Rev. Kelli Jolly, like many Bahamians, is used to living through the possibility of multiple hurricanes, year after year. She serves as itinerant presbyter with the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, Bahamas/Turks and Caicos Islands District, Nassau Circuit of Churches.
At only 35 years of age, she can’t really remember how many hurricanes she has seen. “We’ve seen devastation in the southern islands, in the capital and In the northernmost islands over the years,” Jolly reflected. “These storms are evolving, becoming stronger, larger, more lingering and more unpredictable, but many of us still find peace in knowing that God is with us.”
As Dorian was finally moving out on 3 September, thousands of people in the Bahamas are facing flood damage, homelessness, loss of family members, or economic hardship. But Jolly has a positive counter-message to share with the world: God is with us.
"God is with us even when we don’t know where to turn, when we feel abandoned or helpless, when we are left without anything material to speak of, when we are left in surprise and awe over the unexpected power in these storms, when we no longer believe that there’s anything good left to believe in,” she reflects.
Abaco and Grand Bahama islands have been most devastatingly affected with winds and surges of water covering homes, tearing apart roofs and flipping cars, Jolly reports. At least five people are confirmed dead, and others are still missing.
On a positive note, she added, people have been collectively praying and interceding since the beginning. “As soon as the storm began to hit and the grave realities were unfolding, those of us in safer areas began relief efforts, and we saw teams, churches and organizations begin putting in place preparations to help wherever possible as soon as we can,” she says. “We have also already seen the help of inter-Caribbean and international relief efforts.”
Sensing God’s presence
Many people are wondering, especially those on the ground in the Bahamas, how can we sense that God is present?
Jolly has some answers: "When we have friends, family and strangers who hear our cries and are able to help rescue us, God is with us.”
She notes that, amid reports of slow-moving Dorian’s devastation, there are also heartwarming stories about people going to great lengths to help each other.
“When we feel a nudge that says move somewhere safer, or stay still, God’s voice is there,” Jolly says. “God is in the reality of the blessing of technology that now allows us to WhatsApp, texts and posts on social media when all landlines have been destroyed.”
Jolly continues: "God is with families who will stand after all of this is over without knowing how or why they survived. God is with us when we grieve over our present realities and the people and things the storm strips away.”
Jolly also believes God will be with the people of the Bahamas through what will be a long-term disaster recovery, one that could take years. “God is here in the coming together of community that will console and restore,” she said. “God is with us in the cleansing of our coral reefs by way of the storm and in the changing seasons that bring a time of relief from fear of such events.”
As hurricanes worsen due to human-caused climate change, Jolly points out that God is with us even as we recognize our own responsibility and our own need to be better stewards of God’s creation.
“Many of us are afraid, in discomfort, shock and grief,” Jolly concludes. "However, be encouraged to simply be with each other, and let the power of our common human bond be greater than the power of the storms turning around us. At this time we can find much positivity - we can share, console, help and give, trusting that no matter what, God is with us.”