This week we hear from Rev. Ric Smith of the Diocese of the Gulf Atlantic Coast, updating us on the recent efforts of IrmaRelief.faith in southern Florida.
In September, the peninsula of Florida was ravaged by Hurricane Irma from the Keys and Miami in the south to Jacksonville and Tallahassee, 350 miles to the north. Tens of thousands of homes across the state were damaged by falling trees, high winds, floodwaters and infamous black mold. Irma also caused $2.5 billion in crop damage. The Weather Channel called Irma, “the most destructive Hurricane in Atlantic history!” One difference with Irma from previous hurricanes? Irma did not hit one location and move inland, or stop once reaching land. The entire state was affected.
IrmaRelief.faith was created to meet the needs of victims of Hurricane Irma. Unlike other coalitions set up in times of crises, IrmaRelief is run by, supported by, and to a large degree ministered through Anglicans and Anglican churches across the country. “Teams from eight states and Novia Scotia have come to help with ongoing relief efforts, representing eight dioceses of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA),” reports Rev. Frederic Smith[Ric], Disaster Relief Coordinator for the Gulf Atlantic Diocese. Ric adds, “It has been incredible to see the outpouring of love and help from so many! In the Jacksonville area alone (Duval and St. Johns counties) over 2500 were helped with initial disaster relief efforts, as teams cleared downed trees and limbs, repaired or replaced fences, assisted flood and mildew victims, and operated a food and care bag ministry. Hundred of Bibles have been handed out along with baby supplies, cleaning supplies, and water. Over 600 invitation cards were distributed, inviting people to a local church and to receive the Lord. Bishop Neil Lebhar recognized these efforts in his Bishop’s Address at the Gulf Atlantic Diocese Synod (meeting) challenging Anglicans to engage in mission, the ministry of the Church.
“There is no doubt,” Smith says, “all this would not be possible save for God’s blessing and provision!”
In December, IrmaRelief moved to Miami. The initial team from St. John’s Island, SC brought furniture, bottled water, cleaning and other supplies, emergency first aid equipment, tools to help with the restoration efforts, and Bibles. With the help of Archdeacon Jorge Finlay, pastor of Miami’s only Anglican Church, and Tommy Davis, the Administrator of Trustees, the team worked hard from Christmas through New Year’s Day. The Parish House (rectory) was transformed after a century oak fell on it during Irma. Bishop Miller of Christ Church Anglican, Vero Beach, FL provided 100 care bags of food. Another 200 Invitation Cards in Miami await future teams for distribution, along with 100 care bags. Father Jorge exclaimed, “This is Amazing Ric, I cannot believe all that is being accomplished?!”
Endorsements, letters of encouragement, and testimonies continue to pour in.
Wade is a member of Our Savior Anglican in Jacksonville Beach. Teams came to clean his yard, help repair his roof, and replace his fence and shed that blew away. Wade, a retired Navy veteran on a limited income, said it would have taken ten years to accomplish what the IrmaRelief teams were able to do in a couple of weeks.
Barbara’s house sustained sizable damage to her roof, ceilings, and floors. A pillar of faith at Christ the King, Miami, Barbara burst into tears when we asked if we could help.
Almost three months after Irma, my house was still darkened by the plywood on the windows and doors. You can imagine the effects it had on my family, without the tools, means or know-how on how to fix these things; darkness was taking a toll on our family. The pastor to my church, the Rev. Jorge Finlay, called the day after Christmas and told me he was going to pass by with some visitors. During that visit I was blessed to meet Ric Smith and his wife, Anna. Father Jorge said, ‘Barbara, you remember all the people you help in the name of Christ? Your prayers have been answered! These people want to help.’ They repaired my front gate, took photos of all the damage, moved several items, placed the plywood in my shed and built a set of shelves for me. Our many prayers were answered!! They were kind, gentle and eager to help. Though I just met them, they all made me feel like I wasn’t alone. – Barbara Gonzalez
Building relationships takes time. As we help meet physical needs we get to know families and earn the right to share all God has done in our lives. The initial phase of disaster relief is important, but the reconstruction and restoration phase is when the biggest difference can be made. In December, IrmaRelief teams noticed about one in ten roofs still had plastic tarps in southwest Miami, four months after the storm. The Restoration phase of Super Storm Sandy took 4 years. This project will also take time, a lot of effort, and money to complete.
Touching lives with the lifesaving Gospel of Jesus Christ is what this ministry is all about! This is truly a Restoration Ministry of compassion. The privilege to listen to a grieving heart and the opportunity to pray with someone, to minister to the emotional pain and possibly lead a mother or even a family to the Lord (Acts 16:15) is why we exist. IrmaRelief mission weekends are planned in Miami through April. Teams are expected from PA, VA, NC, SC, possibly TN and GA. We hope some of our closer churches in FL will join in the ongoing rebuilding and restoration efforts.
If you and your church are blessed to receive these updates of what God’s Church is doing in Florida won’t you pray for us and ask your pastor and mission director how you can help? There is always room for you. Age or ability is no problem for our God. A 67 year old woman asked, “I can’t lift, but I can sit with someone; I can listen to their pain and pray with them. Can I help?” Of course! We need all the help we can get, for there is still much work to be done.
In my morning devotions I was praying for the huge majority in Miami who do not know the Lord, perhaps 95%?! My heart ached for every victim but especially for the unsaved. God led me to the many healings in Matthew 9. I saw it as the Restoration Ministry of Jesus. The chapter ends with,
“The Sheep and the Harvest – And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then he said unto his disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.’”
The heart of all restoration efforts is you! You are continuing to help by serving on mission teams, creating and providing care bags, and supporting us through your in-kind donations and donations to ARDF and in-kind donations. However your biggest service has been through your prayers! God is moving among His Church and His creation in a mighty way through you! I am but one man, God’s evangelist, playing the trumpet call to rally His troops. You are the heroes! You are the ones who heard God’s call and said “Here I am Lord, send me!” Thank you for your willingness to Be the Body of Christ in Action. There is so much still to do. Won’t you contact us or ARDF today and make your investment of Time, Talent and Treasures an Eternal one?!
Your servant in Messiah Jesus,
Rev. Frederic Sterry Smith
Disaster Relief Coordinator, Gulf Atlantic Diocese