A lot of people ask “Why?” after a storm hits. With Irma, I am no exception. We escaped the worst of the hurricane, but our area was still hit hard. Why did Irma bring such pain to Florida, specifically my city Bradenton? I have to believe Irma was less about God’s judgment and more about the church’s opportunity.
Hurricane Irma hit the Bradenton area on Sunday night. On the previous Tuesday, our staff created a response plan in collaboration with our deacons. Was it a perfect plan? No way. Did it work? Yes.
The mission of our congregation is to be a neighborhood church for the nations. The storm gave us the opportunity to live out this mission in our neighborhood. We intentionally chose a different crisis model than what is typical for churches. Rather than utilizing a “come to us and receive goods” strategy, West Bradenton put boots on the grounds and went right to the homes of people in need. Churches in the area were giving out goods (water, diapers, etc.), which was a need. If you needed diapers, then you were glad to get them. We wanted to do something different and fill other needs, so we decided against being a distribution center and rather chose to be a sending mechanism for relief. Here is what we did.
- We utilized GroupMe to communicate and assign tasks. Our people were on the field Monday.
- We monitored needs on Facebook and reached out to people who posted about serious problems. Obviously, we couldn’t get to everyone, but we tried to get to the worst cases.
- Chainsaw teams cut trees out of people’s homes and off roofs. We were also able to help a local church with down trees on their property.
- We had people loaning generators, taking them to others and showing them how to use them.
- For those who were flooded, we helped haul out water-logged carpet and move furniture. For those with leaks, we tarped roofs.
- Our deacons and others checked-in on our elderly and those who live alone. They did an incredible job serving in various capacities. Unfortunately, deacons can be the butt of jokes in Baptist churches. Not in our church. They are no joke. They are the real deal.
- We paired up single moms with others in the church to provide whatever relief they needed.
- We provided a hot meal for those without power and opened the church for those who needed to charge cell phones and computers. When we realized many without power were not aware of our church being open, we delivered meals to them.
- People with power volunteered to do laundry for those who did not have power.
- A team helped get the worst of our leaks fixed at the church building so we could hold services on Sunday. They managed to get the steeple fixed in the process—no small endeavor!
- By Thursday, many people in Bradenton were required to go back to work, but schools remained closed until Monday. Our children’s ministry led a free two-day camp for parents who needed to work. One woman dropped off her child and said, “If it weren’t for your church providing this service, I would have lost my job.”
- The first responders in our church are amazing. Many of them worked their regular shifts and then volunteered. Some of them went days without sleeping much.
- I know I’m missing so much more! These items are just the ones I know about.
When a storm hits, a few religious people will rant about God’s judgment. I will not deny nature can be a means of God’s wrath. However, I believe only the most arrogant of people would claim to know which storms represent judgment.
Adversity reveals what you believe in. This hurricane was an opportunity for West Bradenton to live out what we say we believe. My church nailed it. I have never been more proud as a pastor than the week following Hurricane Irma. We believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live the gospel of Jesus Christ.