Hope on the Other Side of the Storms

April 17, 2019 • St. Maarten
Pastor Nolan Nanton recounts for New Testament Baptist Church how God has provided for them since Hurricane Irma.
Pastor Nolan Nanton recounts for New Testament Baptist Church how God has provided for them since Hurricane Irma.

A St. Maarten church rededicates its facility after two years of rebuilding following Hurricane Irma.

New Testament Baptist Church of Philipsburg, St. Maarten, is one of 52 churches Samaritan’s Purse helped rebuild after Hurricane Irma’s Category-5 winds ripped through the island on September 6, 2017. The church lost the roof to their sanctuary in the storm, but this congregation of roughly 100 people celebrated the completion of repairs with three days of rededication services in early April, just a couple weeks ago.

More than 300 people packed the sanctuary for the first of the rededication services.

More than 300 people packed the sanctuary at the first of the rededication services.

“Today, you are sitting in a miracle,” Pastor Nolan Nanton said to an audience of about 300, including the church body and guests from the communities of Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin.

In between praise songs, worship dances, and choral performances by all ages, Pastor Nanton recounted how the 63-year-old church was nearing completion of upstairs renovations when Hurricane Irma struck. They had just paid for the installation of air conditioning, only to have the system as well as all of their electrical wiring destroyed by the storms.

“I entered and…my heart dropped,” Pastor Nanton said of his first visit to the sanctuary after Irma.

The roof of his personal residence, which adjoins the church, was also gone. However, he and his family stayed just a couple of nights elsewhere before returning to the dismantled structure to begin the rebuilding process.

“An Answer to Prayer”

Immediately after the hurricanes—Hurricane Maria followed up Irma—New Testament Baptist Church began meeting together again in the first level of their building. Temperatures were high in the smaller room without air conditioning, but they were determined to remain faithful to God despite their circumstances.

Members of New Testament Baptist Church pause for prayer in the sanctuary during reconstruction.

Members of New Testament Baptist Church pause for prayer in the sanctuary during reconstruction.

After months of meeting downstairs, Pastor Nanton sensed God told him to bring the people upstairs into the debris of their sanctuary to have a prayer meeting.

Less than a month later, Pastor Nanton learned that Samaritan’s Purse would cover the cost of their roof and assist them with other areas of outreach in their community.

“There are few times in my life I’m at a loss for words, but that was one of them,” Pastor Nanton said. He describes the assistance as “an answer to prayer.”

Samaritan’s Purse also supplied a refrigerator, stove, and sink to the soup kitchen that New Testament Baptist Church has operated for 25 years. In the first year after the storms, it doubled its capacity from serving 75 people to up to 150 people each weekday.

In addition, through Samaritan’s Purse, the church repaired the roofs on 18 homes and offered 134 vouchers to victims of the storms to obtain essential supplies from the local hardware store.

Remembering the Love of God

During the first of the dedication services this April, New Testament Baptist Church presented Samaritan’s Purse with a plaque of appreciation. Afterward, Dave Holzhauer, Samaritan’s Purse regional director for the north Caribbean, recounted the devastation he witnessed on the island when he arrived just two days after the storm. But as he returned this time to see tourism returning, he said is it easy to forget that the storms happened.

“The Bible says over and over again, ‘Do not forget. Do not forget. Do not forget the things that God has done,’” Holzhauer said, observing that New Testament Baptist Church has been faithful to remember the Lord’s works as they recover.

Dr. Orlando Wilson of the St. Maarten United Ministerial Foundation also spoke, encouraging the church to ensure that those who join them in ministry be one with them in them in heart and not merely attracted to a beautiful building.

Sister Pauline Reid sang from experience about the love of God.

Sister Pauline Reid sang from experience about the love of God.

Following his address, Sister Pauline Reid sang the 1917 hymn, “The Love of God.” Besides celebrating with the rest of her church over the reconstruction of their building, Pauline had added reason to sing. When she lost the roof on her home to the hurricanes, she was a recipient of a Samaritan’s Purse tarp to help protect her from the elements. Later, she also received a voucher that allowed her to replace her washing machine, which was destroyed as well.

“I know what I’m singing about,” Sister Reid said. “I’ve experienced the love of God.”

A Beacon for the Island

Reverend Michael Junior George of Gros Islet, St. Lucia, gave a sermon based on John 10:11-15 with the theme of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He encouraged the church that “rededication is also a time of refocusing,” challenging them to set an example for the island in their behavior.

Guest speaker Rev. George encouraged New Testament Baptist Church of Philipsburg, St. Maarten, to set a Godly example for their island.

Guest speaker Rev. George encouraged New Testament Baptist Church of Philipsburg, St. Maarten, to set a Godly example for their island.

A mentor of Pastor Nanton’s, Reverend George is also familiar with Samaritan’s Purse. In his early 20s, he emceed the youth nights of one of Franklin Graham’s festivals on St. Vincent. Later, he became the volunteer national coordinator for Operation Christmas Child on St. Lucia and served in that role from April 2016 to May 2018.

Wycliffe Smith, minister of education, culture, youth, and sport for St. Maarten, sat in the front row during the service. He pastored the church from 2000 to 2014 and said of the rededication, “It’s so great because this church is the second oldest evangelical church on the island. It stands in the center of town. It is surrounded by banks, it is surrounded by government, it is surrounded by businesses. We’ve tried to let it be a beacon in the middle of this town.”

In addition to the repair of dozens of churches like this one, Samaritan’s Purse partnered with 84 local churches to repair 385 homes on the island and distribute 2,500 vouchers for households to replace items damaged in the storms. During these efforts, we praise God that a total of 60 people prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

One young choir member enjoys the celebration of what the Lord had done.

One young choir member enjoys the celebration of what the Lord had done.

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