Devastation and suffering among Hurricane Irma and Maria survivors in the U.S. Virgin Islands were palpable to Florida Baptist Jeffery Singletary, who led a mission trip to the islands months before the storms.
His heart’s response was a series of “Feeding the Five Thousand” crusades that reaped 620 decisions for Christ and fed thousands both spiritually and physically, Singletary, a regional catalyst with the Florida Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press (BP). A crusade on St. Croix Jan. 28 -30 will be his third.
“I knew they had four great needs – food, clothing, shelter and hope,” Singletary said. “Red Cross could help provide food and clothing. [Federal Emergency Management Agency] could help provide shelter. But only the church of Jesus Christ can provide real hope.”
Singletary led crusades on St. Thomas Nov. 19-21 and on St. John Dec. 21-22, supported by a host of Southern Baptists from the Florida Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board, Calvary Baptist Church of Clearwater, Fla., Christ Fellowship of Miami and disaster relief ministries from both the Kentucky and Alabama Baptist conventions.
Ken Weathersby, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement, was among preachers at the St. Thomas crusade, where 575 hurricane survivors professed decisions to accept salvation in Christ.
Weathersby offered survivors the hope Jesus proclaimed in Revelation 3:20: “Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.”
“So many of those attending the crusade felt alone,” Weathersby told BP, who preached on “the hope of Jesus in the midst of their darkness. I offered a fellowship that lives through eternity.”
Volunteers including pastors and church members served 3,000 meals and distributed groceries to 26,000 individuals on St. Thomas, Singletary said, and provided groceries for 7,200 survivors during the St. John crusade, where Singletary noted 45 decisions to accept Christ.
Southern Baptist pastor Lennox Zamore was among the volunteers. Zamore, senior pastor of Exciting Central Tampa Baptist Church since October 2017, was pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in St. Thomas when the storms struck.
“We’re so grateful for all the volunteers and how we’re going to make a tremendous impact in the lives of our community,” Zamore said on Facebook while participating in the St. Thomas crusade. “We want to thank everybody for coming and being a part of this great venture.”
Singletary plans to provide 15,000 meals to survivors on St. Croix and hopes to draw hundreds to Christ, he told BP. Speakers will include Mark Croston, LifeWay Christian Resources national director of black church partnerships; Dennis Mitchell, executive director of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC; and Super Bowl XXXVII Most Valuable Player Dexter Jackson.
The many speakers and worship leaders at the St. Thomas and St. John crusades included Willie Rice, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church; Adron Robinson, senior pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Chicago; recording artist Niya Cotton, worship leader at Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas; and former world champion boxer Julian Jackson Sr. and his son Olympic boxer Julian Jackson Jr., both from the Virgin Islands.
The events have encouraged island residents and made them feel more connected to the 50 states, Singletary said, based on letters, emails and other messages he has received.
“It has given the people of [the U.S. Virgin Islands] renewed hope that someone truly cares about their plight and condition beyond their islands,” Singletary said. “Relationships have been created and strengthened cross-culturally and denominationally. The crusades have served to foster relationships with pastors and community leaders that did not exist previously. We have made a Kingdom impact.”
He encouraged Southern Baptists to do more to engage Southern Baptists in the Caribbean in ministry.
“They need us and we need them. Together we are better and the Kingdom is stronger,” Singletary said. “What a great sending force they can be to the world with resources. In the past we have seen the Caribbean as a mission field. Now it’s time to see them as a mission force.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)