable. However, volunteering inside a disaster area can be dangerous, stressful work in extreme environments.
If you’d like to volunteer to assist those affected by disaster, these organizations have specific disaster roles and are the best place to start.
What about donations of supplies?
(as of 10/29/2019) We are no longer sending supplies to Freeport. The local leadership and the assessment team has recommended the strategy move towards recovery, which involves rebuilding capacity of the local community. As specific needs for supplies are requested, those needs will be communicated through the synod communication channels.
Do not send or bring unsolicited donations. In the early stages of the response phase, most organizations are unable to accommodate any material goods. Unsolicited donations create a challenge of storage and sorting when focus is needed on response and recovery.
Remember, material supplies such as used clothing, miscellaneous household items, and mixed or perishable food require helping agencies to redirect volunteer labor away from providing direct one-on-one assistance to sort, package, transport, warehouse, and distribute items that may not meet the needs of disaster survivors.
This is not a quick fix. This is not a few days. When this is all gone from the news, the church is in it for the long haul. We are church. We are church together for the sake of the whole world. -Florida-Bahamas Synod Disaster Response Team