The Adventist community on St. Croix was in solidarity with the leaders and members of the Peter’s Rest Seventh-day Adventist Church on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, as they watched their state-of-the-art church building demolished by fire. The imposing structure stood as a monument at a strategic location in the Peter’s Rest neighborhood and was considered a landmark by many on the island.
Several units from the Virgin Islands (VI) Fire Service responded and worked tirelessly to contain the fire which spread rapidly through the structure. Footage from inside the gutted building revealed that the fire destroyed the entire upper level of the church including pews, platform furniture, windows, doors, church decorations, and communication equipment recently acquired to offer virtual ministry. Finally, sections of the massive roof collapsed taking with it the solar technology investment.
The leader of the congregation, Pastor Earl Daniel, was almost moved to tears by the heartbreaking situation and said that his congregation had received a double hit from the enemy. He spoke to the members who had gathered, “This is one worldwide Church. Whenever anything happens to any member, anywhere, as long as it is made known, the World Church stands ready to assist. Admittedly, I was really broken but it’s alright. We believe that God is a God who hears and answers prayers. As far as we know, no life is lost and we believe that while there is life, there is hope. I urge you to continue to have faith in the God of hope. Ask Him to take care of all of us and we will see Peter’s Rest Church restored to even a more magnificent edifice. Keep that in mind and let us do all we can to rise to the occasion and let us work together for a finished work.”
The North Caribbean Conference (NCC) President, Pastor Desmond James, was visibly shaken to see the structure engulfed in flames when he arrived on the scene. Powerless to stem the raging inferno, he responded pensively, “It’s one after the other,” obviously referring to other catastrophic events the Conference suffered over the past three years. Pastor James reminded the members that the Administration of the Conference shares in their pain and that because God is a God of hope, they [should] look forward to bigger and better things. He indicated that leaders from around the Caribbean Union had called to express their regrets and that they would remember the congregation in prayer.
Senator Javan James, Sr., who is a member of the 33rd Legislature of the VI as well as a member of the church, was on hand to grieve with other members and shook his head in disbelief as he echoed, “This is a community loss.”
Elder Olson Wallace, a long-standing member of the church tried to remain positive in his pain as he said, “The ministry continues. Adventists believe that the church is not the building. It’s the people and as long as the people are there, the church will continue.”
Another member, Larry Thomas-Lewis, was overwhelmed with emotion as he watched the flames raze the church. He said, “Only last evening we were at the church preparing for this weekend’s service. We lost lots of our equipment in the fire but it’s not the equipment, it’s the impact of the ministry I am concerned [about].” He and his family are actively involved in improving the quality of ministry offered by the church and sacrifices to create content during this time and share the message of hope.
Dedicated on August 18, 1985, the church is home to over 400 members and is the preferred venue of worship for many who visit the island. The church has an effective pastoral ministry under the leadership of Pastor Earl Daniel and Sister Margaret Peters. The music ministry and online services are simply outstanding and the church received international recognition for the quality of its innovative ministry rendered to members and the community. During the stay-at-home virus mitigation mandate encouraged in the VI, teams of church members safely visited homes to bring cheer through music and prayer.
Several of the island’s pastors gathered to console the congregants. “The enemy is at their heels. He does not like what they are doing and is trying to stop them but God is greater,” said Pastor Arnaldo Gonzalez of the Sunny Acres SDA Church.
By mid-morning, social media came alive as scores of people from around the world shared comforting sentiments. The expressions of support revealed the positive impact of the church on members and the community. The First Elder, Herman Ravariere, said, “It’s hard to stand and see your church go up in flames. By God’s grace, we will keep moving on.”
The leadership of the Peter’s Rest SDA Church is grateful to everyone for their concerns and prayers. The VI Fire Services and the Police Department are to be commended for their professional actions.