[SLIDESHOW=52368,52373,52374]BAHAMAS (BP) — About three weeks after the Bahamas experienced one of the most devastating hurricanes in its history, a team of Southern Baptist leaders is on the ground in the island nation looking for additional ways Baptists can support relief efforts.

Representatives from Baptist Global Response (BGR), the International Mission Board (IMB), and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) will participate in the effort and will finalize partnerships with Baptist churches in the Bahamas for additional support.

BGR is leading the Southern Baptist response to Hurricane Dorian damage in the Bahamas and began responding soon after the storm hit. BGR has partnered with local Baptist churches and the disaster response arm of the Bahamas National Baptist Missionary & Education Convention.

Since the storm hit in early September, BGR has been working through these national partners to provide food, hygiene items, blankets and tarpaulins for evacuees. They’ve also supported efforts to train counselors and chaplains in impacted areas.

Jeff Palmer, chief executive officer of BGR, asked Southern Baptists to “pray for the partnerships that are going on because that’s the key in figuring out what we can do, what needs to be done and how we can leverage the resources of Southern Baptists to help Bahama Baptists and their communities recover and do it in a way that gives glory to God.”

Southern Baptists will be working alongside the Bahamas Baptist disaster relief teams that BGR has trained and served beside in other disaster situations, Palmer noted.

“We already have those great relationships,” he said. “We’ve already empowered them. This is just helping them. At the end of the day, when all the disaster relief groups from the U.S. go back, the Bahama Baptists are still there. We want God to be the champion in this, and we want our local Baptist partners to be, as well.”

As SBDR network leaders arrive in the Bahamas this week, they will look specifically for ways SBDR chaplains can support the Bahamas’ Baptists, particularly pastors.

Sam Porter, executive director of SBDR, noted that with U.S. disasters he has seen 75 to 80 percent of pastors either move on or leave the ministry within two years of disasters. Southern Baptists, he said, have hundreds of trained chaplains with experience helping people through trauma who can be mobilized to help pastors and others.

“We have asked each state director to come up with the very best,” Porter said.

“That was what I call the A-team, the starting lineup so to speak of chaplains,” he noted. “When we send a team, we need to have a trained chaplain that they would be willing to put in the toughest situation of all. The Bahamas is one of those tough situations. There are several hundred people who they will discover, before this is over, have died or they will never find again.”

SBDR leaders will also be looking for ways to help Baptists in the Bahamas rebuild their churches. Porter said he is bringing two contractors from Louisiana Baptist churches to help him assess the rebuilding needs of the local churches they’ll encounter.

The SBDR representatives will also look for ways they can help train Baptist mud-out/cleanup teams.

This week’s trip by Southern Baptist leaders is expected to culminate in the adoption of 13 Baptist churches in the Bahamas and their surrounding communities. Eleven state Baptist conventions have already committed to participate in these partnerships.

“When we talk about the Cooperative Program, we often talk about money, but this is the Cooperative Program in action,” Palmer said. “You have the SBDR network. You have the Bahama churches and you have us coming together to meet the needs, help them recover and bring about a strong Christian witness among the people of the Bahamas — and it’s working together well.”

In a report sent out on Friday (Sept. 20), Palmer said much of the work so far has been in the Grand Bahamas region, which the report says is beginning to return to normal. The report noted significant damage and life disruption in the region despite the return to normalcy.

Work on the hardest-hit island of Abaco, Palmer said, is still “a long way off.” Though this is the site of much of the devastating images Americans have seen regarding Hurricane Dorian, he noted, the extent of the damage, evacuations and the Bahamian government’s timing for interventions limits Southern Baptist involvement at this time.

Palmer asks Southern Baptists to pray:

— for the wisdom and understanding of BGR leaders as to the best possible time to begin work on the island,

— and for the SBDR representatives in the Bahamas team.

“Pray that I will see what’s going on as God sees it,” Porter said. “Pray that the four of us [with SBDR] will have the wisdom and discernment to come back and guide the states that are going to go over there.”

Porter recommends that Southern Baptists who want to help state teams with these partnerships contact their state convention disaster relief teams. For more information, go to gobgr.org.

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  • Tobin Perry