Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lest We Forget: Remembering the Other 9/11

Today marks the 20th anniversary (September 11, 1988) of the destruction of St. Jean Bosco Church in the slums of Port-au-Prince. While Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide was giving mass, armed thugs working for the Henri Namphy regime entered the church and, in a siege that lasted several hours, massacred over twenty parishioners and injured many, many more before setting fire to the church. While Aristide managed to escape with his life, the incident eventually led to his expulsion from the Salesian order on December 15, 1988. Aristide, a liberation theologian and Roman Catholic priest, led the popular movement that led to the downfall of the Duvalier regime on February 7, 1986. Twenty years (and two not-so successful Aristide presidencies) later, Haiti continues to be mired in poverty and violence.

Let us continue to work for peace and justice for the Haitian people.

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Hurricane Relief Efforts Underway in the Caribbean

There are many disaster relief organizations that are doing outstanding work in the wake of the destruction left by Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike. For those who might be interested in supporting the relief effort but have not yet done so, I would encourage you to consider giving through the One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS). The OGHS is an ecumenical effort and you can give through the participating denomination of your choice. For American Baptists (whose current relief efforts are documented in the article below), contributions can be made by making an online donation or sending a check to:

American Baptist World Relief Office
P.O. Box 851
Valley Forge, PA 19482-0851

In either case, be sure to indicate that your gift is for "Caribbean hurricane relief."

International Ministries helps Caribbean after hurricanes
by Marlon Millner, Managing Editor

American Baptist International Ministries has provided almost $15,000 in emergency grants to our Caribbean partners, as they help victims of recent hurricanes. In Jamaica, the partner has received a $3,000 grant. In the Dominican Republic, $3,500 has been released. Haiti has received a $5,000 grant. At least another $3,000 in emergency aid is planned for the region. These initial emergency grants were made after these Caribbean nations weathered Hurricane Gustav, which struck the Caribbean beginning Aug. 26 and Hurricane Hanna, which took a surprising turn to hit Haiti and then Cuba beginning Sept. 1, and most recently Hurricane Ike, which hit the Caribbean over the weekend.

International Ministries is presently accepting donations for a hurricane emergency relief fund.

The grants will allow our partners to provide immediate emergency aid, such as food and clean water. The funds were provided by One Great Hour of Sharing, an offering raised each year by American Baptists. Lisa Rothenberger, who administers OGHS as the world relief officer, says more is needed.

"These initial grants will help meet some of the immediate needs but there will be great need for additional support," Rothenberger said.

The Haitian Baptist Convention confirms this view.

"We are very worried by this disastrous situation, which is added to the various problems to which we face each day with families who cannot eat, send their children to the school, [or] go to the hospital," said Pastor Emmanuel Pierre, the convention's general secretary. "The situation, certainly, is alarming," Pierre said.

News reports initially undercounted the death toll in Haiti, but recent reports suggest as many as 500 people have died from the recent storms in that country alone.

With the most recent storm, Hurricane Ike, which has caused damage in Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica, International Ministries expects the need to rise.

In Jamaica, Jamaican Baptist Union head Karl Johnson told International Ministries, "We are still assessing as we speak but [Hurricane] Gustav claimed approximately 11 lives and badly damaged the country’s infrastructure."

And according to news reports Hurricane Ike affected Eastern Cuba, where we partner with the Eastern Cuba Baptists.

The Dominican Republic and Haiti are on the same island, and missionary Madeline Flores-Lopez says the DR has been affected as well.

A whole community called Batey Yabacao was taken out of their homes due to the river [overflowing]," said Madeline. "Of course the river [flooded] the community so they lost everything."

"Our partners all over the Caribbean need our prayers and support at this time," said Dr. Jose Norat-Rodríguez, area director for the Caribbean for International Ministries. "This has been an unusual storm season because really quickly one storm has hit after another, with the people not having time to recover. So we want to prepare to meet the need that has been made worse by multiple hurricanes"

American Baptists wishing to support ongoing hurricane-relief efforts can do so through their church’s monthly report of mission support, designating contributions “OGHS-Caribbean Hurricanes.”

Since 1950, several American Protestant denominations have annually received the One Great Hour of Sharing offering to support their ministries in disaster relief, refugee assistance, and development aid. American Baptists joined this effort in 1973. Today, nine Christian denominations currently raise about $20 million annually through this offering. Each denomination retains what it raises to support vital ministries in more than 70 countries around the world.

American Baptist International Ministries, organized in 1814, is the oldest Baptist mission agency formed in North America. We serve more than 2,500 short-term and long-term missionaries annually, bringing U.S. and Puerto Rico churches together with partners in 76 countries in cutting-edge ministries that tell the good news of Jesus Christ while meeting human needs.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hurricane Memoirs: Michelle (2001)

Some of our neighbors hurriedly went about the task of boarding up their homes. Our own house was littered with large containers of water, canned meat, dried food, spare batteries, and flashlights as we underwent the task of relocating our books, computer equipment, and sermon illustration file to the inner recesses of our home. To the uninitiated, we might have looked like Branch Davidians awaiting an imminent invasion from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, or perhaps a couple of Y2K fanatics preparing for a technological apocalypse. Actually, it was neither-just our routine seasonal preparations for yet another hurricane threat.

Hurricane Michelle began its assault on the northern and central Bahamas islands early Monday morning, affecting Andros, New Providence, Bimini, the Berry Islands, Grand Bahama, Abaco, and Eleuthra. Here on the island of New Providence, we experienced about an hour and a half of heavy rains and 80+ mph winds. The storm itself was preceeded by heavy rains that had begun on Saturday evening.

In the aftermath of the storm, the main damage sustained here in New Providence seems to be limited to lots of fallen trees (no surprise as the soil is shallow and rocky), fallen utility lines, roof damage (primarily in the form of missing shingles), and heavy flooding in some of the low lying areas (the islands are basically flat, so drainage is a problem). Based on reports that we have received, the situation seems to be similar on the other islands, with the exception of Andros, which seems to have taken the brunt of the flooding. There were no casualities as a result of the storm.

Much of the islands were left without utility services. In our neighborhood, water service was restored by Tuesday morning, electricity by Tuesday evening, and, finally, internet access this morning. Local authorities estimate that at least 90% of utilities will be completelyrestored by the end of this week.

We have been in contact with Pastor Exante of the New Haitian Mission Baptist Church as well as a number of church members. At this point, it appears that the members of our partner churches have not been adversely affected. This is consistent with news reports that we have received from around the island, which seem to indicate that that as water begins to drain and cleanup is underway, most local residents have been able to return to their homes. In addition, most businesses reopened yesterday and the public schools resumed classes this morning.

This article originally appeared in News from Daniel and Estela Schweissing on 8 November 2001.

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Climate Change and Human Rights

The International Council on Human Rights reports:

Policies on climate change have so far ignored its likely human rights impacts, according to our new report, Climate Change and Human Rights: A Rough Guide, published on 24 June. The report argues that human rights principles can guide climate change policy by focusing on individual suffering and exposure to risk. To date, little systematic research has examined the human rights dimensions of climate change, yet almost every human right is threatened. Climate change will create new health risks, threaten food and water supplies, destroy land and livelihoods, and lead to forced migration and conflict. Global warming will disproportionately affect countries already lacking the resources to meet basic human rights obligations.

Human rights principles can help mobilise and direct adaptation funding, the report finds. They provide criteria for evaluating mitigation and technology transfer policies. The report also examines decision-making processes and accountability, the merits of litigation, and a range of ethical and policy dilemmas that climate change generates.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Five Things You Need to Know About Hurricanes

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, notes that "Three years after Katrina and a week since Gustav, we are in need of a sobering reminder of some basic truths.

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I Like Ike

"I like Ike" might have been a spiffy sounding campaign slogan during the U.S. presidential elections of the 1950s. But mention the name "Ike" today and you’re more likely to invoke images of Haitian peasants carrying their meager belongings on their heads while wading through waist deep flood waters, residents of the Florida Keys anxiously boarding up their homes and businesses while evacuation buses make their rounds, or Dr. Steve Lyons giving the latest hurricane update on the Weather Channel.

It’s hard to believe that less than a week ago the Bahamas was threatened by three major storms lining up to take aim at us: Hanna, Ike, and Josephine. Compared to Ike—a very dangerous category 4 storm—Hanna and Josephine were child’s play and so the prospect of Ike’s imminent arrival quickly became our main focus of concern as we began our hurricane preparations.

By Thursday afternoon, most folks were prepared for the worst. But the worst would have to wait. Hanna—a "mere" tropical storm—was first in queue and, as it turned out, it made its northward journey just to the east of the Bahamian archipelago, leaving us with only a smattering of light rain and occasional gusty winds. When we woke up to clear skies and sunshine the next morning, we also learned that Tropical Storm Josephine—which had been trailing along behind Ike—had fizzled out midway across the Atlantic. So far so good. Two down, one more to go.

Then we waited. And we waited some more. For three days we meticulously studied the incoming hurricane updates while the sweltering tropical sun baked us inside our boarded up apartment building. But due to a high pressure system, Ike continued on a steady westward trajectory, totally bypassing the central and northern Bahamian islands and leaving us with not so much as a single drop of rain and only an occasional minor gust of wind.

Our neighbors to the south were not so lucky.

Early Sunday morning, Ike made its first landfall on the British owned Turks and Caicos Islands, destroying over eighty percent of the homes, leveling trees and utility poles, leaving the local hospital without a roof, and inflicting severe damage on the already overcrowded prison. Inagua, the southernmost island of the Bahamas, was next in line where, amongst other things, Ike ripped the hurricane shutters off two local storm shelters and caused the roof to collapse on another. Nearly two days later there are still, unbelievably, no reported fatalities from either locale.

Yesterday, the Cuban mountains put the brakes on Ike, slowing it down to category 1 hurricane. Though, that may be of little comfort to those in western Cuba who were left homeless following Hurricane Gustav’s visit just a little over a week ago. Of course, we can’t forget the Dominican Republic and, especially, Haiti, both of whom were already saturated with flood waters from Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, and Hanna and didn’t really need to experience their fourth major storm in just three weeks.

As hard as it may be to believe, we are both very disappointed and greatly relieved that Ike never made it to Nassau. Given all the hard work that goes into preparing for a hurricane and, then, all of the sitting around and waiting that comes after that, how could one possibly not be disappointed? Yet as we look at the destruction that has followed in the wake of Ike and recognize the inadequacy of even our best preparations in the face of such a powerful storm, we are greatly relieved that we did not have to live through such a terrifying experience, let alone its aftermath.

But with relief also comes guilt as we struggle with our own version of the age old question, "Why does God allow the innocent to suffer?" Why was our island spared while other islands (or entire countries) with greater poverty and fewer resources continue to be hit over and over and over again? Even a cursory glance at the map makes it clear that if a hurricane misses us, it’s almost impossible for it to slip through without striking elsewhere. Thus, our salvation comes at the expense of someone else.

But spared we were, at least for now. Meteorologists predict that there will be seven more named storms during this year’s Atlantic hurricane season. Three of those storms will be hurricanes and one of those three will be a category 3 storm or higher. Since hurricane season is not over until November 30th, there’s still a good possibility that Nassau may be hit. And if it doesn’t happen this year, there’s always next year or even the year after that. The hurricane calculus is really quite simple. It’s not a question of if we’ll be hit but when. So for us, Hurricane Ike was a sobering wake up call—a call to be better prepared the next time around.

This article originally appeared in News from Daniel and Estela Schweissing on 9 September 2008.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Bahamian Anglicans Ordain Two More Women

The controversial ordination of "The Philadelphia Eleven" on 29 July 1974 was deemed by the hierarchy of the U.S. Episcopal Church to be "irregular" and it wasn't until a resolution was passed to change the church's canon law on 16 September 1976, over two years later, that the ordinations of these women were finally recognized. The church of England did not approve the ordination of women to the Anglican priesthood until sixteen years later on 11 November 1992. And here in the Bahamas, it would be eight more years until Angela Palacious would become the first Bahamian woman ordained into the Anglican priesthood on 30 May 2000. Since that time, four other Bahamian women have been ordained to the Anglican priesthood as well. The most recent additions are Paulette Maria Cartwright of St. Paul's Anglican Church on Long Island and Marie Antoinette Roach of St. Gregory's Anglican Church on Carmichael Road in Nassau.

The Nassau Guardian reports:

It was on Monday, Aug. 25, that Deacons Paulette Maria Cartwright, assistant curate at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Long Island, and Deacon Marie Antoinette Roach, assistant curate at St. Gregory's Anglican Church, Carmichael Road, were both ordained to the sacred priesthood during the Feast of St. Bartholomew, the Apostle, at Christ Church Cathedral, bringing the number of Bahamian-born female priests up to five. The Rev. Erma Ambrose is foreign-born but married to a Bahamian.

Cartwright says that in itself is a remarkable feeling.

"I feel that being a woman has nothing to do with my calling or nothing to do with God calling me. If I had allowed the fact that I was a woman to dominate my thoughts when God called me, then I would not be where I am now. But I know within myself, and I'm quite comfortable with the fact that God has called me to ministry and that He has placed me into the ministry that I am in today, even though I am a woman."

Despite the fact that there were people that protested Cartwright doing what she has done, she said that she did not allow the negativity towards women in ministry to bother her.

"If I had dwelled on that fact and said that ministry is not for women and convinced myself that I was going to have a difficult time then I wouldn't be where I am," she said. "I was just simply being obedient to God."

Cartwright says she can honestly say that she knew what God wanted her to do, and is obediently doing it, which makes her feel all the more comfortable with who she is, what she is, and that she has done the right thing.

Despite her enthusiasm, Cartwright was not always on this road. She was a teacher for 20 years, before she was ordained to ministry.

"Many years ago, I received what most people would call, a call from God to return from the city of Nassau to live in Long Island. I'm sure it was because He had work for me to do here. I was involved in the various ministries within the Anglican Church and during that time I just kept within myself wondering what it was that God wanted me to do. It just never seemed as though I was actually doing what he really wanted me to do. So it was in 2002 that I received another revelation to go into ministry and being obedient that's what I did."

Cartwright says she would encourage other women in her position to follow their dream if they want to become priests. "But, in encouraging them I'm not going to make it seem to be something that's going to be an easy road for them. I'm the type of person who uses my life experiences to help somebody else and so I will share all that I had experienced with others. I'm not hesitant in doing that. Also, I want every young person and young lady who so desires to enter the ministry and to become a priest to do so because I don't want to hinder God's call for anybody, and so if I believe that your call is a genuine call from God then I will encourage you. And in encouraging you, I would prepare you as best as I can for what may or may not lie ahead."

Roach is just as delighted to be one of the five Bahamian-born female priests in the country. "Saying that this feels good is a very simple way of putting it ... It feels like I'm in the right place and its been a long journey to get here, but there is now a sense of peace within me because I know that this is where God wants me to be, and it's good to be His servant and to be used by Him."

The recent joint ordination opens more doors for more females, according to Roach who says that there are more out there who have been called to the ordained ministry.

"I think that a lot more women are realizing that the call of God is not just for men and that its also for women of all ages, from all different sectors of society. God chooses who He wants, and I think a lot more people who have been questioning their call in the past are now realizing that this is something that they can do," she said.

With the ordinations of Cartwright and Roach, the number of female priests in the Anglican Diocese in the country has increased to six. The ordination was also historic, for Roach, as she and her father, Canon Neil Roach became the first father/daughter priest combination in the country.

The above testimony suggests that the journey of Bahamian women into the Anglican priesthood has been much less controversial than was the case in either the U.S. or the U.K. Even the journey of the Rev. Angela Palacious, which I inquired about during a Q&A session following a panel discussion on Bahamian religion at the College of the Bahamas back in 2003, was more similar to the testimonies that Cartwright and Roach recounted above than that of women who were part of the "Philadelphia Eleven" in the U.S. or the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW) in the U.K.

Congratulations to both Rev. Cartwright and Rev. Roach and may God richly bless your ministries!

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hurricane Memoirs: Frances (2004)

We watched in awe as the powerful 140mph winds flipped cars down the street like tumbleweeds, tore plywood off of windows like scotch tape, and snapped palm trees and utility poles as if they were nothing more than cheap #2 pencils. Hurricane Frances was finally making its long awaited landfall in Palm Beach, Florida.

Fortunately for us, we were not eyewitnesses to this destruction. But as we nervously watched it transpire on CNN from the safety of Estela’s sister’s home in the Dominican Republic over 1000 miles away, we couldn’t help but wonder how our own home had fared as Frances had spent the previous forty-eight hours crossing over the Bahamian archipelago.

A few days later, our arrival at the American Eagle terminal in Miami was greeted with an eerie silence. The normal hustle and bustle of passengers boarding shuttle buses to catch their planes, fidgety children, loudspeaker announcements, whining babies, and blaring televisions was mostly absent. What would normally be a miserable three-hour layover turned out to be a pleasant evening. As we walk around the terminal and checked the locations of the outgoing flights, all but one—Nassau—were destinations within Florida. While Miami International Airport was theoretically open, the destruction left behind by Frances meant that most folks had evidently decided to cancel their vacation plans to Florida and the Bahamas—leaving us to enjoy the quiet of an empty terminal.

After catching a forty-minute flight back to Nassau on a half-empty plane whose passengers were mostly returning Bahamian nationals, we were relieved to see the city lights of Nassau from the air as our plane prepared for landing. During the taxi ride home, we asked our driver about the hurricane. How long was the electricity out? Three days. Was there a lot of damage? No, not really. How much flooding was there? What do you mean there wasn’t hardly any rain? Hmmm . . . don’t believe everything you see on television.

Upon entering our house, our first surprise was that everything was basically intact, exactly as we had left it. Glass windows remained unbroken. Pictures were still on the walls. Curtains hung in front of open windows, seemingly undisturbed. And even an old pair of flip flops sat untouched on top of the propane gas tank on our patio. Truly amazing, though, was how much dirt and debris the hurricane strength winds were able to push through the window screens while leaving everything else unscathed.

We were lucky. It only took about two days to clean up all the dirt in our house. Our fellow Nassauvians, who make up two-thirds of the population of the Bahamas, were also lucky. Overall, damage was minimal. Sure, there were plenty of downed fences, trees, utility poles, and traffic lights. And the trees that are still standing are mostly leafless. Tap water was rust colored for a few days and water pressure is still low. The Ministry of Education canceled classes for the first week of school so people could clean up after the hurricane. But in a few more weeks, everything will basically be back to normal.

Apparently, storm conditions are not uniform in all areas affected by a hurricane. While other Bahamian islands were being whipped around by 140mph gusts, wind speeds in Nassau never exceeded 115mph. The most dangerous thing about Frances was the rain, especially after its winds slowed down significantly over the Florida peninsula. In many places, flood related water damage was much more serious than anything the wind destroyed. Yet ironically, Nassau remained mostly dry throughout the entire episode.

Other Bahamian islands were not so lucky. The Bahamas’ 700 islands are spread out over an area the size of the state of California so each island was affected differently. The hardest hit were heavily populated Grand Bahama and Abaco in the northwest as well as more sparsely populated San Salvador in the southeast. In Abaco alone, over 600 homes were destroyed. Grand Bahama was worse. Airports, phone lines, electricity, and water were totally disabled on both islands. And while limited services have been restored in high priority areas, such as hospitals, during the past week, most people will have to wait for weeks, or even months, before things get anywhere close to normal.

On Sunday morning, we attended worship at Emmaus Baptist Church. For the most part, we found that the members of Emmaus—not unlike members of other local churches we’ve been in contact with—managed to survive the hurricane with minimal damage. One exception is Mme. Dolean Joseph, a member of Estela’s women’s group, and her husband. The roof of the house that the Josephs share with two other families was seriously damaged during the hurricane. In order to make repairs, the landlord has asked all three families to move out by this coming Saturday. Although the Josephs have spent the week looking for another rental, they’ve not been able find anything they can afford. In the meantime, the members of the women’s group are brainstorming ways that they can help out. Even though storm damage was minimal here in Nassau, there are undoubtedly many exceptions like the Josephs who are in need of help.

The islands that suffered the worst damages, Abaco and Grand Bahama, both have large Haitian communities. While we don’t work directly with churches in either of those communities, we have been in contact with the Haitian Ambassador who plans to visit both locations early next week and assess the damage. Even though substantial relief efforts are now underway on both islands, we are concerned that Haitians may be underserved or even overlooked altogether. Meanwhile, we await more information.

By the time it’s over, 2004 will definitely be on the books as a record breaking hurricane season. Just three weeks before Hurricane Frances’ visit to Florida and the Bahamas, Florida was hit by Hurricane Charlie. As we write, Hurricane Ivan heads through the Gulf of Mexico to the southern U.S., already having left serious damage behind in Grenada and Jamaica. In the meantime, Tropical Storm Jeanne is picking up speed as it heads towards the Bahamas and will likely be reclassified as a hurricane within the next twenty-four hours.

Dan often says that he’d much rather deal with one of Colorado’s annual hundred-year record breaking blizzards than live through another hurricane. Hmmm . . . maybe next year we can try to break some more records by asking God to send us some snow to the Caribbean.

This article originally appeared in News from Daniel and Estela Schweissing on 14 September 2004.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Converting the Church

"When we read the Book of Acts, all too often we misinterpret the book's central thesis. Most of us have been taught that Acts is the story about how the church converted the world to Jesus Christ. In reality, the book of Acts is the story as to how the church constantly had to be converted in order to make the message of Jesus Christ relevant to a hurting and spiritually hungry world."

Miguel De La Torre, author of Reading the Bible from the Margins and Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology

Read the rest of the article here. If you like this article, you might also be interested in reading this commentary or this study guide on the book of Acts.

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Hurricane Memoirs: An Overview

As a native Coloradoan, I would much rather deal with a major blizzard than to experience a hurricane of any size. But as a transplant to the Caribbean, I've become all too familiar with the annual routine of hurricane preparation and watching, waiting, and hoping for the best.

As I type, we are waiting to see if Hurricane Ike--a dangerous category 4 storm--make a direct hit on the Bahamas or pass by to the south of us. Since Ike shouldn't be arriving until sometime tomorrow, I've decided to kill some time (and take advantage of the fact that we still have electricity) by compiling a list of all the hurricanes that I have prepared for, lived through, narrowly escaped or, otherwise, had a personal stake in their outcome since first coming to the Caribbean in January 1993.

For clarification (and to avoid the appearance of inflating my hurricane resume), I have placed an asterisk next to the storms that I've actually experienced personally. I've chosen to mention the others because (1) I still had to board up the house or otherwise prepare for them or (2) close family members or our home and personal property were in danger even if we were not actually present at the time of the storm. Also, I'll plan to come back and update this post from time to time as we will undoubtedly experience more tropical storms and hurricanes in the future.

Tropical Storm Cindy* (Aug 1993) -- During my first "hurricane" experience, I was largely unaware of the serious implications of what was taking place. I was living in the parsonage of the church (along with the pastor and his family) where I was serving as a volunteer in La Romana, Dominican Republic. At the time, we were hosting a small work team from Monadnock Bible Camp, who were staying in the dormitory above the parsonage. The night before the storm arrived (back in the days before internet and the weather channel), Pastor Phanord told us to close down all the windows in our rooms because a "hurricane" was coming and that the team would not be going to the work site the next day. Apart from that--to the best of my knowledge--no other preparations were made for the storm. We didn't board anything up and had no food or water supplies in reserve beyond what we normally would have had for a visiting work team.

We spent the entire next day inside the compound at the parsonage while it rained quite hard for most of the day. I don't recall any significant winds but I do remember that by the time things started clearing off in the evening we had quite the case of cabin fever and were ready for things to be over. Thanks to Wikipedia's extensive records of the annual Atlantic hurricane season, I recently learned that TS Cindy had actually been downgraded to a tropical depression just before entering the Dominican Republic and, subsequently, dissipated the next day. Hence, the reason we experienced mostly rain and hardly anything in the way of wind.

Hurricane Luis (Sept 1995) -- My first real hurricane preparation experience didn't take place until after moving to San Germán, Puerto Rico. I had married Estela earlier that year and, shortly thereafter, moved to Puero Rico to find a job, set up house, and begin the application process for us to study at the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico while Estela waited in La Romana for her application for permanent residency to be processed.

Then in early September, just four days after I had finally brought Estela to San Germán, I found myself standing in a line behind umpteen million people at Supermercado Pueblo wondering if I'd ever be able to get out of there before the arrival of incoming Hurricane Luis. After a few hours, I did finally make it to the cashier, paid for as many emergency supplies that I could reasonably carry on my bicycle and then headed back to our apartment where our landlord and I proceeded to board up the entire building.

As it turned out, none of that preparation was necessary as the then category 4 Hurricane Luis ended up veering off to the northwest, totally bypassing us, after destroying most of the homes in Antigua and Barbuda. We later received first hand reports on the storm from my sister-in-law in Antigua, whose home was amongst those destroyed, and one of my colleagues at ICPR Junior College spearheaded a local effort to collect food and clothing to donate to the hurricane victims in Antigua and Barbuda.

Hurricane Marilyn (Sept 1995) -- This category 3 storm, which followed just a week behind Hurricane Luis, bypassed those of us in southwestern Puerto Rico entirely. Though, others parts of Puerto Rico were not so fortunate.

By that point, I was beginning to get a bit annoyed as we had just boarded up and deboarded our house two weeks in a row. I remember asking our landlord, "Are we going to have to do this every week around here?" Later, I saw an editorial cartoon depicting a family frantically boarding up their home with the caption, "Just like Christmas. Same thing every year." No kidding, more like every week!

I did learn an important lesson about hurricanes that month: Since the actual path a hurricane takes, despite the best efforts of weather forecasters, is always a bit unpredictable, lots of time is often wasted boarding up buildings and, then, sitting around sweating inside those same buildings as they bake in the heat if the fierce tropical sun and, later, deboarding them. Too often, one does all this work only to find later that (1) it was not necessary because the storm never showed or (2) one has vastly over prepared for what little bit of storm actually appeared. Nevertheless, in the final analysis, it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Hurricane Bertha (July 1996) -- As our landlord was out of town, we didn't bother to attempt boarding up the house on our own, though we probably should have. Evidently, parts of northern and eastern Puerto Rico were pummeled fairly hard by this category 3 storm while those of us in the southwest enjoyed a nice quiet peaceful sunny day. Having not yet experienced anything worse than TS Cindy, I pretty oblivious to the seriousness of what was taking place elsewhere on the island, not to mention would could have been happening to us.

Hurricane Hortense* (Sept 1996) -- Puerto Rico took the worst beating from this category 4 storm, though neighboring countries were also affected. I suspect, but don't really know for sure, that the wind speeds near San Germán were significantly less than category 4 winds for the simple reason that the Puerto Rican mountains should have slowed the storm down quite a bit before it ever got to us.

I remember sitting in our apartment around ten or eleven o'clock at night right before the storm hit. Everything was boarded up so we couldn't see outside. We opened our door to take a look outside and it was so calm and peaceful that it seemed impossible that a hurricane would be so close. Indeed, it was downright eery because the radio broadcasts were reporting power outages, flooding, and general mayhem in neighboring towns all around us. Then, in the blink of an eye, the power went out and a fraction of a second later the wind began to howl like I'd never heard it howl before. It spent the night huffing and puffing but, thankfully, it did not blow our house down.

The next morning we awoke (yes, I'm actually pretty good at sleeping through stuff like that) to find the town of San Germán strewn with debris, downed utility poles and light posts, and the occasional roof from a tool shed scattered here or there. But other than that, we really didn't experience a great deal of damage, with all of the houses and large building having remained fully intact. The electricity came back on that night, less than twenty-four hours after having gone out. So overall, we were minimally inconvenienced by the storm. Though, later we learned that other parts of the island had experienced severe flash flooding that had washed away entire houses and spent weeks without electrical power. Indeed, we were quite shocked by what we saw on subsequent television coverage as it was a far cry from what we personally had experienced.

Though we didn't know it at the time, this would turn out to be our last direct experience with a hurricane until our run in with Hurricane Michelle in the Bahamas over five years later.

Hurricane Erika (Sept 1997) -- Passing to the north of Puerto Rico, this formidable category 3 storm--the worst of the 1997 hurricane season--wreaked some havoc in San Juan and nearby areas with tropical storm force winds on its perimeter.

Down in San Germán, I think we were vaguely aware that a storm might be affecting the northern part of the island but I was totally taken by surprise when I showed up at Universidad Interamericana on a bright sunny morning to teach my first day of class and was turned away by the guards at the entrance to the campus because the University had been shut down due to the hurricane. Since nobody else around town had bothered to board up and everybody seemed to be going about their business as usual, Estela and I made a few jokes about the university being overly cautious and paranoid and, then, enjoyed our day off.

At this point, you'll note that the next several years on my hurricane resume are a bit thin. That's because Estela and I moved to Denver for two-and-a-half years while I was attending Denver Seminary and not due to any decrease in tropical activity during that time.

Hurricane Georges (Sept 1998) -- The biggest storm to impact our lives during my seminary years is the massive category 4 Hurricane Georges that made landfall in the southeastern Dominican Republic near Estela's hometown of La Romana. The effects of this hurricane were catastrophic, destroying or otherwise severely damaging the homes of numerous close family members and friends and leaving thousands without food, water, or adequate relief assistance.

The hardest part about this experience is that while we were safely out of harms way in Denver, we were out of contact with Estela's family for about two weeks. The initial first-hand reports that came back to us via missionary colleagues in Santo Domingo suggested that there had probably not been any fatalities amongst amongst the church members in La Romana but also confirmed that the storm was just as devastating as we had feared. Eventually, the lines of communication opened back up again and we learned that Estela's family was safe, that the roof of their house was one of the few in the neighborhood that hadn't blown away in the storm, that many of the church members had been sheltered in the church sanctuary when the storm blew the roof off of the church building, and that the mother of one church member we knew had been killed by flying debris from the storm. Over the weeks and months that followed, we continued to get similar reports of harrowing experiences and, later, courageous responses as relief efforts were implemented and the process of rebuilding the Dominican Republic got underway.

Hurricane Michelle* (Nov 2001) -- Thanks to the mountainous terrain of Cuba, this former category 4 storm was severely weakened by the time it entered the Bahamas. But after observing the destruction wrought by Hurricane Georges from afar, I had finally come to appreciate the power of the hurricane and had no intention of messing around. Frustratingly, our landlord didn't quite see things the same way we did and, consequently, our house did not get boarded up for this particular storm, our first after relocating to the Bahamas.

While we never were able to find out what the actual strength of the storm was when it passed over the Bahamas, I'm guessing it was no greater than a category 2 and, perhaps, even less as none of the windows in our house were broken by the winds. The storm moved through Nassau quickly, arriving around mid-morning and departing late in the afternoon. Since our house had not been boarded up, we did get an excellent view of what was going on outside as we watched the shingles blow off a neighboring house, one by one, and our crazy neighbor running around his yard trying to pick up debris.

Thankfully, the damage was no worse than what we had experienced with Hurricane Hortense in San Germán five years previously, and was basically limited to downed utility poles, lampposts, and tree limbs but no major structural damage to homes or buildings. Electricity here in Nassau resumed within about 24 hours after the end of the storm, at least in our neighborhood, so all-in-all we were minimally inconvenienced by this storm.

Hurricane Frances (Aug 2004) -- In early August we departed to the Dominican Republic to spend a month with Estela's family before the beginning of the fall semester. Since Hurricane Charley--a category 4 storm--had just struck nearby Florida, we happily departed for our trip on the foolish assumption that hurricanes, like lightening, never strike in the same place twice. At least not in the same storm season anyway. And as far as I was concerned, Florida was close enough to Nassau that we should not have to worry about anything in our absence.

Boy was that a mistake! I was soon to learn that hurricanes, unlike lightening, can strike as many times as they darn well please. By the end of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season, Florida would experience four hurricanes and the Bahamas would experience two.

Towards the end of our vacation in the D.R., we were a bit disturbed to learn that a category 4 storm was headed towards the Bahamas, especially since we knew that our landlord--who was also out of town--would probably do nothing to secure our house which we had left behind with all of the windows open and our car parked on the driveway in front. Unfortunately, we had no idea what was really happening as the hurricane made its way over the Bahamas. The U.S.-centric cable news stations seemed to be more interested in interviewing home owners who were boarding up their property in Florida than reporting on what the storm was actually doing in the Bahamas.

Later, we would learn that Nassau did not take a direct hit and that our home and car remained undamaged, though we spent an entire day cleaning our house out after we got home as everything was coated with a thick layer of dirt. Again, downed utility poles, lampposts, and tree branches seemed to be the extent of the damage in Nassau, most of which had been cleaned up by the time we finally got home. Unfortunately the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama incurred very serious damages from the storm, resulting in massive relief efforts directed towards those islands.

Hurricane Jeanne* (Sept 2004) -- This category 3 storm joins the many others in the "could have hit us but didn't" department. While the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, still catching their breath from Hurricane Frances, were clobbered yet again, those of us in Nassau simply experienced a seemingly typical rain day and, to the best of my knowledge, no damage of note was incurred on our island.

Hurricane Katrina (Sept 2005) -- This major category 5 storm--like Hurricane Georges and Hurricane Francis--falls into the "storms that happened while we were AWOL" department. The Bahamas has the dubious distinction of being the location where Katrina began to form before moving on to the Gulf Coast and making its now legendary landfall in New Orleans.

Of course, at the time that it began to form, we had no clue that things would get anywhere near as bad as how they ultimately turned out. We were speaking at a church in Ontario, Oregon eight months into our home assignment year on the Sunday morning that we first realized what was going on. After the morning service was over, I went to the church office and called a friend in Nassau to find out what was going on. My biggest concern was that all of our furniture, appliances, books, and so forth were stored in a flimsy storage unit out on Blake Road just a stone's throw from the beach, so I was just checking to make sure our stuff was okay and was assured that it probably would be. (How we ended up storing our stuff there is a story for another blog post but if I knew then what I now know about storm surge I would have never rented the place).

As it turned out, the Bahamas just got a lot of rain, our stuff survived just fine, and our initial concerns turned out to be irrelevant compared to the devastation that would take place in New Orleans a few days later. Following the busy hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, we were greatly relieved when Mother Nature basically gave us a break during 2006 and most of 2007.

Hurricane Noel* (Nov 2007) -- Our first hurricane after returning to the Bahamas from home assignment, this small category 1 managed to do quite a bit of damage on a number of other Caribbean islands but didn't do too much damage in the Bahamas. For the record, the living room of our third-floor apartment was flooded out (to the extent that anything on the third-floor of anywhere can flood) while we slept during the night that the storm passed overhead. But that was due largely to faulty construction of our apartment building and, hey, when you're on the third-floor the water will eventually head for lower ground anyway so it really wasn't a big deal. While there was flooding in some parts of the Bahamas (and many locations around here will flood during a mere thirty-minute rainstorm anyway), the electricty here in Nassau never went out and, as far as I could tell, there was nothing significant in the way of debris or damage following the storm.

Tropical Storm Hanna* (Sept 2008) -- Earlier in the week, the Nassau Guardian warned that the Bahamas would be hit with a double hurricane and, at the time, there were actually three major storms taking aim at us: Hanna, Ike, and Josephine. Josephine has since fizzled out but Ike (see below) has been the real object of concern this week. Hanna, on the other hand, ended up dancing around in circles over the Turks and Caicos for several days while simultaneously causing severe flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. When she finally started to head north again, she did so just to the east of and parallel to the Bahamian archipelago. Some of the outlying islands in the eastern part of the Bahamas such as Abaco and Cat Island were hit a bit harder than us here in Nassau (where we mostly just experienced a day or so of gusty winds and occasional scattered showers). But in spite of any inconveniences caused by Hanna, the main concern this week has been to prepare for Hurricane Ike and its deadly category 4 winds.

Hurricane Ike (Sept 2008) -- Expected to be back up to a category 4 storm by the time it enters the Bahamas tomorrow afternoon or evening, it looks like there's a good chance that only the southeastern islands of the Bahamas will be affected. We'll see. Once it's clear what precisely is going on, I'll post an update on Hurricane Ike.

To sum up, my life has been affected--directly or indirectly--by fourteen tropical storms or hurricanes during the last fifteen and-a-half years since I first came to the Caribbean, nearly an average of one per year. I've only personally experienced six of those storms and, of those six, only two of them were direct hits that resulted in a lot of damage: Hurricane Hortense (1996) and Hurricane Michelle (2001). And of those two, both were probably category 2 or less at the time we were hit by them. So given that most of the storms on the above list were category 3 or higher, we have been relatively fortunate in not yet having to experience a storm of that magnitude. If we continue to reside in the Caribbean, I suspect that it is just a matter of time before we experience a major hurricane (meaning a category 3 storm or higher). It's not really a question of if but when. But as I learned back in San Germán over thirteen years ago, the biggest part of the hurricane experience is preparing, watching, waiting, and hoping that you don't get hit. And so we wait . . .

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ehrenreich on Prosperity Theology

"In the theology of Christian positive thinking, 'everything happens for a reason' . . . But there's another possible message from on high: that this brand of Christianity fosters a distinctly un-Christian narcissism . . . Plenty of Christians have already made the point that the positive thinking of Christianity Light is demeaning to God, and I leave them to pursue this critique. More importantly, from a secular point of view, it's dismissive of other humans, and not only flight attendants. If a person is speeding, shouldn't he get a ticket to deter him from endangering others? And if (Joel) Osteen gets the premier parking spot, what about all the other people consigned to the remote fringes of the lot? Christianity, at best, is about a sacrificial love for others, not about getting to the head of the line."

Barbara Ehrenreich
Author of Nickled and Dimed

Read the rest of the article here.

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