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.