Pastor Ryan Forbes is the lead pastor at the First Assembly of God church in Abaco and works closely with Many Hands and his community. Many Hands sat down for an interview with Pastor Ryan to learn about his experiences living through Hurricane Dorian.
Many Hands met Pastor Ryan Forbes soon after arriving on the island of Abaco and was inspired by his story. Pastor Ryan is the lead pastor of the First Assembly of God church in Abaco and is a symbol of God’s faithfulness and restoration. He is a prominent figure in the community, overseeing five churches in the area and being known for his heart for service.
In 2019, the Bahamas was hit by Hurricane Dorian, the most devastating natural disaster in the country’s history. Despite preparing as best they could, the hurricane’s category five wind speeds (exceeding 157 mph) caused everything in its path to be destroyed. The island was not prepared for the storm to be as intense as it was, “We did not know it was going to become a major hurricane like it was, so when Darren was approaching and getting very close in category three, and then overnight Category four and Category five,” shares Pastor Ryan.
Ryan was at his church with his family and a few others when the hurricane hit. They sought refuge on the second floor, hoping to escape the 13-foot-tall waters, but to no avail. The church was no match for the winds of the storm, which tore down the walls and ripped off the roof with ease. Pastor Ryan recalled, “The last half of the storm came, and they took the rest of the walls and the roof of the second-story church building. Now, we were in, and we had to just lay flat in that debris and in that weather exposed to the elements with no shelter for a couple of hours during that particular time. I mean, it was really bad.”
After hours of laying on their stomachs and praying for God to save their lives, miraculously, a gap between the first and second levels became apparent to Ryan and the others. They were able to make their way to the lower level with the help of a perfectly placed blown-over refrigerator. The group survived on the ground floor of what remained of the church for two and a half days with the supplies they had stored beforehand.
When Ryan and his family finally evacuated, they went to the capital city of the Bahamas, Nassau, where he and his family stayed for two weeks. While there, Ryan felt God was calling him back to Abaco to help rebuild the community, so he listened and came back with nothing to his name. While the initial rebuild process looked promising, the COVID-19 pandemic prolonged the rebuild process and made it extremely difficult. Donors and NGOs who were once committed to helping held back from funding, volunteers returned home, and families struggled to cope with losing everything.
Although it has been a rough few years for Abaco, there have been some positive developments. Abaco’s economy is slowly recovering, with old businesses being restored and new ones emerging. The rebuilding efforts are a testament to the locals’ determination to rebuild and create a sustainable future for themselves. Pastor Ryan shared his perspective on the rebuilding, specifically the economy, ” I think Abaco is coming along tremendously well after Hurricane Dorian. We had to rebuild, restore, get commerce back, get the economy back. I think a lot of that has happened. Abaco has come a long way. I believe that there’s a lot of work to be done. There are still a lot of challenges. There have been businesses restored and new businesses opening. But I think that there are more that need to return. I think that there needs to be more commerce. And I think that you know, we have a lot of growth that is needed, and there is good potential here on the island.”