Displaced people find comfort amid hopelessness and trauma.
As La Soufrière continues to spew ash, hot gas, and hot lava across St. Vincent, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and church member volunteers, has begun providing food and clothing to hundreds who are staying in shelters across the island. More than 20,000 people have been displaced from their homes since the volcanic eruption began on April 9, 2021.
“No one has escaped the assault of the volcano, for the entire country has been blanketed with dust, ash, and rubble,” said Dermoth Baptiste, president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Mission, headquartered in Kingstown, in the southernmost part of the island. “Scientists have reported that some areas have up to two feet high of ash in the most affected area,” Baptiste said. There are many damaged homes and it may take a long time to get back to them, he added.
Ash has traveled as far as the neighboring islands of St. Lucia, Grenada, and Barbados.
So far, Baptiste reported, 10 Adventist churches were directly affected. Hundreds of members and entire communities had to quickly evacuate the danger zones, many escaping with only the clothes on their backs.
Preparation and Distribution of Hot Meals
ADRA will assist in an initial one-month response to prepare and distribute 1,200 hot meals daily for 600 people staying in shelters.
Prime minister of St. Vincent Ralph Gonsalves thanked the church for its leadership in assisting the community as church leaders and volunteers gathered for a press conference at the church’s headquarters in Kingstown.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church is really showing that they are their brother’s keeper,” Gonsalves said. “It is a good example for other churches to follow.”
Church member volunteers began preparing hot meals for lunch and supper as Adventist youth began delivering the meals to several shelters. Hot lunches and suppers will be prepared every day for the next four weeks, and needs will be assessed next month, Baptiste said.
Churches as Shelter Facilities
Nine Adventist churches and one secondary school are being used to shelter more than 300 persons, Baptiste said. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, only essential personnel are allowed to enter. Baptiste also said the church has provided clothing, especially because so many people ran out of their homes with only what they had on.
“We are focusing on their basic needs right now, but we know that so many are going through a lot of trauma, distress, and anguish because they have no home to get back to,” he said. Since Baptiste is unable to visit shelters, he spends his time helping coordinate efforts and provide spiritual encouragement to pastors who are communicating with their congregants.
“We had just re-opened churches for physical attendance on the first [Saturday] Sabbath in April, and then days later, the volcano disrupted so many lives,” Baptiste said. He keeps reminding leaders and encouraging members on the phone to keep the faith and continue trusting in God. “We don’t know what is going to come out of this, but take your eyes off the environment you are in, the trying circumstances, and see God lifted up, for He is in control, even of the elements.”
Many of the roads continue to be impassable. The water system was shut down in the initial days of the eruption because of air contaminants. Government agencies are doing the necessary cleansing to ensure the water is potable.
A shipment of 428 cases of water and a large container with bales of rice were received by church leaders in St. Vincent, thanks to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grenada, local leaders said. The donated water and rice will be delivered to the shelters this week. Other supplies are being sent from local fields in neighboring islands.
Church leaders are also planning to provide trauma counseling to those in the shelters as soon as possible.
“Scientists are saying that the eruption could last for months or even longer, and we know that the mental health condition of the entire population is at risk,” Baptiste said.
In addition, plans are underway to supply reading materials in the shelters, including Bibles, storybooks for children, puzzles, and toys that can attract children’s attention.
“Our people are known for their tremendous resilience and courage to stand in crisis. I am confident that by God’s grace, we will rise from the ashes,” Baptiste said.
The last eruption of La Soufrière volcano was in 1979, with no reported casualties. Before that, an eruption claimed the lives of nearly 1,600 in 1902.
There are more than 14,400 Seventh-day Adventists who worship in 42 churches and congregations in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The church operates five primary and secondary schools.
Kerry Kerr contributed to this report.