As millions of Floridians give a sigh of relief after escaping much of the devastation feared from Hurricane Irma, Foursquare members in the state are giving thanks and taking a deep breath in anticipation of far-ranging ministry opportunities in the days and months ahead.
Though initial estimates put damage statewide at $50 billion, and some could be without power for weeks, many credit answered prayer for a less-than-anticipated human and infrastructural toll from the massive Category 5 storm.
Meanwhile, from helping people repair damaged homes to assisting those left without power for an extended period, and comforting others distressed from being caught up in the largest evacuation in U.S. history, Foursquare leaders see an open door for sharing the Good News of Jesus in the Sunshine State.
A complete survey has yet to be completed, but early reports suggest no injury or loss of life among members of Foursquare’s 39 churches in the state—many of them in hardest-hit areas such as Miami, Orlando, St. Petersburg and Tampa. However, Southeast District Supervisor Bill Gross reports that every church he has heard from has sustained some property damage, “ranging from minor trees falling to roofs being damaged, and siding being peeled off.”
While widespread power outages and blocked streets have slowed a full assessment of the damage that the state has sustained, and with many who evacuated just starting to return, Foursquare members have already been active.
“They are out there in the community, taking care of people, not back in their homes trying to get everything fixed,” says Bill. “They see this as their role as representatives of Christ, to be out there.”
Among them are Richard and Cheryl Sejour, pastors of Gateway (Miami Haitian Foursquare Church) in Miami Gardens, who found tensions running high when they visited a hardware store where people were desperate to get materials for repairs.
“Everybody was getting really upset and angry, and my heart just broke,” recalls Cheryl. “They had no hope and no peace.” Addressing the group, she told them, “You just need hope and peace, and the only one that can give you that is Jesus.” Some were moved to tears and accepted Christ as she spoke.
Using a generator to be provided with funds from Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR), the Sejours plan to hold neighborhood cookouts to feed people in their community. “We are excited at what God is going to do,” says Cheryl. “These times really do prepare people's hearts; it’s like their hearts are open to receive the truth and love of Jesus.”
Many attribute Florida’s having escaped even worse devastation to answered prayer. “We praise God that the loss of life appears to be much less than had been anticipated,” affirms Bill. But he urges ongoing prayer for those who were hit hard during Irma’s passage, especially in Cuba, Puerto Rico and other islands where Foursquare has churches. The pastor’s home and church in Camaguey, Cuba, for example, is understood to have been destroyed.
“They are out there in the community, taking care of people, not back in their homes trying to get everything fixed. They see this as their role as representatives of Christ, to be out there.”
—Southeast District Supervisor Bill Gross, speaking of Foursquare churches and members in Florida
Foursquare Chaplains Tom and Kathy Provenzano had their own answer to prayer even while they were praying for others as Irma hit. They left their home in Fort Myers to volunteer at a Red Cross shelter, hearing later from a neighbor that their own property had been flooded. High water prevented them from getting close enough to assess the damage for several hours, but eventually they were able to return—to find their home was bone dry, even while their backyard and other houses around were flooded.
“It was a miracle,” says Tom. “When we left and locked everything, we had just prayed to the Lord to just deliver us like he did the children of Israel during the Passover. We knew God wanted us to go and serve others, and we sensed the Holy Spirit telling us somehow we were going to be taken care of.”
Irma may not have turned out to be as deadly as feared, but she has left behind emotional turmoil that lingers, providing an ongoing opportunity for ministry.
“We can be thankful for the answered prayers, but it doesn’t minimize the fact that people had to leave their homes, and there was a lot of fear about what could happen,” states Jason Reynolds, FDR national coordinator and Foursquare Chaplains International director. “There will be residue from that anxiety. In the midst of trying to clean up, they may not even realize that for several weeks or months down the road. When they do, there will be an opportunity to minister to them so there is healing and hope restored. We want to be ready.”
As part of that, FDR’s Irma response, in coordination with the Southeast District office, includes assisting local churches with funds to enable them to give practical help to people in need, and offering training on how to minister to people in and after crises.
Meanwhile, messages of support, prayers, and practical and financial help are coming in from Foursquare churches in other parts of the country. Among them is The Family Fellowship (Amherst Foursquare Church) in Amherst, Ohio, which Bill says has loaded two tractor trailers with relief supplies for delivery to Florida.
For more information on FDR’s response to Irma and to give financially, click the link below.