York Association’s Mike Wallace leading Bahama relief efforts

Mission Development Director Mike Wallace and York Baptist Association’s churches are taking a lead role in coordinating South Carolina Baptists’ disaster relief efforts in the Bahamas.

While Wallace was serving on the staff of Sisk Memorial Baptist in Fort Mill, the church made mission trips to the Grand Bahama Island to work with Upper Zion Baptist Church. So, in September, when he heard Hurricane Dorian was heading for the island, he began to pray for people he knew there, and he reached out to them as fast as he could after the storm to be sure they were safe. He then made a trip in late September to see what their needs were.

Immediately after Dorian finally cleared the islands, Wallace called Randy Creamer, the SCBC’s Disaster Relief director, to let him know that York Association had preexisting relationships with a couple of churches and pastors there. As a result of those relationships, the primary role for SCDR will be to support the leadership of York Association by forwarding inquiries and financial gifts their way, he said.

“Our role thus far has been to partner with York Association in Mike’s assessment trip to the islands, provide initial financial support, and work with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and Baptist Global Relief to adopt a Bahamian Baptist congregation,” Creamer said. 

Wallace has agreed to help South Carolina Baptists to channel volunteer efforts and supplies through his contacts on the island. His friends at Upper Zion and the church’s building seemed to have fared well for the most part, and they were delighted to offer their resources. “What we’ve got is here for you. Stage out of our church, use our facilities, use our vans,” Wallace relayed to SCBC leaders. “Whatever you need to help our friends and neighbors, you do it.”

So Wallace spent the rest of his time on the Island making connections with other pastors, who pointed him toward residents who had not fared as well.

“The devastation was pretty significant,” Wallace reported. “In Freeport itself, there are a lot of homes with water damage, there’s some evidence of wind damage, there were some roofs that are off, and there are trees that are down,” he continued. Power, however, has been restored to the town of Freeport, where about 80 percent of the island’s population lives.

“As you’re riding down the streets, you’re just seeing piles and piles of belongings in front of every house — sheetrock, couches, other pieces of furniture, appliances all out beside the road, waiting to be picked up,” he said. “The homes have furnishings that have significant water damage, so they’re going to need help ‘mudding-out’ and then help to rebuild.”

But Freeport did not see as much total building destruction as the island’s east coast. “Probably only a third of homes [there] can be repaired — that’s a ‘windshield assessment,’” Wallace said. “But roofs are completely gone, sides of buildings are gone …. In some cases, there was nothing but cement slabs. The house itself was just missing.”

Wallace was there at the same time as Baptist Global Relief’s disaster relief coordinators, and he volunteered, “Hey, South Carolina Baptists are ready. Let us know what you need us to do.”

While many immediate needs already have been met through BGR, state conventions now are stepping up to help through their relationships, Wallace said. The North American Mission Board’s Disaster Relief is asking state conventions to adopt Baptist churches that were affected.

SCBC churches and associations are being asked to partner with York Association in assisting the Caravel Zion Baptist Church in Freeport and its pastor, Mack Duncanson. 

Caravel Zion had some damage to its building, and disaster relief teams will help the church get back on its feet and assist its members and people in the neighboring community with home repairs. York Association hopes to be able to send its mud-out trailer to Freeport so volunteer teams will have the necessary equipment.

Wallace and SCBC leaders are working out logistics for sending the first teams in mid-October. “Part of the big issue now is getting supplies over,” he said. “We’re also working on what it will cost for team members, for the average person, who wants to go over there,” he added. “We know they will need passports.”

Volunteers will likely stay at Upper Zion Church to keep costs down, where they will have access to its kitchen to cook food and to its vans for transportation to work sites. At this point, Wallace estimates the cost at around $600 per person.

Flights into the island’s airport are limited now since its international terminal is out of operation. Until it reopens, volunteers may fly to Fort Lauderdale and then take a two-and-a half-hour ferry ride to Freeport, Bahamas, which costs about $230 round trip, he noted.

“Please begin now to form volunteer teams and update your passports,” Wallace urged. For more information, contact Wallace at mikew@yorkbaptists.org or (803) 984-1844.