More than three years after Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco, Margaret Swain was one of many people who were delighted to attend the dedication of the new Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Today feels like a piece of paradise,” said Swain of Dundas Town, Abaco, who was one of the 175 people to attend the dedication service.
The new Kingdom Hall, which can now accommodate 115 people at capacity, a 25-seat increase, was filled to capacity. A tent had to be erected as an overflow space to accommodate everyone in attendance, including Witnesses who flew in from overseas for the occasion. Another 245 families connected over Zoom for the event.
“Seeing the hall rebuilt, also rebuilt our family,” said Ritchie Eyma, Jehovah’s Witnesses public communications representative, United States (US) branch.
The new edifice is located on Forest Drive in Marsh Harbour, and was erected with increased hurricane guidelines, according to Eyma.
“The roof is rated to withstand 200 miles per hour winds. The glass door and windows are rated to withstand 200 miles per hour winds. The foundation anchors, holding the walls down to the foundation at about two feet apart. The uplift is top-notch, because of all the additional hurricane straps installed at two feet apart, tying the roof structure to the walls,” said Eyma.
The new Kingdom Hall was rebuilt on the site of the previous 27-year-old structure that had been built in 1992 and that had been completely destroyed. After the passage of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, the only thing left standing was the concrete slab.
The Jehovah’s Witness place of worship had been totaled. Their only recourse was to tear down what was left, and rebuild.
The Saturday dedication was more than three years in the making. Just three weeks before the new building was due to be completed, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the volunteer construction workforce to evacuate to the US.
“It was just heartbreakingly sad,” said Jake Majure, one of the US volunteers who had to evacuate Abaco, leaving behind not just the Kingdom Hall project, but also a number of unfinished houses.
“We were just a few weeks away from what was going to be the fastest project I’ve ever worked on. We were finishing houses at almost record speeds, and the Kingdom Hall was about to be ready for our most important meeting of the year, the commemoration of Christ’s death.”
Majure, along with other volunteers, returned to the project in 2021. They finished the Kingdom Hall and 18 homes of local residents.
Clunie Louis, who served as a traveling minister in The Bahamas for many years, said the challenges along the way made Saturday’s dedication “even more moving”.
While Roshanne Eyma said everything Abaco’s Jehovah’s Witness community has gone through over the past three years, made the dedication day that much more special for them.
“We feel that we can now look to the future with renewed gratitude and joy,” said Roshanne.
From September 2019 to December 2019, most of the Witnesses had evacuated Abaco and joined other congregations on Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and New Providence.
From December 2019 to March 2020, they met in the large dining room of the Jehovah’s Witnesses relief center near Leisure Lee, Abaco.
From March 2020 to April 2022, the congregations on Abaco met on Zoom. In April 2022, they resumed in-person meeting and met at the newly built Kingdom Hall.