I had been warned. The island I was about to visit would not be like any other I had ever seen, and I have seen a few. Growing up in the West Indies, I had a pretty good idea what a Caribbean island should look like, but Dominica did not fit the mold. As we began our descent in the small plane, clouds seemed to swallow us up and prevented me from seeing much out the window. All of a sudden, I could see lush green forests climbing a mountainside and a mountain that was so tall it was covered in clouds. How in the world was this plane going to land on a mountain? With the wind currents swirling and my stomach beginning to churn I realized that this was going to be an interesting trip in more ways than one. Fortunately, our pilot had had likely taken this route many times and expertly landed on the only flat space that was long enough for a runway.
After we cleared customs in the tiny airport and collected our bags, we found our van driver and joined three others headed to the capital city of Roseau. Part of my original warning about Dominica was a reminder that the airport was on the other side of the island from the main city and that it could take a while to get there. What no one could have prepared me for, however, was the trip over the mountain to get to the city. I stopped counting the number of switchbacks early in the trip and simply prayed that my rumbling stomach would calm down. Mercifully, one of my traveling companions was an experienced traveler to Dominica and was able to tell me a few things along the way a keep my mind off the harrowing trip we were taking. In the end, we apparently arrived in record time, in just over an hour. Not a moment too soon from my perspective.
This wild and beautiful island has many things to recommend it including three hundred and sixty-five rivers – one for every day of the year. Inhabited but just over seventy thousand people, most live in houses clinging to the mountainside or in the capital city itself. Interestingly there are even remnants of the indigenous inhabitants of the island, the Carib Indians, living in forest preserves dedicated for their use. Given its location in the string of islands that make up the Eastern Caribbean, it has often been in the path of a hurricane or tropical storm. These fierce storms with very high winds can be devastating and cause the rivers to wash people, houses and their possessions right into the sea.
In August of 2015, Tropical Storm Erika did just that, killing thirty people. It was the deadliest natural disaster in Dominica since Hurricane David in 1979 and was a “gut punch” to the local economy and especially the roads system that went over the mountain. Amazingly, by the time I arrived this past week, much of the repair work on the roads had been completed, but the effects on the economy were still impacting daily life. Despite this, the people I met were resilient and hardly mentioned the storm at all, instead focusing on the future and what they could do to make things better.
Our CLC team has faced some storms of their own in recent years. For a number of reasons, sales have declined significantly and the devastating storm only exacerbated the situation as people had little money to buy Christian resources when they needed to replenish the necessities of life. In the face of this reality, I was delighted to find a highly committed team in a beautiful store located in the heart of the city. They have made the best of a bad situation and purchased very carefully so that though they have a lot less products than they would like, it is a highly curated selection designed to meet the needs of their customers.
It is clear that they are still meeting important needs as several long term customers attested to the value of our store and its impact on their lives. One local pastor made a point to let me know that virtually his entire leadership library had been purchased in our store and he relied on our staff for recommendations every time he came in. Another person took me aside to share how God would often prompt him to visit the store and miraculously he would find just the exact book he was looking for and needed at that moment. In looking at their meager resources this truly was a loaves and fishes story. 2017 will be a make or break year for this team, but I am confident that the God who helped establish this first CLC outpost in the Caribbean exactly seventy years ago this year will sustain and strengthen them for what lies ahead. He is not finished with them yet.