Life After the Storm
Leslie Klein shares her story of serving for one month in the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. Though she was surrounded by destruction as far as the eye could see, she could still catch a glimpse of God’s creation continuing to sing His praises even after a storm.
Leslie Klein's résumé features extensive experience as a missionary planting churches in Brazil. And more recently, she has been running a bed and breakfast in the High Country. She has even completed comprehensive training with Samaritan's Purse in anticipation of serving to provide international disaster relief. And yet Leslie admits nothing could have prepared her for what she experienced in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian.
"The sights, the sounds, the smell above all was...," Leslie said. "There are no words."
With all her years in Brazil, Leslie was familiar with unfamiliar attacks on her senses, but these difficult circumstances were especially memorable. And heart-wrenching. "Human death is just a smell you can immediately recognize," she said.
The smell was overwhelming and constant. And yet something distinct was missing when Leslie first arrived in this tropical paradise—not a stitch of green was left on the island.
Hurricane Dorian had robbed trees of their leaves. And it had stripped lawns of their grass. All that remained were stumps, sticks, and brown dirt. In the aftermath of the most powerful storm to hit the Bahamas, Leslie even found herself struggling to find answers.
"I started questioning, 'God where are you, where were you?'” Leslie said with tears streaming down her face. "These lives matter and they weren’t valued. There could be thousands still buried under rubble."
At first, the Bahamas was an emotionally difficult place for Leslie.
"Then during a time of devotion in the morning, the sun was coming up and I could see the beginnings of green," Leslie remembers. "And I thought, 'Look at that, life is springing forward in the midst of death.' If God cares about the buds on the trees then he must care about the people trapped under the rubble."
At that moment, Leslie felt like the Creator did see his people. He values them and justice will be served.
Hurricane Dorian is the strongest hurricane on record to have hit the Bahamas—and one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record.
The storm made landfall on September 1. With prolonged winds and torrential rainfall, Dorian caused extensive flooding that damaged homes and infrastructure on the northwest islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, as well as widespread power outages. Thousands of inhabitants were without fresh water and food.
The death toll in the Bahamas has risen to 53 people. It's expected to rise further—more than 1,000 people are missing. More than 2,000 people need life-saving assistance. Samaritan's Purse was one of the first to respond.
"Yet when they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, the Lord brought them out of their distress. He calmed the storm and its waves quieted down. So they rejoiced that the waves became quiet, and he led them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his gracious love and for his awesome deeds on behalf of mankind."—Psalm 107:28-31
Leslie was sent to manage the base that Samarian's Purse had established on Abaco shortly after the storm had dissipated. She was in the Bahamas from September 18 through October 19. And as Leslie describes it, she essentially served as the house mother to a rotational group of 17 to 40 team members at a time.
Much of her day-to-day responsibilities included logistics, creating schedules, and keeping track of everybody and everything. She kept in constant contact with the Samaritan's Purse base in Freeport, along with establishing relationships with other humanitarian organizations.
"A lot of my job was relationships with other NGOs and other groups of people," Leslie said. "We all relied on one another. They were part of our support system and survival."
This co-dependence during a disaster was a reminder to Leslie of the beauty and necessity of community. Everyone put aside their differences and came together to work for people and humanity.
Personally, Leslie has a simple way of serving. She believes that people want to be heard, they want to be seen, they want to be known. It doesn't matter their status or their role. Her love for people and warm hospitality earned her the nickname "Bahama Mama". And she was able to walk alongside people during a difficult time.
"One of the ways God used me the most was to listen to stories," Leslie said. "To just be there with people through hard times."
Leslie didn't just make friends with other organizations. She also happened to befriend a generous and servant-hearted man named Jimbo.
Jimbo lives in Florida. He is extremely wealthy and he owns a couple of private jets. Leslie doesn't remember how the relationship started and she never knew when he would show up. But when he did, he often brought fresh fruit with him.
One time he brought hot chicken biscuits from Chick-fil-A. He had rigged up a system to keep them hot in his plane. Another time he delivered 40 fresh pizzas. As far as Leslie knows, Jimbo is still making special deliveries to the team.
Leslie is the first to admit that her time in the Bahamas was not always easy. In fact, she often felt overwhelmed and ill-prepared. And yet so often, like when Jimbo would show up in his plane, she recognized God's hand in all of it.
"God just uses people in such creative ways," Leslie said. "Sometimes I think we are so bored with Christianity because we focus on the rules that we forget about the adventure."
Leslie finds that in the Bible there’s an incredible spectrum of fear. Fear God, but at the same time, we do not need to fear. There’s healthy fear in relationships. She's not afraid of what God will do to her but that she might disappoint Him. But then she remembers to ask herself a simple question.
"What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen?" Leslie said. "God is going to take care of it and he's going to take care of me."
Conforming can be such a good thing when we’re talking about Christ. But when we’re talking about just becoming another good person in the world it can be so binding.
The need for God is obvious in a disaster because you can see it, smell it, and hear it. It’s all around you. And yet whether it's in the aftermath of a disaster or the seemingly mundane reality of daily life, we all need to be seen, heard, and known.
The meaningful relationships we nurture with God and one another can help us weather any storm in life.
"We are marked by burdens we carry and I am blessed to help carry those burdens with others," Leslie said. "It’s not about the situation, it’s about the people. And we all need the same thing. Real connection."
Samaritan's Purse continues to provide relief to the hurricane-ravaged parts of the Bahamas. If you would like to learn more about their ongoing efforts and how you might be involved, visit samaritanspurse.org