Freight trains overturned on the railroad tracks in Panama City, Fla. Power lines downed for miles around the Southeast. Hundreds of thousands of trees decapitated by the buzz saw named Hurricane Michael.
Despite the carnage, many churches in Panama City and beyond held Sunday (Oct. 14) morning services just four days after Michael made landfall. Mike Claunch, pastor of St. Andrew Baptist Church, reminded his congregation, “Michael came as a surprise to us, but it wasn’t a surprise to God.”
Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott joined St. Andrew in worship. He told the congregation, “My prayers are with you, and I’m going to do everything I can, with a lot of other people, to help bring this community back.”
Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), also told the church, “Neighbor helping neighbor is the most powerful thing that can happen when things like this occur. So please continue to spread hope, spread love and go out, and do what you can.”
Together, Gov. Scott, Long and the state of Florida’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, heard Claunch tell his congregation that “God is love,” quoting 1 John 4:8.
“God did not let go of his love when He allowed Hurricane Michael to roar through our community,” said Claunch, who pastored First Baptist Church of Slidell, just off the shores of Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain, when Hurricane Katrina struck there in 2005. “God loves us. Our God is a good God. He just has good purposes that go beyond the physical suffering that we have endured and will endure yet in the time to come.”
Across town at Hiland Park Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) team from Florida set up a kitchen and began serving meals to the community over the weekend in partnership with American Red Cross.
Micah Roden, a volunteer with Florida’s SBDR team, arrived Friday morning (Oct. 12) with a team that grew to 50 volunteers.
“There is tremendous need,” Roden said. “Some areas are completely devastated. Homes are gone. Every home has trees on it. Almost everyone we’ve talked to is significantly impacted.”
Many of the churches, like Hiland Park and St. Andrew, suffered immense damage and yet continue to serve their communities by hosting and serving alongside SBDR teams.
“For our people to look over and see the yellow disaster relief [shirts and caps], that gives them a little bit of hope in this difficult situation,” said Steven Kyle, pastor of Hiland Park. “They know what it stands for because we’ve been highly involved in disaster relief.”
Aside from expecting quality service from SBDR, Kyle said, “It’s going to be a spring board for us to be able to take the Gospel to hearts that are sensitive to it right now.”
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Source: Baptist Press