Friday, February 01, 2019

BDM St. Thomas USVI January 6-19, 2019

by Cindy Weber

Fourteen other persons and I traveled to St. Thomas, an island with a population of about 51,000, for a Brethren Disaster ministry. Many in our group were from Southern Ohio and Maryland. What a fabulous two weeks! We primarily assisted with two homes and did some minor work on two others. Ages in our group ranged from one 28 year old to the oldest at 79 years old. Most volunteers were in their late 60’s and early 70’s.

There is a great need on this island. A representative of the group overseeing recovery projects who partnered with the Church of the Brethren to make the connection with the St. Thomas Disaster Committee, had assessments on three thousand homes that still need help.

We completely demolished one house, although this isn’t what BDM usually does. The owner called us his “angels”. He was so grateful that at the end of the first week he prepared us a wonderful Puerto Rican meal, which he served at his apartment. He works as a chef at a fine hotel on the Island. His sister owns a hair salon and as an expression of her gratitude she gave free haircuts to four to five men.

The first day we arrived to work on one of the houses, the homeowner, an older woman, was in tears because she had received a letter the day before stating that FEMA wouldn’t be providing any additional financial assistance. She mistakenly thought that meant she was losing her home. She saw several homes around her get new roofs and was so upset we were unable to work on her house that day. The next day, she was calmer and was thrilled to receive our help. Over the next two weeks we ripped off the ragged blue tarp, took off the old roof, replaced it with new wood, tar paper, 2x4’s and attached a new metal roof.

Inside the house, someone had previously taken down most of her walls, leaving the framework. Her belongings were packed into plastic boxes or bags, piled high and deep. When they went to assess her house she had been sleeping on the toilet with her head on her arms on the sink. She received a large cushioned chair which she then slept in. Her bed had been soaked and had mold in it. She had been living they way for about 2 two years.

We completed one room with paneling and trim. We then began to put paneling and trim in her bedroom, and about half of it was completed. In both rooms we first had to remove a lot of belongings before we could begin work. We also replaced her ceiling fan and repaired her front door. While we were there she received a new stove and refrigerator. The stove was installed by a professional who came after we left. We also removed a lot of junk from her and a neighbor’s yard. Everyday after work we were given the opportunity to swim in the Caribbean, which I took advantage of—it was like heaven! During evening free times we played games and came together as a temporary community.

We didn’t work during the weekend and we took a ferry to St. John’s where we worshiped on the beach, had a tour of the Island, swam/snorkeled and did a bit of shopping. Also, we did laundry, toured and shopped on St. Thomas.

In the past, I felt comforted knowing there would be another group coming in to continue the unfinished work. Sadly, due to politics of the St. Thomas disaster committee, there isn’t any scheduled groups, including COB, yet to come. We had daily devotions before the morning and evening delicious meals. Two points that really struck me were: for two weeks, we, like Jesus and his disciples, took time from our lives and laid our lives down to help others. Jim Dorsch, our team leader who had previously been to Sri Lanka, shared how a man they were assisting said, “others send a lot of money to assist, which we really appreciate, however, you came!” We came and made a difference! I am grateful to the district for your support.