To read stories from your friends and colleagues, go to the FLGA District Facebook page. We are posting the stories as they arrive.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge penned the words, “Water, water everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” That’s how some people described the conditions after Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida and Georgia on September 10th and 11th wreaking havoc and destruction in many places. As bad as the storm really was, loss of life was minimalized by people who took reports seriously and heeded the warnings to hunker down or evacuate. Some estimate that there were 6 million folks that evacuated from South Florida to avoid the punishing storm. All this while people were still trying to figure out how to help our brothers and sisters in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
The news carried stories of power outages, water systems shut down, limited gas, and continuous lines of traffic—first heading north, and then, once the storm passed, heading south again. People were anxious to get to their homes to assess the damages. Many places had to wait over two weeks to get their electricity back as they struggled with stifling heat. It was a scary storm. In spite of all this, God was at work and we have heard some tremendous stories of God’s blessings in the midst of the storm.
In Matthew 8 we have this story of Jesus out on the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. Matthew reports: “And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep. And they went and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”
Despite the fact that these were seasoned fisherman well familiar with this lake, they feared for their lives. I can relate, and maybe so can you. Having been on the Sea of Galilee when a storm arose, I can sympathize with their fear. Having heard the howling winds and the driving rains of Irma, I would have to admit that there were very scary moments when I felt like crying out “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” All the time the Lord was with us, and we knew that regardless of whatever might happen, even to losing our very lives, we were secure in a future with Jesus. The disciples would learn that very thing as they grew deeper in their relationship with Jesus.
Can you imagine the stories they told their families after Jesus calmed the storms? “It was crazy. One minute we think the boat will capsize and the next there’s not a cloud in the sky!” “When Jesus spoke, everything listened!” “You should have seen it. When Jesus told the wind to shut up it immediately stopped!” These disciples would have more encounters as they traveled with Jesus and no doubt had many stories to tell.
Hear some of the stories we have heard. Holy Cross, North Miami has a school with over 400 children, most of whom eat both breakfast and lunch there. As a result their freezers were packed with food. When the power went out they had some decisions to make. They could let the food go to waste, or find a creative way to use it. So they began to cook it all up and made signs to hold on the roadside inviting people in for a hot meal. Hundreds of people took advantage of this opportunity, and Holy Cross had dozens of volunteers!
The pastor of one of our churches knew they wouldn’t be able to hold worship on Sunday morning so he prepared a devotion for his members and included an emergency order of baptism just in case. That Sunday morning, as families gathered in the fellowship hall of this congregation a grandfather was able to baptize his teenage granddaughter, giving her the comfort and peace in the midst of a very tense time of life.
One of our staff told of how at her daughter’s home there was an old phone pole in the back yard. It looked out of place. It turns out God had a plan. When the hurricane came through it knocked a tree over that would have crushed the home. That tree had branches that branched off into a Y formation, and wouldn’t you know that the Y landed right against that phone pole so that it couldn’t reach the house. Later, when they went to look at the damage they discovered two additional trees leaning on the tree against this old phone pole. Coincidence? I don’t think so!
Grace Lutheran Church in Naples pulled together some supplies to hand out to the community. When they were well stocked they figured they would need three days to hand it all out. However, when their doors opened it was gone in the afternoon. The pastor put out an appeal to his “northern” friends and people responded.
One of our pastors rode out the storm even though his family had evacuated. He stayed behind to help some who couldn’t leave. As they prepared for the storm there was no plywood to be had, so they improvised and took apart the man’s deck to cover the windows.
I’ve heard stories of volunteers coming from all over the country, bringing generators and water, food and supplies. We have had a great response with flood buckets—so thank you to all who have supplied them. There is much to be done and especially in Southwest Florida and the Keys it will be a long and arduous recovery.
Like many of you, we were very fortunate to have some minor damages. We had lots of branches down, and I’m convinced that my oak tree, which still looks full, shed another oak tree in the process. It took me three hours to clean up the branches. Two significant things happened because of the storm. I travel many weekends and as a result, I don’t get to spend much time with our neighbors. When the storm came I had to change plans and remain at home. In the midst of this, I got to spend time with some neighbors who shared tips with me about being prepared for a hurricane. Afterwards, there was a little block party as we cleaned up, and helped each other out. One man said he had ropes and a truck, another had tools, one said he would be happy just to do grunt work, and then they looked at me and said, “It’s good to know we have a spiritual covering, too.” Just about then I heard in my mind, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” We all worked together to clean up in some of our neighbors yards who evacuated. It felt great!
Stories from the storm are all around us. God presented us with tremendous opportunities to share the love and grace of Jesus. What I discovered is that many of the things that divide our nation, even things that divide our denomination, mean very little in times of crisis. At those times our focus becomes clearer, and what matters most is safety and well-being. We begin to see that despite all the diversity around us, we are all God’s children and that often our actions will speak far louder than our words. When we live in the love of Jesus and actively practice it, not to gain favor with God or man, but simply because of God’s calling on our lives, this has a powerful impact on those who don’t yet believe. It opens doors for conversations as it peaks the curiosity of those who may have a preconceived notion.
A few weeks ago, days after Hurricane Irma, Edith and I were on our way to an appointment when traffic stopped on the highway. As I watched the car ahead of me, I was struck from behind by a car that tried to pass me on the left. The impact left my car damaged, and the young man who hit us flipped his vehicle. It was miraculous that more vehicles were not involved. As I saw the flipped vehicle in that moment of shock, I prayed that nobody was hurt, although it looked bad. I didn’t stop to ask if the man was a Christian, much less a Lutheran; I didn’t check out his color or where he grew up, whether he was gay or straight. What I saw was a man that I believed was hurt. A number of drivers pulled off and rushed to his car. Thankfully, he walked away. Here’s the point, in a crisis we tend to value things differently. But why does it take a crisis to soften our hearts?
There is a crisis all around us. Certainly we face the threats that our world throws at us. However, what looms larger than those things is the crisis of sin and death, and it effects all people. God calls us into the midst of that crisis to connect people to Jesus. We are privileged to share the freedom, love, forgiveness and peace that belongs to all who proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior. God provides the opportunity, even in the midst of the storms, for us to share the hope we have within us through Jesus. Sometimes God has to rock our boat in order for us to pay attention. Yet, He’s always there, even in the midst of the storm, to show us His power and might.
Life is filled with storms—some are weather related; others we create ourselves. We may lose our electricity but no one can take away our power! That power, and its promises, were given to us in baptism, and even when the wind is whipping up, we can be confident of the One who will never leave us nor forsake us. He is Lord of the wind and the waves, and He is the Lord of our lives.
We’re still hearing great stories, and hope you might share yours too. Go to our website and you can share it there!
Showered In His Grace,