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Church members stand amid boxes of relief supplies for their Panama City community.
In the Word
Photo provided by Tim Kitts

Perseverance after the storm

Survivors of Hurricane Michael share stories of hope and faith as the repairs continue.

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — You might think that people living in an area that has seen dozens of hurricanes, knowing the perceived danger of those storms, would be better prepared. 

But on Oct. 10, 2018, when Hurricane Michael roared across the Florida panhandle with Category 5 sustained winds, we were not prepared. 

Residents here know that storms often lose their punch as they make landfall. There was little reason to believe this one would be any different. But it was. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

— James 1:2-4, New International Version

The storm was 350 miles wide with the strongest winds on record. Still, months later, the visual impact is an awe-inspiring picture of the power of nature.

Tim Kitts | In the Word

In the months since the storm I’ve spoken with many and swapped stories of how we survived. One man shared with me that he was in his living room watching out the window when the entire roof came off. He said the force of the rain blowing horizontally felt immediately like a dozen fire hoses were directly aimed at his face. He ran to the kitchen, slipping on the slick, drenched floors, but when he got there more of the roof peeled back. 

He ran to his room, promising God as he scrambled for safety, “God, I will give my life to you if you save mine.” He said at that moment it felt as though the storm weakened. He has not missed a Sunday since. Hurricane Michael was truly life-changing for him. 

People are still cleaning up property and wrangling with insurance companies. Everything is done one step at a time and with patience — with perseverance.

The Jenks Avenue Church of Christ sits about three miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. This 500-member congregation was hit hard. Our main sanctuary is awaiting reconstruction. The Family Activity Center was heavily damaged. Dozens of members lost their homes and a lifetime of valuable memories.  

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort set up on our campus — helping 2,400 families and giving out more than $600,000 in supplies. 

We continue to need experts in hanging dry wall, bobcats to move major trees and stump grinders for removing what is left of once majestic trees.

The church is now working to connect with those families, figuring out what they still need, inviting them to classes and setting up Bible studies with those interested in learning more about the faith we’ve shared. 

Groups from Churches of Christ throughout the eastern United States rolled in with supplies and manpower. 

Countless congregations have provided funding for recovery. Others are still contacting us, seeking dates to come and help. 

We continue to need experts in hanging dry wall, bobcats to move major trees and stump grinders for removing what is left of once majestic trees. 

The storm hit on a Wednesday. The following Sunday, Jenks Avenue church held service in space they cleared on the church parking lot. No electricity, no water, no stores open, scarce cell and no land line service nor internet were available. The entire community was under a curfew. But we still gathered to worship. 

With much of our campus still awaiting repair, members and dozens of visitors, both local and from around the country, continue to fill the seats to worship each week.  

Hurricane Michael, while devastating, has provided an opportunity for us as Christians to reach out and plant seeds in the hearts and minds of our neighbors. 

The government showed up in Florida because they had to, but Christians showed up because they wanted to serve. 

It’s in a Christian’s DNA. 

We’re grateful for those who came and those who continue to come. To God be the glory.

TIM KITTS is Director of Education for the Jenks Avenue Church of Christ in Panama City, Fla.

Filed under: Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort disaster recovery disaster relief Hurricane Michael In the Word Opinion Top Stories

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