18 wheels and a heart to serve
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — In the dark, John Kincaid could…
Fast and intense, like a boxer with a nasty left hook, Hurricane Michael surged to record-breaking strength as it slammed into the Gulf Coast.
The Category 4 storm cut a swath of destruction as it crossed Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, claiming 36 lives. Its path crossed the homelands of dozens of Churches of Christ — some of them large, suburban congregations, others small, rural churches that meet in homes and trailers. Some are predominantly black, others white. A few are racially diverse.
Some are mainstream; others are non-institutional. Still others are one-cup.
Michael, it seems, cared little about their differences.
“It was devastating,” said Marvin Hudson, minister for the Panama City Church of Christ in Florida. “The building and everything around it was destroyed. It was horrifying. The winds were blowing sideways and roofs blowing off.”
The small, non-institutional congregation meets about nine miles northeast of where the Cherry Street Church of Christ worships. The mainstream congregation’s building also was damaged, said associate minister Lee Bragg, and will need to be rebuilt.
Between the two houses of worship meets the Church of Christ at Eastside, a 70-member, predominantly black congregation. Although that church’s building survived, members’ homes sustained damage and went days without power, said minister Raymond Williams Jr.
“This hurricane was the worst that I have ever seen,” Williams told The Christian Chronicle. “Trees, buildings and homes were destroyed, and there were curfews. There was looting, and at night all of the lights were off.”
Closer to the Gulf, the Emerald Beach Church of Christ in Panama City Beach lost power and water but, surprisingly, had no significant damage, said Sean Coley, the 23-year-old pulpit minister for the 220-member congregation.
“We have been through a number of storms, but — no question — this is the worst storm that we have ever experienced.”
Even in Chattahoochee, Fla., 75 miles northeast of Panama City on the Florida-Georgia border, church members felt the fury of Michael.
“We have been through a number of storms, but — no question — this is the worst storm that we have ever experienced,” said David Bateman, minister for the Chattahoochee Church of Christ.
Despite the damage — and the differences in beliefs — “we are so blessed and fortunate that we can work to rebuild,” Bateman said. “God uses events like storms to his advantage to make people better.”
‘GOD’S LOVE WILL BE SHOWN’
In its wake, Michael left trees tangled among fallen power lines, beaches covered in debris, roofs peeled back from the homes and sanctuaries they once covered.
The destruction left by Hurricane Michael will be felt for months — years even.
“We have a long road ahead of us,” an Emerald Beach member posted on social media. “Many congregations have reached out and are planning to help in Bay County.”
Disaster recovery groups associated with Churches of Christ mobilized soon after the storm made landfall. Ohio-based Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team is working with the Palo Alto and Jenks Avenue congregations in Panama City — both damaged by the storm — to coordinate work crews and distribute supplies. Texas-based Disaster Assistance CoC is providing meals for storm victims and relief workers in Panama City and Mexico Beach, Fla. Volunteers with the ministry continue to work in North Carolina as that state recovers from another storm, Hurricane Florence.
Throughout the path of the storm, churches are using their buildings as relief sites. Among those are the Franklin County Church of Christ in Eastpointe, Fla.; the Church Street Church of Christ in Blakely, Ga.; the Caverns Road Church of Christ in Marianna, Fla.; and the Goodson Road Church of Christ in Camilla, Ga.
The cleanup will continue for months to come. Church members including Hudson, the minister in Panama City, told the Chronicle that they intend to work as long as necessary to help their neighbors in need.
“All we got is our faith,” said the 80-year-old minister, “and that is what is going to sustain us.”
Members of the Emerald Beach church echoed that sentiment.
“God’s love will be shown to this community over the next months,” they posted on social media. “Souls will even be saved because of the efforts of the Lord’s church.”
In another post, members of the Cherry Street church said that the storm has encouraged them not only to reach out in love to their community, but also to rebuild their meeting place — stronger than before.
“Sometimes God’s plans are different from ours,” church members posted. “He’s telling us, ‘Let’s go, people. Get that new thing built. What are you waiting for — a storm to blow it down?’”
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.