The Rev. Sandra Dorsainvil invited me (David) to join a ministry team with four other people to the Bahamas. The purpose? To provide trauma and spiritual care for pastors and teachers in the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Dorian. Rev. Dorsainvil works with 900+ people each year who go on short-term mission experiences with IM partners and missionaries all over the world. This invitation was extended by the Bahamian Baptist Convention.
In September of 2019, Hurricane Dorian was an off-the-charts category 5 hurricane. The only reason it was not a 6 is because 5 is the highest category to date. It had peak winds of 220 mph, a 20 foot storm surge, and it stalled over the Bahaman island of Abaco for 38 hours. 75% of Abaco was under water in a wind-driven torrent. People were washed from their homes into the streets, and then to the open ocean. Most lost everything they had as houses were either destroyed or badly damaged.
One father shared the harsh reality of only having one life vest. He struggled with the decision of whom to give it to knowing that whoever received the vest had the best chance of survival. He looked over at his wife and two children with anguish. Finally, he decided to throw the life vest into the storm. He said, “I will not choose who is going to live, and who will die. If we die, we will die together.” Then, they shared communion and waited out the storm. They all survived. Another father described how he was carrying his two children in his arms wading through the surges trying to get to safety. He realized he could no longer hold onto both children, and had to decide which to let go of so he could save one. A boy shared how he was talking to his best friend on the phone when suddenly he could no longer hear him. He never saw him again. These are just a few voices of thousands. Rev. Dr. Yvonne Thorne shared that it can take 10 years to get beyond deep primary trauma experienced through natural disasters.
The Interior Storm
We sat in a room with 28 pastors with their spouses. The pastors had courageously stood with their people and communities in the aftermath. As a result, these pastors and their spouses were now experiencing primary and secondary trauma. After 6 months of answering countless needs, and holding stories of loss, they were experiencing compassion fatigue. Dr. Thorne helped them understand the norms of trauma and PTSD. I shared about soul care and self-care as necessary ground work for the ability to care for others. They wanted to know if self-care is selfish. I shared that self-care, like soul care, is a spiritual act of caring for our bodies–the only thing God has given us through which we love others. During our 4 hours together, they gained clearer awareness of their interior storms, and received tools for self and soul care that would help them to keep loving others. Some of their interior clouds began to break up.
The Life Vest of Community
The people from the towns destroyed on the island of Abaco were relocated to different areas on the island of Nassau. The students and teachers were divided between different schools. We met with 50 teachers who had not been together since the storm and relocation. All of them had lost everything, and many had lost loved ones or friends. One teacher said, “I just want the nightmare to stop.” Hurricane Dorian is gone but most were still wading through interior storms of trauma. Especially the children. In one poignant moment, I stood before this group and saw eyes filled with trauma, grief, loss, fear, anxiety, fatigue, and hopelessness. Their eyes overwhelmed me. I had been invited to provide self-care and soul care practices, and I had no idea how to present the hope I knew God wanted to offer. I stopped, pausing in my helplessness, asking God for direction. I knew that I needed to shift from dispensing information to offering wisdom. Individually, none of our team, or any of those present, could meet these needs. But as a community, the little that each of us had to give, in the Spirit’s possession, was sufficient. By the end of that day, on many faces and in many voices, there were rays of hope and moments of calm within their storm.
Peace, Be still
The storm tossed the little boat like a leaf and the disciples, who were experienced fishermen, were terrified. Meanwhile, Jesus slept in the back of the boat. It was not until the disciples’ trauma found “voice” and awoke the Master, that Jesus calmed the storm. “Peace, be still” he said, and the wind and waves obeyed. Our true invitation as a team of care-givers was not to “fix” the trauma. We were there to invite awareness of it and to give it voice. Then, we invited the people to awaken to Jesus’s presence in their storms. It is Jesus who stills the storms and brings peace. This is what soul care is all about. And this is our invitation as Joyce and I offer spiritual care to global servants and national leaders all over the world.