GREEN COVE SPRINGS–Pastor Matt Swain has taken mission trips to the Grand Bahamas for years, but his journeys found new meaning after the island suffered devastating damages from Hurricane Dorian in September 2019.
Since then, Swain has made three short trips to Freeport to aid and assist longtime friend Henry Seymour, pastor of New Heights Christian Church, the only Southern Baptist church located in the Bahamas. The two met some 20 years ago when Swain was a youth pastor in Miami.
“We’ve done Vacation Bible Schools in the past, medical clinics and literacy clinics and all kinds of things,” said Swain, who is pastor of Lake Asbury Baptist Church in Green Cove Springs. “Since the storm we have just been taking supplies and helping with whatever we can.”
Seymour and his late wife, Nancy, started Freeport church about 10 years ago. They began with a home Bible study that grew into a thriving church. These days, Seymour is working to keep the church going amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing to minister to residents of the community.
While Freeport was not as hard hit by Dorian as other areas of the Bahamas, there were still damages caused by flooding, high winds and more. Many residents have yet to recover from the storm– having lost their jobs and still making repairs to their homes. And now COVID-19 has worsened their conditions, creating higher unemployment and quarantine measures that make it harder to buy food without transportation. On top of that, a new storm season begins in less than two months.
“It is a blessing that the church is going,” Swain said, noting Seymour is still doing an online church service each week. “It’s sustainable and it’s continuing but they are struggling even more now.”
Whatever offering is collected–sometimes as little as $5– goes back to help the local people, Swain said. Seymour is currently not taking a salary and gives whatever is collected to those who are in need, always being sure to document it.
On his first trip last fall after the hurricane, Swain took the pastor mowing equipment and other supplies. Swain, his wife, and another couple returned in December with four pallets of supplies including electronic tablets for students, battery-powered four wheelers and other toys for Christmas. With many schools closed, students now use the tablets to keep up with virtual class assignments, gaining access via Wifi from fast food restaurant chains on the island.
Plans for another trip this spring by Lake Asbury’s worship minister were halted due to travel restrictions imposed be the COVID-19 pandemic. But Swain is hoping to return once he is able.
“Pastor Henry is still at it. He’s doing the best he can,” Swain said. “My prayer is that more churches would adopt him. Out in West Florida last year, a lot of churches adopted pastors and helped them with their salaries and things.”