By Diana Swift
Christians must go beyond sympathy and prayer and lend concrete aid to those struck by disaster. This was the central theme of a special Saturday service held Dec. 2 at St. Andrew, Scarborough.
Organizers convened the Service of Solidarity in aid of the hurricane-ravaged islanders of the Diocese of North Eastern Caribbean & Aruba, led by Bishop Errol Brooks in St. John’s, Antigua. In addition to Aruba, this West Indian diocese, established in 1842, comprises the hard-hit islands of Antigua, Barbuda, Dominica, Monserrat, Anguilla, Nevis, Saba, St. Bart’s, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and St. Martin/Maarten.
Clergy urged the congregation to step forward in an act of intentional giving to assist the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s efforts to aid those devastated by this summer’s back-to-back Category 5 storms, Irma and Maria. The service raised more than $5,000.
After the immediate relief efforts, the need for restructuring is urgent. “It was just two months ago that one of the world’s most beautiful islands was left in tatters and totally demolished,” said Fran Delsol, the trade and investment commissioner for the Commonwealth of Dominica. About 90 per cent of homes and almost every school and church on the island was left in ruins; patients died after the hospital was destroyed.
Famous for its lush green vegetation, the island is now a near-lunar landscape. “You look around today and it’s all brown because every tree was uprooted,” said Ms. Delsol, adding that for the first time, you can see both surrounding oceans, the Caribbean and the Atlantic, from any vantage point. The good news is the extraordinary support from others in the Caribbean and around the world, including the Palestine Liberation Army, she said.
In his words of welcome and purpose, the Rev. Leonard Leader of St. George on Yonge, Toronto, urged people to pray for the affected areas while reminding congregants “as Christians, we know that prayer is our first response but it is not our last result.” Although their presence shows they stand with others engaged in relief efforts, words alone are not enough, he said. “We are also going to be providing for those in need by sharing the gifts with which we’ve been blessed.” He noted that the York-Scarborough Area Council recently voted to contribute $3,000 to hurricane relief in Aruba.
After outlining some of PWRDF’s many international relief and development efforts, Will Postma, the fund’s executive director, said, “I’ve consulted with the diocese and I know its needs are really intense.”
He stressed that the PWRDF strategy is not to duplicate efforts of government and other agencies but to ensure that its funds are put to optimal use. Beyond food, clean water, and clothing, PWRDF will provide personal-care items and “dignity kits” to help residents maintain their self-esteem in the face of so much loss.
Delivering the homily, Bishop Peter Fenty recognized that people have difficulty accepting or understanding the reasons for great disasters and why God “permits” them.
Bishop Fenty drew on the story of Lazarus and Martha from the second reading (John 11:11-27), to emphasize that in the midst of horror, God’s presence is an unfailing refuge and strength. Unlike Martha, who blamed Christ’s delayed arrival at her home for her brother Lazarus’s death, we should not consider adverse events to be ordained by God, nor should we believe that God causes disasters as punishment for wrongs committed. “Don’t go down that road. It is dangerous. If that were true, we’d all have to be worried,” Bishop Fenty said.
He pointed to the inexplicable sufferings of Job from the first reading (Job 19:21-29) as an example of the seeming unfathomability of bad things happening to good people. “If we think we are faithful to our God, when adversity strikes, we may believe that God is not listening or God is absent,” he said, but God is with us in the midst of the worst tribulations, as the 23rd Psalm tells us, “Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I fear no evil; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Natural or manmade disasters offer an opportunity for us to test our strength and to respond, like God, with love and comfort, he said – “to discover the life that exists even in the face of death.” He urged attendees “in the depths of our hearts be responsive to the needs of others” and to give generously, not for what we might gain in return but wholly for the sake of those who suffer.
Other participating clergy were Bishop Kevin Robertson, Bishop Riscylla Shaw, the Rev. Jacqueline Daley, the Rev. Canon Donald Butler, and the Rev. Canon Jim Garland.
Diana Swift is a freelance writer. To donate to the PWRDF’s North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba – Hurricane Relief effort, contact Jennifer Brown at 416.924-9192, ext. 355.