As Hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the Caribbean, most people wanted a way out. Bryce McKay, director of the OMNIvision video production team, started looking for a flight in.
From 22-26 September, 2017, Bryce, OMNIvision videographer Jay Schipper and field photographer Garrett N. travelled to the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda. “We knew OM had partnerships down there and many OM friends and partners would want to help out their brothers and sisters in need,” Bryce said. “We wanted to help communicate that need and show where the funding is going and show people what’s happening down there.”
They spent three of four days in Antigua—minimally impacted by the storm—meeting local church partners, gathering footage and connecting with the OM Ships line-up team. On Sunday, they flew to Barbuda on Missions Aviation Fellowship (MAF) planes transporting Samaritan’s Purse workers and materials.
Jay, who occupied the last seat on the first plane and arrived on Barbuda nearly two hours before Bryce and Garrett, said the island was deserted. All 1,645 residents of its single town, Codrington (2011 Population and Housing Census), had been transported to Antigua ahead of the hurricane.
“I was blown away at what wind can do. We were walking past sheets of solid metal wrapped around telephone poles and chain-link fences that had been flattened,” he described. “I was stepping over electrical wire from telephone poles. … All that was left of some houses was a concrete pad.”
Barriers that had contained domestic animals were destroyed, the team reported. Horses wandered amidst housing rubble. Dogs ran around the island in packs. Every time a plane landed, police cars raced up and down the airstrip prior to the aircraft’s arrival in order to rid the runway of stray donkeys.
On Antigua, the media team met with Samaritan’s Purse leadership to determine ways the two organisations could partner in the relief process. “We were pleasantly surprised to see Franklin Graham visit the work there and briefly meet him,” Bryce said. “He had a short function with some of the local pastors and leadership. He said he thinks they’ll be there for a couple of years at least.”
The OM team helped Samaritan’s Purse workers load and unload a busload of gear at a church—“our way of saying ‘thank you’” for access to Barbuda, Bryce acknowledged. They also spent time with Nigel Henry, pastor of the largest church on Barbuda and an OM partner for over 20 years.
OM Caribbean, which consists of 28 countries and 21 staff, is committed to relief work in Caribbean communities devastated by natural disasters. “We are not a relief and development organisation; we’re recruiting people to go into missions from the Caribbean. But if your church you’re recruiting from got totally destroyed, you don’t just walk away and say ‘sorry.’ You step in and help. That’s what we’re trying to do,” explained Field Leader Henry Janowski.
Last October, Hurricane Matthew significantly affected OM’s work in Haiti. “We’re still responding to that,” Henry said. Now, OM is also focusing on providing relief to Dominica, Barbuda and several southern islands in the Bahamas. OM will partner with Samaritan’s Purse, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies, the Evangelical Christian Associations of Antigua and the Bahamas and several partner churches in the eastern Caribbean.
“Our help is all done through the local church, so the local church is the spotlight, not OM,” Henry stated. “We’re opening the door for relationships [with the churches] so people who don’t know Christ might know [Him].”
OM is currently raising funds to distribute supplies including tarps, hygiene kits, water filters and other WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) supplies in Barbuda and Dominica. “We’re already responding on a number of fronts,” Henry said. “We’re praying that money will come in, but we’re not going to wait to respond.”
In addition, Logos Hope arrived in St. Johns, Antigua and Barbuda, on 4 October 2017. The two-week port was pre-scheduled; the timing “happened according to God’s plan,” Henry noted. “The ship will enhance the manpower available to OM Caribbean by being present.”
The line-up team on the ground are completing on-going needs assessments and planning for the ship’s arrival. “We’re looking at sending challenge teams to Barbuda,” Henry said. The team also hopes to reach out to the displaced population of Barbuda living on Antigua. “We already have a plan [for crewmembers] to go and minister to those people, and we already have a plan to bring those people onto the ship for a special time,” he added.
Permissions for OM Ships ministry activities are pending; however, Henry said that the Logos Hope’s presence in past ports has greatly impacted other devastated Caribbean countries. “When I was in Haiti, and the ship was in Haiti, the local business leaders said that the ship being here sends a message to our nation that there actually is hope for us,” he shared.
From the beginning of the Logos Hope’s year-long Caribbean tour, the theme was ‘hope from shore to shore,’ Henry said. Its timely arrival in St. John’s will continue to communicate that message, Bryce added: “The people on Antigua and Barbuda know and love the ship, and they’re looking forward to the hope and encouragement it will bring as they start to rebuild.”
Pray for people from the devastated islands in the Caribbean who have lost everything. Pray for pastors, like Nigel, to shine the light of hope in Jesus into their communities.
Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with fields to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.