IGRC mission team assists with hurricane repairs on St. Croix


By Markida Scotland
ST. CROIX – Ten members from a United Methodist church in Illinois are on the island assisting with repairs to three Methodist churches that sustained damages during Hurricane Maria last September.
Rev. Wally Carlson, representative of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, said the mission team, which arrived here Feb. 6 went straight to work when they arrived. The churches being assisted are located in the Estate Richmond, William’s Delight and near downtown Fredericksted.
“We’ve done the guttering and shed repairs, we pressure washed the center this morning, and we’ve done some major cleanup at the Community Methodist Church and School,” Carlson said.
Carlson said when Maria swept through St. Croix (Sept. 19-20), he spent the night keeping in contact with the Rev. Deryck Sonoram of the St. Croix Church.
“As Maria settled in on top of you guys, I’m texting back and forth with Deryck, and he texts back to me and says, ‘we’re okay, we’re safe, we have a little rain, we have a little wind’ and when I checked the computer, Maria was clocking in 150 mph winds,” Carlson said. “A month ago, we locked it down who was coming but when we got here we really didn’t know what we were going to be doing, but we have sort of prioritized what we can do and just went right into it.”
Sonaram said he spent 24 years in Illinois and met Carlson during that time.
“When they heard about the hurricane that’s when they decided to come and help out. It’s been a good experience to have them come down and be here with us. They have different abilities,” Sonoram said.  “We have a doctor, pastors, contractors, civil engineers and people who just like to work. And they were happy to come and help us.”
Carlson said since being on the island, the members have formed what he hopes to be long-lasting relationships.
“Relationships that I hope will last decades into the future, where we can learn from you and you can learn from us,” he said.
He added that the team from Illinois have already taken dips at Dorsch Beach in Frederiksted and danced to the Ebenezer Methodist Steel Orchestra.
Mary Benjamin, a parishioner of Ebenezer Methodist Church, said members of her church housed those from Illinois who came to help.
“We placed them in different homes of the members. The church – we feed them every day,” she said. “The family they stay with give them breakfast, and then we prepare lunch and supper at the church.”
The visiting church members said they were in awe of the hospitality of Crucians.
“The thing that I find to be so amazing is that these people took strangers into their homes, and they are taking excellent care of us and we’re building relationships. I really enjoy them, my host family, and getting to know them and island life,” Matthew Fletcher said.
The group left the island Feb. 13 with plans to return at a later date.
(Adapted from a story in the Feb. 11-12 issue of the St. Croix Avis newspaper. Reprinted with permission)