Relief and gratefulness after Hurricane Irma

Florida church a refuge; many are thankful hurricane wasn't worse

Sep 18, 2017 by and

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Unlike the 40-day flood Noah prepared for, members of Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvacion (Ark of Salvation Mennonite Church) in Fort Myers, Fla., took refuge from Hurricane Irma in their church building for only two days.

Charlene Domingo, whose husband, Marcial Domingo, is the pastor, said 177 people sheltered Sept. 9-10 in the church building, which only had minor roof leaks. They went home the morning of Sept. 11.

“The day we were able to go to our homes, all the brothers and sisters got together and cleaned up the church,” she said. “It was spotless. . . . It was awesome to see the care of everyone.”

Students from Academia Menonita Betania (Bethany Mennonite Academy) in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, collect relief supplies for Hurricane Irma victims in the Virgin Islands and surrounding areas. The school was spared and is operating after losing power for five days. — Alex Gonzales

Students from Academia Menonita Betania (Bethany Mennonite Academy) in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, collect relief supplies for Hurricane Irma victims in the Virgin Islands and surrounding areas. The school was spared and is operating after losing power for five days. — Alex Gonzales

Domingo said she and her husband were working to establish contact with everyone in the congregation, which was difficult as several of the 250 to 300 people were without power.

In a Sept. 18 interview, she said their family was still staying at the church building because they had not yet regained power in their home.

Domingo said some of the members had water come into their homes through the roofs, and that they were in touch with Mennonite Disaster Service.

“We’re just very happy that we’re all alive and that there were no fatalities, and that our houses just have minor damage,” she said. “We’re very grateful to the Lord.”

‘Miraculously’ spared

Southeast Mennonite Conference moderator Michael Zehr of Key West fled Irma to stay with relatives in Destin, located in Florida’s panhandle.

“Today we got word that our neighbors who stayed in Key West are safe,” he said in a Sept. 13 telephone interview. “Not only that; we also got word that our house in Key West, which we spent a whole year renovating, is intact and dry. . . . It’s just stuff, but when you’ve put that much work into it, it feels good.”

Zehr is part of The Gathering Tree, a 4-year-old church plant of 10 to 12 people that meets Monday evenings with an emphasis on connecting with high school students. It meets at his home, which he and his wife, Rebecca, share with another couple.

Zehr said he kept in touch with Homestead (Fla.) Mennonite Church.

“They are in good shape,” he said. “The one downside for them is that in the midst of this, someone decided to break into their church and steal their sound equipment. It’s all insured; it can be replaced.”

He said he and his wife probably wouldn’t return to Key West for another week or more, but he was looking forward to opportunities for spiritual conversation there.

“It’s miraculous what’s happened in Key West,” he said. “Many of our friends we talked to, who were not believers, recognized there’s something special that happened. They’re not sure how to explain the miraculous nature of how Key West was spared. . . . That our property is intact means we can help others do repairs.”

Fallen trees in Sarasota

At Newtown Gospel Chapel in Sarasota, three trees fell on the church building’s roof, one of them piercing the top of the roof while holding back the other two.

“The minute that limb breaks, they’re going to fall on through,” said deacon Alvin Singleton.

He said the congregation of 10 to 12 people would be having joint services with another Southeast congregation, Ashton Community Fellowship in Sarasota, at least once a month.

“All I heard was limbs down and power outages; I haven’t heard about major damages in homes,” Singleton said. “God was good. We were blessed in that respect.”

Also in Sarasota, Patti Bos, administrator of Bayshore Church, part of Evana Network, an evangelical Anabaptist group, was giving thanks that the damage wasn’t as bad as had been feared.

“We’re praising God for sparing so much,” she said.

Bos said in a Sept. 15 telephone interview that about a quarter of the church members were still without power.

“We’re just thankful that people didn’t lose their homes,” she said.

Bos said Bayshore was working with other congregations to send supplies like bottled water to harder-hit areas.

“There is a real sense of community that is everywhere,” she said. “It’s a way to give thanks to the Lord for being a refuge and strength throughout it all.”

School without power

The school board of Academia Menonita Betania (Bethany Mennonite Academy) in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, was worried about the hurricane, since their budget had not included insurance for the building.

School board chair Alex Gonzalez said the school had roof leaks in several classrooms and a damaged fence from a fallen tree, but otherwise no major damage.

“We didn’t have power for five days; no water for three days,” he said. “There was no damage to the building; just one tree that fell right by the power line.”

Gonzales said the school’s power supply was regularly unreliable, so the power loss wasn’t especially remarkable.

“We just give thanks to God that nothing bad happened,” he said.

Classes were suspended Sept. 4 and resumed Sept. 12. A Sept. 8 post on the school’s Facebook page showed relief kits the students had gathered being sent to the Virgin Islands, where Irma had done more damage. Subsequent posts called for additional donations of supplies.

Requests for help

Larry Stoner, MDS Regional Operations Coordinator, said Sept. 18 he was still investigating where work was needed.

MDS will have volunteers doing tree debris removal and associated cleanup in Sarasota, Fort Myers and Sebring, he said. MDS is continuing to receive calls for cleanup help from around the state.

“Volunteers are there and will be there for the next several weeks,” he said. “We will continue to see where we’re most needed.”

Stoner was aware of some areas with flood damage, but the biggest concern for many people was the lack of power in many communities. Residents were being told they should have power by Sept. 22.

“We just heard from so many communities that we were in, ‘We dodged a bullet,’ ” he said.


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  • Debra B. Stewart

    Live from Cape Coral: No damage in the NW Cape – we and an older neighbor who we’ve gotten to be friends with hunkered down and stayed put; never lost power, no flooding, lots of palm fronds and funny looking palm trees – long 30+ hours, but we were on the phone on and off with Mr. Rider – when they announced the storm surge (my biggest concern) wasn’t going to be a problem, I think we dialed each other simultaneously! Thanks be to God!

  • Robert Martin

    Was this article published before Maria? As I understand it from my father, Betania in Aibonito is in much worse shape now after Hurricane Maria pretty much did a direct hit.

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