Hurricane Irma swept up the coast of Florida in early September 2017, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents with flooded homes and no electricity. In the aftermath, the local church has mobilized to receive teams from across the region to help in the recovery effort.
Earlier in October, a coalition of churches, ministries, and individual volunteers facilitated a weekend of outreach. This multi-pronged approach to relief efforts involved people from across the southeastern United States. For example, 42 college students from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga spent their fall break serving alongside other teams of volunteers from South Carolina and Florida. The students all served as part of The House, a campus ministry connected with The Mission Chattanooga (Anglican Diocese of the South) through Deacon Jason Leonard.
Over the weekend, teams went into the Flagler Estate neighborhood to help clear debris, cut down trees, and minister to residents. This neighborhood had been the area of earlier relief efforts, so the organizers had already built relationships with the community. Meanwhile, a headquarters tent offered prayer, food, and care bags. Everyone received prayer and the chance to ask questions of the volunteers, all of whom could share their faith in Jesus as motivation for serving.
Overall, care bags were given out to 350 families. And volunteers helped over 100 families restore their properties by removing limbs and trees, mowing lawns, removing fences, and repairing flood damage. They also served over 150 meals to residents. And of course, only God knows the untold numbers prayed with and ministered to!
The students returned with a new sense of calling.
Keren Trevino describes her experience, “I got to help a 69-year-old woman named Bonnie and her 73-year-old friend Alicia. Bonnie has been working on her yard every day since the hurricane despite her health problems. When we finished up with her house and prayed over her, she thanked us and said, ‘God really does take care of His people.’ In that moment I couldn’t help but cry because it doesn’t matter what situation you are in, good or bad, God will never leave you. I will be eternally thankful for the opportunity that God gave me to serve the people of Florida.”
DeMarco Gatti commented, “It was a beautiful experience to be a part of the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Because of the widespread nature of the damage, as well as ongoing flooding, there is still a lot of work to be done. The organizers in Jacksonville are gearing up for a second weekend, when they welcome teams from Georgia, North Carolina as well as other areas of Florida to serve in the greater Jacksonville areas of Riverside and Atlantic Beach.
Rev. Frederic (Ric) Sterry Smith, acting director of irmarelief.faith, describes the most important aspect of these weekends: Prayer. “Everyone needs prayer! Every family was hurt emotionally and many may have never heard the gospel, asked God’s forgiveness for their sins or accepted Jesus into their heart.” Please keep praying for all our teams safety in travel and especially for God to soften hearts and touch many more lives through this important ministry.”
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