Hurricane Irma caused a large tree to fall on the home of Andy Black, an elder for Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fla. (photo courtesy of Matthew Everhard)
EPC churches in Texas and Florida continue to both recover and minister in their communities following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Eddie Spencer, pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Fla., said Irma brought heavy winds and flooding rains to southwest Florida.
“A number of our folks have been hurt by flooding,” he said. “We will help them.”
Spencer also said the focus of their outreach efforts “will probably be Immokalee,” a largely agricultural community about 35 miles southeast of Fort Myers with a significant migrant worker population—many of whom live in trailer homes damaged or destroyed by the storm. “I am very proud of our church family. We have been very engaged in the community and caring for each other.”
He also noted that as of September 18, the church was without electricity. “We had church yesterday with generators and fans and people seemed delighted that I preached a shorter sermon.”
Matthew Everhard, pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fla., said the homes of two of their elders were damaged—one severely—but he was not aware of any injuries or major casualties.
“Most else is debris-related,” he said, “but we are contacting all 400 members and our 100 shelter guests.”
Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to the home of Jim Phinney, an elder for Faith EPC in Brooksville, Fla. (photo courtesy of Matthew Everhard)
The church used its Family Life Center as a shelter, where approximately 100 local residents rode out the storm. Everhard said everyone at the shelter “survived happy and well-fed,” but reported several leaks to the church building and damage to the facade.
Ikki Soma, pastor of City of Refuge Church in Houston, reported via email that one of their ruling elders’ homes “looked like a war zone,” following Hurricane Harvey, noting that the all the drywall in their home had been removed from floor to ceiling.
“It’s the most devastated home I’ve seen,” Soma said. “Most people only have three to five feet of drywall removed. Pray for him and his family. His wife lost her mother last Saturday too, and many mementos from her mom were lost in the flooding.”
Michael Herrin, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South, requested prayer for Michel Yonts, pastor of Edna Presbyterian Church in Edna, Texas. Edna was in the path of Hurricane Harvey, and Herrin said the home Yonts still owns in Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma.
“Please pray for Michel and Pauline as they deal with this double dose of difficulty,” Herrin said.
Following Hurricane Harvey, piles of rubble from flooded homes are a common sight in southeast Texas.
Herrin also reported that Daniel Situka, EPC teaching elder and a hospice chaplain in Houston, needs significant repairs to his home. “His house was flooded and his roof needs some repair, but he said it is hard to find a contractor,” Herrin said. “FEMA has inspected the house, and has recommended that some more wet material be removed.”
Herrin also said Situka ‘s car was totaled. “He has a rental car and is back to work, but will have to buy a new car. Daniel has been very impressed with how helpful everyone has been.”
Daniel Nguyen, an EPC evangelist working with the Bellaire Vietnamese Fellowship, expressed gratitude for the EPC’s Hurricane Harvey emergency relief fund.
“Thank you for showing your love of Christ through your prayers and financial support,” he said. “We have several members as well as non-Christian friends in our Vietnamese community who sorely need this kind of help to get back to their normal lives. As we earnestly share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our Vietnamese people, please pray for God to soften their hearts so they would soon receive Him as the Savior and Lord of their life.”
Alan Trafford, pastor of Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Lake Jackson, Texas, reported that flood waters from Hurricane Harvey have receded in southern Brazoria County, south of Houston.
“It hasn’t rained since the storm, thankfully, but the millions of gallons that fell on the Greater Houston area had to pass through the coastal counties to reach the Gulf,” Jackson said via email. “This is what caused our flooding, approximately ten days after the storm hit.”
He said volunteers from Covenant have worked closely with a local ministerial alliance in coordinating volunteer efforts and serving the area in a variety of ways.
“We have had a hand in many tasks, from feeding evacuees at one of the local shelters to collecting diapers for the Pregnancy Help Center, from unloading huge amounts of supplies for the local food pantries, to filling hundreds of sandbags,” he said. “It has been gratifying to see so many groups coming together to help, and we hope to work with groups from other churches in the coming months.”
Jackson noted that the need is “immense,” with more than 120,000 homes in Southeast Texas completely flooded, and thousands more damaged.
“Some of the poorest neighborhoods, in rural or unincorporated areas, have suffered the worst flooding,” he said. “We are sending teams out to rip out carpets and flooring, remove debris, and cut out drywall. About a dozen families in the church had water in their homes. The worst was one of our elders who got four feet of water in his newly remodeled house—his second flood in just over a year.”
He said the church’s new youth facility has been converted into accommodations for work groups. “We trust that the Lord will continue to use us to demonstrate the compassion of Christ.”
Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said contributions to the EPC’s emergency relief funds have helped local churches immensely.
“In the wake of Harvey, Irma, and now Maria in Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean, I am so grateful for the generosity of individuals and churches across the EPC who have helped our churches minister to their members and communities. I hope we can continue to bless them in this way.”
As of September 20, the Hurricane Harvey emergency relief fund has received $235,182 while the Hurricane Irma relief fund had received $14,976.
A Hurricane Maria relief fund has been approved by the National Leadership Team and will be announced by September 22. Maria caused significant damage in Puerto Rico—home to three EPC churches in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean—including loss of power across the entire island.