Island In A Sea Of Trouble

After volcanic eruptions ravaged this Cape Verde island, missionaries bring relief and hope.

From Message magazine issue "The Doctor Is In"

God had left us speechless.

After 20 years of lying dormant, a volcano on the tiny island of Fogo suddenly burst to life—threatening the lives of its 55,000 residents.

On Fogo, part of the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa, the people were aware of the volcano’s potential danger, but during its two decades of serenity, towns and even a national park had grown up around the base of the sleeping giant. Then, last November, their false sense of security was shattered when faint tremors gave way to a massive eruption of molten lava that forced many to flee for their lives.

From the nearby island of Santiago, ABWE missionary Mike Skibinski felt powerless as he watched news footage of widespread fires and lava devouring homes and towns. His heart broke for the people of Fogo, but all he could do was pray and ask God to use this tragedy to make His name known on the Catholic-majority island. Then, one day, a local pastor called and gave Mike the opportunity he had been aching for.

“I just wanted to let you know that I met a Muslim man who is the owner of a water bottling company here and he is donating 600 bottles at a 70 percent discount to help the people in Fogo,” the pastor said. “He is also going to take his truck over to the island to help. Would you and your team like to go to Fogo and help them disperse this water to those who have lost everything?”

“Yes! Just let me call the others,” said Mike. “Oh, when are they doing this?”

“The boat leaves on Saturday.”

Mike had just four days to put together a complete relief effort. He quickly rallied the other evangelical pastors on his island and got to work. He knew that the people on Fogo needed water, food, clothes, and most of all, hope. God had already provided the water, and when Mike checked his email, he found a letter from a supporting church that read, “We do a missions project every year and we have chosen to help your ministry this year. We will be sending a sizable gift.”

Mike was blown away and knew just what to do with the money. He used it to purchase rice, corn, sugar, and flour for the people of Fogo.

Water? Check. Food? Check.

The next and most important item on the list was Bibles. Mike remembered a pastor that had supplied Bibles for another local project, so he went to visit him.

“How many Bibles were you thinking?” the pastor asked.

“We were hoping for 250 if that is possible,” Mike said timidly.

God had left us speechless.

The pastor was silent and gave him a puzzled look. Mike worried he had asked for too many, but then the pastor said with a small smile, “I’ll tell you what, how about we start with 1,000 Bibles?”

By the time they finished loading up the Bibles, they had around 3,000 in the back of their truck.

“I could not even form the words to speak,” Mike recalled. “God had left us speechless.”

Hope? Check.

Mike and his group of the local pastors gathered the supplies and started putting together emergency kits, which included rice, corn, flour, sugar, juice, bandages, and a Bible. They put together more than 250 emergency kits, and as they were finishing assembling the last kists, a truck pulled up and two pastors got out.

“We have a few more things to add if you are interested,” they said.

They took Mike to the back of their truck, which held a pile of new clothing. Chinese merchants from a local church had found out about their project and donated 1,000 new shirts and hundreds of pairs of shoes. It was another miraculous answer to prayer.

Clothes? Check.

“God had orchestrated every detail, including the cost of the passage that the boat owner cut in half when he learned of our project,” Mike said.

At midnight on Saturday, Mike and a crew of six pastors and volunteers left on a ship bound for Fogo. The ship was loaded with 600 bottles of water, 250 emergency food kits, 1,000 shirts, 300 pairs of shoes and a few thousand new testaments, but there were only 10 people aboard.

The remaining 290 empty seats served as a constant reminder of the reason they were there. Each had seen the haunting news images of the eruption and heard stories of those who escaped with only their lives. As the boat cut through the choppy water, they prayed that their work would be a blessing to those who were hurting.

The island was still hidden by darkness when the ship pulled into the port before dawn. Excited to get started, they struggled to get a few hours of sleep, and at 10 a.m., they gave up and set off to the first refugee camp located just outside the volcano region.

Mike and his crew spent the morning going from family to family, handing out supplies, and listening to people’s stories. The team was flooded with smiles of gratitude because aid was sporadic and hundreds were without clean water.

Many people were forced from their homes into makeshift tents.

As expected, they met many people from the evacuation zone who had been forced out of their homes and into makeshift tents, but they quickly discovered that the eruption didn’t just affect those living near the caldera. The entire island was suffering. Much of the population of the tourism-dependent island was without work since the airport was shutdown, and many farms had been destroyed, taking the jobs of the workers with them. These downtrodden refugees gratefully accepted the emergency kits, and once every family had received one, the crew left with a promise to come back that evening to share a message of hope with them.

When they returned, the village excitedly welcomed them, and Mike and his team set up a screen to project the “Jesus Film” to more than 100 refugees who had gathered. The crowd watched quietly and motionlessly, listening carefully to every word. At one point, Mike overheard one man whisper, “Jesus even speaks our language.”

While they have no way of knowing how many people found new hope through their ministry that day, one lady said with a big smile, “This will be the first night that I will be able to sleep since the eruption started.”

Mike and team deliver relief kits to families forced to flee from the volcano’s path of destruction.

The following day, Mike and his crew repeated the same efforts in a different area that was also filled with the heartbreak and uncertainty of many displaced families. After a long day of handing out emergency kits, the team returned in the evening to find the local school’s open-air gym packed with people waiting to see the “Jesus Film.” The team was exhausted but hopeful that they had made a lasting impact.

On their last day, they decided to head out to the largest and most organized of the camps. They left early for the two-hour ride to the city of Mosteiros where they were able to bring aid and hope to hundreds more, including volunteer workers and police officers. As they were leaving for the day, they decided to journey out to the police checkpoints to pray for the overworked police force. The team gave them water and shared why they were there. They prayed with the officers and were about to leave when the commander asked, “Do you want to see it? If you can get the word out to those who are helping, maybe they can find more ways to help the people here.”

The officers escorted Mike and his crew to the base of the volcano where they began snapping photos. It was eerily beautiful as it spit crimson red lava into the dark night sky. The sight held all the wonder of fireworks on a warm July evening, but as Mike was trying to capture its beauty on film, he suddenly saw the same image through the eyes of the people of Fogo.

“What they saw was not an amazing, beautiful phenomenon, but rather a cause of death and destruction.”

“What they saw was not an amazing, beautiful phenomenon, but rather a cause of death and destruction. To them, it would be like talking about how beautiful and powerful Lucifer is,” said Mike. “It’s almost unthinkable.”

In that moment, Mike felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that they were able to play a part in God’s plan. In just three days, they handed out thousands of Bibles, one ton of food, thousands of liters of water, and more than 1,000 articles of new clothing.

“God brought everything together. And we were blessed with the privilege of giving hope to the people affected by this volcano and letting them know that God loves them and has not forgotten about them,” Mike said.