Hurricane Season and the Spirit of Resurrection
As Hurricane Michael makes landfall, Abagail Nelson, Senior Vice President for Programs, reminds us to keep the faith through trying times. Reflecting on past recovery efforts, she writes on the spirit of resurrection, which continually inspires our organization’s climate resilience work.
I’ve never forgotten something a dear friend once told me: “When you are looking at a desert or a muddy flood plain, don’t let the devastation define you. Focus on the flower blossoming in the cactus and nurture it. There is always a resurrection energy moving in the Pit.”
This perfectly sums up our work at Episcopal Relief & Development. In the last year, we have been called to respond to so many disasters and catastrophes – hurricanes, floods, fires and volcanoes – and in the midst of it all, we have remained focused on the spirit of resurrection.
Virgin Islanders hold onto each other; Photo courtesy of Convoy of Hope
Wherever we respond to crises, we seek to build a bridge from disaster to development so that impacted communities can do more than simply recover and rebuild, but can rebound and move forward with greater strength and resilience.
At this time last year, from Texas to Florida and in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, we were working with communities recovering from back-to-back hurricanes of Harvey, Irma and Maria. As I’m sure you recall, the devastation in many locations was total, with homes, businesses and infrastructures entirely wiped out. The islands, in particular, were cut off from sources of help.
Because of the outpouring of generosity from our community – and our network across the Episcopal Church and other faith-based partners – we were able to respond swiftly. We provided emergency generators, food, water and other urgent supplies for several thousands of our sisters and brothers in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Puerto Rico: Agents of healing and hope
In Puerto Rico, the 51 churches in the diocese played an enormous role in the emergency response on the island – and Episcopal Relief & Development was a critical partner from the very start. We provided funding, organizational and technical assistance to support parishes and communities as they struggled to meet the overwhelming need.
Margarita, who lives in the village of Lares, two hours west of San Juan, is just one of the many who was supported by the Church’s coordinated efforts. Hurricane Maria picked up Margarita’s house and tossed it to the bottom of a deep ravine, leaving her with nothing. She was deeply grateful for the food, water and emotional sustenance she received when literally everything she owned was gone.
Clearing the road of debris in Puerto Rico (2017)
At present, we are enabling partners in Puerto Rico to rebuild homes and provide mental health support to individuals and families who were severely affected by the storms. One of the island’s biggest challenges after the hurricanes was the ongoing loss of power, which lasted for months. As a result, our recovery teams are looking for ways to support greater self sufficiency. We plan to establish central hubs with the Diocese of Puerto Rico to serve as centers of coordination, communication and self-sufficient energy and water systems in the event of future storms.
Virgin Islands: Rescue, recover, rebuild
In the Virgin Islands, meanwhile, we continue to work closely with the Diocese of the Virgin Islands to support and accompany clergy and lay leaders. Last December, Episcopal Relief & Development helped the diocese to form a Diocesan Disaster Recovery Committee, which stewards the diocese’s recovery efforts. The churches across the dioceses have sheltered people who lost everything, provided food and water, and continue to work on preparing for the next hurricanes. We’ve also been joined by the Virgin Islands’ Companion Diocese of Alabama in supporting specific outreach ministries.
Disaster response work at the British Virgin Islands
Hope and peace for whatever lies ahead
And there will be more storms. In the last 20 years, the number of climate-related events has doubled. As I write this, we are currently watching the path of Hurricane Michael as it makes its way across the Florida panhandle.
These hardships are painful, but our faith enables us to remember that resurrection is possible, and that we can rebuild even stronger. Episcopal Relief & Development stands ready to respond.
If you want to participate in the rebuilding of communities post-disaster, you can check our Hurricane Relief Fund which helps US and Caribbean areas devastated after major storms. Your donation will help meet urgent needs by providing critical supplies such as food, water and other basics and offering long-term assistance as needed.
*Cover photo taken by Major Gift Officer Mike Smith last year at Florida Keys during the post-hurricane rebuilding efforts
Abagail Nelson is Senior Vice President, Programs for Episcopal Relief & Development