Water Mission volunteer trip December 16 – January 3
By Jim and Pam Smith
Mission work has been part of Pam’s and my life for many years. We haven’t had a calling for foreign mission work since a trip to the Guatemalan mountains in 2004 with Food for the Hungry. We had been passively looking for an opportunity to get involved in a foreign ministry again. We had spent significant time in the Abaco Islands, especially in the areas that were hard hit by Hurricane Dorian. We enjoyed our time there and had come to know many people who lived there. We had kept up with some of our friends and heard wild tales of surviving the storm. Several cruising friends had traveled to the islands to help already.
We wanted to help with recovery but were wary of going in our boat because of dangers we heard about through our sailing community. When it was announced at St. Michaels that our partners at Water Mission were looking for volunteers, it seemed a good fit for us. We knew several folks who worked for and volunteered for Water Mission and knew their organization was faith based and their work contributed significantly to the quality of life anywhere they went.
We interviewed with them and discovered that, although they have many regular volunteers, this was the first time they were recruiting volunteers for a specific effort. It was also the first time they were converting salt water into drinkable water. They usually filter locally sourced water but that method does not remove salt that is the source they determined most available to the Abacos after the storm.
We were called to help for three weeks during the Christmas holidays. We knew one volunteer who had been there twice and was returning a couple of weeks prior to us going. He described the conditions of our housing and some specifics of the work. One thing that stood out was the regular time set aside for worship and prayer. The other was that would not be living in communal tents, having limited power and eating MREs; instead, we would be in a home that a friend of Water Mission had donated to the cause and it would have power and water. That was a double blessing for us as Pam had some anxiety concerning her ability to rest in a communal tent. Sandy Senn, our state senator, had a hand in that as she is a friend of Water Mission and has (had) a condo in Treasure Cay. She came over the first weekend we were there to bring Christmas presents for the children and a fire truck she helped secure from somewhere near Charleston.
We were part of a group of six very unique volunteers who produced more than 60,000 gallons of water at two main sites in the three weeks we were there. We improved the sites by building shelters over the equipment, decks around the dispensing stations and equipment, baskets to hold water jugs, and platforms for new holding tanks. We worked on a house of a local helper who had gone to Nassau to see his wife and children that he hadn’t seen since they evacuated after Dorian. Something seemed to break with the water making systems each day. Also there were several flat tires to fix.
It was encouraging to see how the many different aid organizations worked together. An example of this was while Water Mission produced water and delivered it in the larger needs areas, Samaritan’s Purse was regularly picking up water from our stations and delivering water to more remote areas. Heart To Heart supplied medical care and Heart and Hands were helping with stabilizing and rebuilding homes. There were others as well as locally organized groups. All worked together and most all were faith based. We were in awe to see God’s hand orchestrating each effort.
Pam’s main ministry was listening to the stories of people who came to get water. Most were horrific like a woman who swam for two hours with a baby under her arm after her house was demolished. Another mother with two children found a school bus to ride out the back of the storm. Several reported being caught up in a tornado and flying. It seemed incredible they survived. Most homes were not livable with many locals either squatting in places that were somewhat dry or in tents. Almost all of the Bahamians were full of faith, praised God for their survival and had hope for their future. We were blessed with a great team to work with and a wonderful staff leader who stayed during the holidays.
Our Lord showed up in many ways as we worked to fix the many problems that arose every day, in the stories shared by our staff and everyone who came to get water and from the knowledge that Water Mission work made life more civil for the folks struggling to survive each new day. Our prayer is that the recovery of the Abacos will be blessed many fold by God’s gracious hand. Thank you for the prayers and support of St. Michael’s mission task force and congregation as we were doing His work. We knew each day we had an army of prayers going before us.