Timothy Stewart, Leader of Progressive National Baptist Convention, Looks to Put Faith Into Action in Bahamas After Hurricane Dorian

Pastor Jeremiah Saunders stands among the ruins of his church that was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, on Sept. 11, 2019. Jeremiah says “I spoke to the water: ‘Peace, be still.’ It never listened,” Saunders said with a wide smile and then grew serious as he focused on the task that tens of thousands of Bahamians now face on two islands devastated by the Category 5 storm: the clean-up. (AP Photo / Ramon Espinosa)

The president of the historically black Progressive National Baptist Convention traveled to the Bahamas island of Grand Bahama this week to assess the damage from Hurricane Dorian and came away with stories of damage and determination.

The Rev. Timothy Stewart, a Nassau native and resident, visited the island Wednesday (Sept. 11) and has also fielded calls from clergy of his denomination’s 30-some churches in the Bahamas. The PNBC, with an estimated 2.5 million U.S. and international members, is spearheading an initiative to raise funds and collect supplies for the devastated islands of the country.

Stewart said the PNBC started its new ministry year on Sept. 1, the day Dorian hit the Bahamas with Category 5 force, leaving at least 50 dead and at least 1,300 people missing. The denomination’s new focus is “In Pursuit of Wholeness” — a timely topic, Stewart said.

“We’re looking at the revitalization of the community,” he said. “I think it seems as though God knew something even before I did.”

Stewart talked to Religion News Service on Thursday about what he has seen and heard of Dorian’s aftermath, how people in the Bahamas have been affected, and how he views the tragedy as an opportunity to put his faith into action.

The Rev. Timothy Stewart, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention and native of Nassau, Bahamas. Courtesy photo

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What has struck you most as you have just visited Grand Bahama?

What has struck me most probably would have been the tremendous devastation and, simultaneously, the resiliency of the people, the ability of the people to want to recover from that disaster.

Can you give me an example of what you saw?

I saw many homes where the contents of those homes were basically thrown out of the home, number one. Number two, I observed varying degrees of structural damage. And we saw persons doing their best to clean up and to try to determine what would be the next step that they would take.

What did you do or what did you say to these people that you saw this week?

Well, first, we prayed with them. Secondly, we assured them that we as a convention will assist and do all that we can to help in whatever way we possibly can with regards to bringing relief and bringing assistance at this time.

A team from the Progressive National Baptist Convention prays with a man while visiting Grand Bahama island to assess damage from Hurricane Dorian. Photo courtesy of PNBC

In light of what you have seen, what are your main plans in relation to that relief and assistance?

I think it will be multifold. One, it would be, obviously, directing and also providing funds so that persons and especially leaders of churches would be assisted with regards to some of the repairs necessary for churches and also for membership homes. And secondly, I think the opportunity to provide supplies, food, nonperishable and other items, water and some basic necessities would be definitely helpful. And then I think thirdly, when the stage requires it, we will try to provide some building material where and when we can, and fourthly, be available for counseling, fellowshipping and ministry opportunities also.

So are churches in the affected areas serving as shelters?

Not many because most of them have been compromised. Even the ones that were serving as shelters, most of them have been compromised.

That’s too bad. Is there anything else particularly you’d tell me that you’ve heard from clergy, pastors, lay people in your denomination or beyond who’ve been affected in any of the islands of the Bahamas?

Oh, yes. On the island of Abaco I’ve heard from, just today, a pastor who literally lost everything, had to evacuate, come to Nassau. He and his family and others are now living under very, very humbling conditions.

But they are grateful for the opportunity to be accommodated where they are: A two-bedroom house is trying to accommodate 12 people. Most of us, we find that difficult to even imagine. And that particular pastor then mentioned to me another pastor who lost his wife. He told me about another pastor who, I think, lost a daughter or two. So we’re talking about some very, very tragic and some very dramatic experiences.

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Source: Religion News Service

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