For days Dorian slowly churned its way across the Caribbean, stalling over the Bahamas and chewing its way through the northern islands. The uncertainty of its forecast path left millions wondering if they would be next.
Now, I’m no expert on hurricanes. In fact, this might have been the closest I’ve ever been to one. My family and I had gone to spend the weekend with friends on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, which came under mandatory evacuation orders on Labor Day.
I’m sure we’ve all seen the images; language fails to adequately convey the carnage the storm left behind. It not only splintered wooden homes, but the crashing waves and storm surge flattened well-built concrete dwellings in lower-lying areas as well. In many areas the devastation is nearly complete.
As a pilot I’ve volunteered in the past with an organization called Aerobridge, which coordinates private aircraft and their volunteer pilots to assist in times of disaster. These small planes are able to carry urgent loads of supplies on short notice into smaller airports. Even before Dorian made landfall, Aerobridge was activating and organizing, and the weather had barely cleared before they began organizing flights. One of the first carried generators into Freeport so the air traffic controllers could do their job!
I’ve learned there’s really no ideal time to volunteer. When you sign up for helping it seems so simple. In theory, or course, disasters will strike when you have nothing else to do and it will be obvious that you should donate your time, talent and equipment. But in practice, storms are usually a distant phenomenon inserted only partially into our reality by lingering, unforgettable images flashing on our screens. It never even rained in Dalton. None of the appointments on my calendar canceled. Everything around me insisted I carry on with life as usual.
But I couldn’t escape the thought: What if the tables were turned, and the disaster were here? Shouldn’t we do unto others as we would want them to do to us? My wife and I discussed the dilemma. Sure, there are many who are closer to the need. But God has blessed us with an ability to help, even if in a limited and small way. Finally we agreed to tell Aerobridge that if they weren’t able to fill a mission, especially from the north, I would try to be available. We prayed that God would open and close doors and make it clear if our help was actually needed.
Sure enough, a load of medicine, along with medical personnel, needed transport from Ocala, Florida, to Freeport. Time was of an essence, since some of the medications had to be kept refrigerated. A flurry of paperwork and coordinating ensued, with approval needed from the Bahamian government due to flight restrictions into the area. I’ve always wanted to visit the Bahamas; I never expected to do so under these circumstances.
I was prepared for the apocalyptic scene I found. But the desperation of the people stuck there was something I hadn’t anticipated. Many were Americans, separated from family, without the resources to score a seat on a chartered flight out. A crowd gathered around me, with dozens simultaneously insisting their case was the most desperate. I placed a call back to the Customs and Border Patrol office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I needed to make sure they had their U.S. passports with them, as I would be responsible for them until they cleared Customs and Immigration.
I decided I could take some passengers, given that we would be departing light since no fuel was available. Worries about luggage and weight and balance vanished with the realization no one had any real luggage. They had lost everything.
Back at the plane the young mother said very quietly to her two children, “Jesus answered our prayers.” Then behind the wing the three gathered, arms around shoulders, heads bowed in a prayer of thanks and gratitude. There are few things more humbling than to realize that you have been used by God to answer a family’s prayers.
Then with our light load and even lighter hearts we lifted off for our brief flight to Fort Lauderdale, soaring through the clouds back to running water and electricity and a joyful reunion with family. “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)
Chester Clark III is pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dalton. Contact him at email@example.com. His column appears on the third Friday of the month.