By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
ALEXANDRIA, La. (LBM) – Louisiana Baptists are preparing to execute a plan to rebuild the St. Matthew Baptist Church in the Grand Bahamas, which was essentially leveled by the 185 miles-per-hour winds of Hurricane Dorian Sept. 2.
The 128-year-old St. Matthew Baptist Church is one of nine of the 13 Baptist churches on the islands severely damaged or completely destroyed by the storm – and the destruction crippled the faith community which enjoys a central role in Bahamian culture.
According to Gibbie McMillan, state director for Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief, three mud-out teams will serve at separate times in Freeport, Grand Bahamas, between Dec. 8 and 21. Louisiana Baptists from churches and Baptist Collegiate Ministries in the state will work alongside teams from the Mississippi Baptist Convention in ‘Bahama Rebuild,’ a joint partnership with the International Mission Board and Baptist Global Response.
The North Carolina and Alabama state conventions are sending additional teams to undertake other rebuild projects on the islands.
“Having served as a state disaster relief director for 14 years, this particular response will be, by far, as difficult as Hurricane Katrina was,” McMillan told the Baptist Message. “The conditions are not real inviting due to the fact there is no electricity and very little water.
“Come most of all with a servant’s heart to serve whenever, wherever and however,” he added. “This deployment will be difficult because of the damage, yet souls are in the balance and need to know God cares. After we show them God cares by our going, then we will be able to shine the light of the glorious Gospel to them.”
The initial teams already are formed to work through the end of 2019. However, McMillan is looking for 10-25 volunteers to continue the effort in 2020.
Due to limited options to travel to the islands, the next crews will need to arrive in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on Jan. 4 and catch the Balearia Caribbean Ferry early Jan. 5, returning to the U.S. mainland Jan. 10.
More teams will be needed for at least six months, McMillan said, adding that prospective volunteers need to complete disaster relief certification no later than Dec. 10. Mud-out training and a background check can be completed online at the Louisiana Baptists Disaster Relief website.
He also offered the reminder that a passport is also needed to participate. Information about how to apply for or renew a passport can be found at https://travel.state.gov/ content/travel/en/passports/how-apply.html.
McMillan said that the Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief will handle travel once on the island and that housing on the work site will be free but meals will cost $12 per day.
Volunteers also are responsible for booking ferry tickets, a hotel room in Ft. Lauderdale and air travel from Louisiana. Paula Halle, a travel agent with Alexandria Pineville Travel Agency, is assisting with these arrangements and may be contacted at 318.487.8747.