From March 29:
Six months after a pair of Category 5 hurricanes slammed into the U.S. Virgin Islands, the congregations of the Reformed churches on St. Thomas and St. Croix continue their slow but steady recovery. Progress is evident, but much work remains to be done.
St. Thomas Reformed Church, which has the capacity to host visitors, has welcomed a consistent stream of volunteer groups from the U.S. mainland. During the past couple of months, teams have come from the Harbor Churches in Michigan; the Reformed Church of the Thousand Isles in Alexandria Bay, New York; First Reformed Church in Aplington, Iowa; and Three Bridges Reformed Church in Three Bridges, New Jersey. These volunteers cleaned up trash, carted away debris, fixed cars, and helped restore the church’s undercroft. “I’m grateful for these people who remind us where our hope lies,” writes St. Thomas Reformed pastor Jeff Neevel, “that we are part of a larger body of faith.”
But even as the church has been blessed by incoming servants, it has also been sending out aid to the broader community. Earlier this month, its high-school youth group helped remove tons of trash and debris from Bethlehem House, St. Thomas’s only homeless shelter. And the visiting volunteers have also worked with local not-for-profits such as My Brother’s Workshop, which works with at-risk youth and has been active in post-hurricane recovery efforts. (Neevel sits on MBW’s board.)
Over on St. Croix, progress has been slower. Many people are waiting: waiting for contractors, waiting for supplies, waiting for insurance payments, waiting for repairs. Only half the schools are open. Medical facilities are still bare-bones. St. Croix — both the island and the church — haven’t been able to receive volunteer teams as St. Thomas has, because “St. Croix just doesn’t have anywhere to put them. There are projects that could be done if there were hands to do them,” says Peter TeWinkle, the interim pastor of St. Croix Reformed Church. “The greatest need is more shelters, warehouses for supplies, and housing for responders.”
Please keep praying for the people of both St. Thomas and St. Croix Reformed Churches as well as their broader communities. As TeWinkle notes, some hurricane damage is invisible: “People are wearing down,” he says, emotionally, psychologically, and mentally. “The storms exacerbated the neglect of mental-health infrastructure and counseling. More people need crisis and trauma counseling, and there just aren’t enough places.”
St. Croix Reformed Church in particular needs prayers for its path forward. It had been mourning the death of its longtime pastor, Rod Koopmans, for just a few months when the storms hit. “They barely had time to grieve before two category 5 hurricanes struck. They are looking for a pastor, trying to discern their future, and rebuilding after a hurricane,” says TeWinkle, who requests prayer for space to grieve, a growing sense of shared purpose, clarity of calling as to how to serve St. Croix, and provision of a new pastor.
The Regional Synod of New York is still raising money for St. Croix Reformed Church. (We have raised $41,692 so far.) Both Neevel and TeWinkle express tremendous gratitude for the support of the wider Reformed Church in America. Not all members of these congregations were aware of the RCA, its reach, or its history. “The support has opened their eyes to a greater sense of community and communion that has been very encouraging,” TeWinkle reports.
May those bonds of life together grow, especially as we mark the resurrection of Christ and abundant life that comes with it. And may our love for one another and our service to one another increase.
The Regional Synod of New York raised a $50,000 donation for recovery work at St. Thomas Reformed Church immediately following the storms. Donations are still being accepted to provide similar assistance through St. Croix Reformed Church. Checks can be mailed to the Synod office, 42 North Broadway, Tarrytown, New York 10591.
From October 12:
“People are living in their homes here with no roofs. People have no income, no money, no work.”
You may no longer be seeing much about the Virgin Islands in the headlines. But a month after Hurricane Irma tore through St. Thomas, followed shortly by Hurricane Maria devastating St. Croix, Jeff Neevel, pastor of St. Thomas Reformed Church, reports that there’s still tremendous need on the islands. Roads are still impassable. Fuel is in short supply. A few grocery stores are open, but lines are long and shelves not totally full.
||Workers with My Brother’s Workshop stand on a roof that has blown off a home in St. Thomas.|
St. Thomas Reformed Church is giving away food and supplies to hundreds of families each week. It’s also partnering with My Brother’s Workshop, a local not-for-profit that’s serving more than 1,000 meals a day as well as sending work teams out around the island. “We have four crews with trucks, generators, and chainsaws,” Neevel says. “We give them a list of people and help board up windows, put tarps on roofs, and do triage on people’s houses.”
Tom Calhoun, Consistory Vice President at St. Croix Reformed Church, reports that there is no power on the island and it is not likely to be restored for up to a year. Many roads are still impassable and the airport is still closed. He anticipates that it will take at least a year to restore St. Croix to functionality. The consistory is planning to use some of their relief funding to build a bathroom and sleeping area in their education building to house volunteers who come to help rebuild.
The $52,000 that the Regional Synod of New York raised for St. Thomas in September is going directly to this work. The money that we are raising for St. Croix this month will fund similar efforts on that island. Our goal is $50k in October and so far we have raised $12,500.
While Neevel is grateful for the packages of donated supplies that have been mailed to St. Thomas, money is most helpful. It allows them to buy and then give away the things people need most (at the moment, diapers, toilet paper, and feminine-hygiene products). It also boosts the struggling economy. “The dollar goes a lot farther because we can support venders here,” he says. “We want to buy locally,” which creates work and much-needed jobs.
We continue to pray for our siblings in St. Thomas and St. Croix as they rebuild, fighting exhaustion as well as mosquitoes. (Neevel: “I still have not heard a convincing argument why God created mosquitoes.”) We also lift up the many volunteers who are helping with the relief effort, under trying conditions and often with little sleep.
To our prayers, we add our tangible gifts, remembering Jesus’s admonition to give food to the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, and care for those in need. To Jesus’s call, our right response is to help put tarps on roofs and plywood on windows and bags of groceries in the hands of those with empty pantries. This is how we want to live-and this is how we’re called to love.
From September 18:
In one day, the Regional Synod of New York has collected $11,500 to help St. Thomas Reformed Church in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
From September 13:
The island of St. Thomas has been completely devastated by Hurricane Irma. People have lost their homes and everything in the flooding. Today they are sleeping in shelters and in basements where whole houses stood just last week. There is no more clean water, airplanes aren’t flying to the island, and roads are impassable. St. Thomas Reformed Church’s building made it through the hurricane with little damage, but now they are left to care for their community with limited resources. They have not yet received anything from relief organizations. Still, they are feeding more than 300 people each day who are now homeless.
|Members of St. Thomas Reformed Church unload a boat with supplies brought to the island from Puerto Rico. Three trucks were filled from one boat trip.|
Pastor Jeff Neevel is keeping in touch with the Synod office. He has stressed that what would be the most helpful at this time is money. Rather than sending items that may be delayed or not get to the church, by sending money, the congregation at St. Thomas Reformed would be able to buy water, milk, and supplies in St. Croix and bring them to the island by boat.
Today, we need to help our brothers and sisters in St. Thomas. Send checks to:
Regional Synod of New York
42 N. Broadway Ave.
Tarrytown, NY 10591
The United Church of Christ New York Conference has graciously offered to match the first $5,000. So your donation of $500 could be immediately turned into $1,000 if you send a check now.
St. Thomas Reformed Church will receive 100 percent of the money donated. Our goal is for the New York Synod to raise $50,000 in September. Please give generously.
Use the links below to print a bulletin insert to share this information with your church:
For more information on the church, visit their website. (You are able to make donations directly on the website. However, those donations will not be matched and will not count toward the Synod goal.)
For regular updates on the relief efforts in St. Thomas, like and follow the church’s Facebook page.
To share an image to your social media account, encouraging others to support relief for St. Thomas Reformed church, use the links below:
For a video featuring images of St. Thomas before and after Hurricane Irma, click below: