Category Archives: Emergency Relief

Church sewing groups answer call for masks for Michigan COVID-19 hotspot

 

Hamtramck, Mich., is an area that was hit hard by COVID-19. About five miles from downtown Detroit, 42 percent of Hamtramck’s 22,000 residents are foreign-born—giving Hamtramck the largest percentage of immigrants in the state and a longtime focus of EPC World Outreach efforts among Muslims in the United States.

Between January and March, as many as 300 families moved to Hamtramck from Bangladesh to join relatives. The March coronavirus outbreak and subsequent shelter-in-place orders isolated these immigrants in unfamiliar surroundings, in some cases even from relatives. So when a World Outreach global worker in the area put out an urgent request in April for masks to share with the Bangladeshi and Yemeni families in their neighborhood, women in sewing groups at two EPC churches jumped into action.

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Paula Creamer

Paula Creamer, a Ruling Elder for Grace Community Church in Falcon, Colo., responded to the need after seeing it posted on the EPC Women’s Resource Council’s Facebook page.

“We have a women’s sewing group at the church called Stitchers of Grace,” Creamer said. “It actually started about seven years ago in response to a need for pillowcases at a local homeless shelter. We sew pillowcases every year now for the Salvation Army and the shelters.”

When COVID-19 hit Colorado and local paramedic, fire, and police departments requested mask donations, Stitchers of Grace stepped up to help. They were joined by two other women’s sewing groups in the Colorado Springs area: The Black Forest Craft Guild and Falcon Stitchers. The three groups were familiar with one another, having met at the annual craft show that is held at Grace Community Church each holiday season.

“Between the three groups, we have about 20 women who have given their time and efforts over the last few weeks to sew almost 9,000 masks,” Creamer said. “We have given them out to rescue workers, shelters, clinics, and hospitals. We already knew how to make them when the request came from Hamtramck. So, of course, we said we could help.”

Meanwhile, across the country in Findlay, Ohio, a group of women from Gateway Church also was rallying to sew masks for Hamtramck.

“The request came from one of our mission partners,” said Cody Ohnmeiss, who serves as Gateway’s Go Local Director. “We were already partnered with that area of Michigan and wanted to help in any way that we could.”

So he called Sandra Tietje, who leads a ministry team called Sew, Quilt, Share. When Ohnmeiss told her they needed 500 masks, her response was, “That’s a big number!”

But she knew that God would provide, as He always does. The group had already been sewing masks for local hospitals and nursing home facilities. In the previous month, they had distributed more than 2,000 masks—all made from materials they already had on hand or had been donated from local fabric shops.

“God knew that this moment was coming and what would be needed, and He had already laid the foundation so that this could happen,” Tietje said. “There were many, many hands involved in this process, and God is the one who has done it.”

The women’s group launched in 2003 when a few ladies from the church felt like God was calling them to start a sewing ministry as part of the church’s outreach ministries.

“We have a strong missional history at Gateway,” Tietje said. “I have a photo of my grandmother working on a quilt with her Ladies Missionary Society back in 1967. I’m actually in the photo, too—underneath the quilt! We grew up watching our mothers hold bake sales and sew things to raise money for missions. This is our heritage.”

Every month, people meet at the church to cut fabric and put kits together to distribute to women who want to participate in the sewing projects. Ohnmeiss serves as the runner, dropping off and picking up projects throughout the city.

“One of the beautiful things about sewing is that if you have a passion for it and you meet someone else that has a passion for it as well, it breaks down the barriers that divide,” Tietje said. “This is a fun, non-threatening outreach to our friends. There are ladies who have started coming to our church because of friendship evangelism through the sewing group.”

Creamer has seen the same thing at Grace Community Church.

“Some of the women have started praying together and a few have even been attending the Tuesday Women’s Bible Study,” she said. “This latest project—the masks for frontline workers—has connected us more deeply with the community. We’ve even had grocery stores providing us with twist ties from the produce section to make the nosepiece on the masks.”

Creamer knows firsthand what a blessing these masks have been. Her husband is an essential government employee, and she is a nurse in a local hospital.

Ohnmeiss noted that a perhaps-unexpected blessing from the effort was watching how God brought many different people together to serve those who are in need.

“One of our pastors made it a family project,” he said. “He and his girls had never sewed a mask before, but they put in a day’s effort and came out with masks to send to Michigan. It was beautiful to watch.”

All of the masks produced by the church groups have been sent to Hamtramck. Between the two churches, they were able to provide even more than the 500 that were originally requested.

Tietje understands firsthand how important it is to come together in this unprecedented time and be there for one another. Her father-in-law passed away in May, and they were unable to be with him in the nursing home when he was sick or give him the kind of funeral that they would have liked. While the experience was difficult, it also gave her a greater empathy for those who were suffering and a passion to get even more masks to those in need.

“God always lays the groundwork before something like this happens,” she said. “He knew the pandemic was coming long before we did, and was aware of every little need. He brought our sewing group together for such a time as this. What a joy and privilege to play a small part in His plan.”

By Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

May Jeremiah Journal offers encouragement during pandemic

 

In the May 2020 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah offers encouragement during the coronavirus pandemic. He also describes some ways the Office of the General Assembly is serving and resourcing EPC churches and pastors during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

EPC churches minister to members, communities affected by Easter tornado outbreak

 
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An EF3 tornado destroyed the area of East Brainerd Road in Chattanooga, Tenn., on April 13, only a few miles from the EPC’s Brainerd Presbyterian Church. Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Office of Emergency Management & Homeland Security, Emergency Medical Services and Field Services.

One week after a series of tornados raked the southeastern United States, EPC churches are helping members of their churches and communities affected by the storms.

Michael Allen, Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Laurel, Miss., said several members of the congregation worked on Monday following the Sunday night storms to cut fallen trees off the home of Westminster’s nursery director, Gail Smith.

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Michael Allen

“We put her and her family in a hotel for a few days and will be helping her move into our mission house until she can get her home repaired,” Allen said. “She will need a new roof and possibly other structural repairs.”

In addition to Smith, Allen said one of the teachers in Westminster’s Laurel Christian School “lost everything,” and some other church members were “mildly affected” but not displaced.

Allen reported “indescribable devastation” in the area around Laurel, in southeastern Mississippi.

“The damage is over a mile wide of complete ruin and it goes for miles,” he said. “There will be lots of work to do but it looks like everybody is getting involved and helping out.”

The only known damage to an EPC church property from the Easter storm system was Brainerd Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., which Dane Deatherage serves as pastor. He said that downed trees and power lines prevented him from getting to the church campus quickly, even though he only lives about a half mile away.

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Dane Deatherage

“We have a few very minor repairs to do,” he reported. “We have some small damage to a portico, and several trees down. None of the trees, however, damaged our building.”

Deatherage said none of the congregation’s members were injured, though four families have been displaced.

“One neighborhood was hit really bad, and we have several families with substantially damaged homes and property—lost roofs, trees on their homes,” he said. “The devastation is heartbreaking, but we hope for Jesus to use us to display His grace and glory. We are thankful that God protected us, and we are praying for our neighbors who have had major home damage, injuries, and have lost loved ones.”

Pastors in Monroe, La.; Meridian, Miss.; and the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic reported varying levels of local damage, but no injuries or harm to any EPC church property or members’ homes.

John Mabray, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, reported via text message that the hardest-hit area of the city was on the east side, including the airport.

“It hit in an area pretty far from us, the church, and most of our members,” Mabray said. “I do not know of any church members who suffered damage.”

Rhett Payne, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Meridian Miss., said by text message that Meridian—about 60 miles northeast of Laurel—was spared a direct hit from the tornados.

“We had them all around us, but nothing in Meridian,” he said.

Further east in the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, Stated Clerk Ron Horgan said he was not aware of any EPC churches that were impacted, despite heavy local damage in parts of North Carolina and South Carolina.

“We haven’t heard of any storm damage from our churches,” Horgan said by email.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said a disbursement from the EPC’s Emergency Relief Fund was made within three hours of a request for assistance.

“I am grateful that we have a very healthy balance due to the generosity of our churches and thousands of individuals in previous disaster situations,” Jeremiah said. “These funds are available for churches to repair damage to their property, but also as they identify needs among their members and their communities. We want to do everything we can to help our churches minister in Jesus’ name when the need is the greatest.”

Throughout the April 12-13 outbreak, 132 tornadoes touched down across 10 states, inflicting widespread and locally catastrophic damage. The strongest tornados occurred in southern Mississippi, several of which produced estimated winds of nearly 200 m.p.h. and reached widths of more than two miles. With a total of 32 tornado-related fatalities, it was the deadliest tornado outbreak since April 2014. Relief efforts were complicated by social distancing requirements amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

CARES Act provides benefits for churches during coronavirus crisis

 

CaresActCapitolOn March 27, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The legislation provides many benefits to individuals and churches. The purpose of this article is to provide information solely about how EPC churches may apply for federally guaranteed loans during the COVID-19 crisis. A subsequent article will address individual benefits.

“Please note that this is our best understanding of the CARES Act on March 30,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “The implementation of this program hasn’t been finalized yet, so we will continue to monitor developments related to the CARES Act as they occur and provide updates as quickly as possible.”

Q: How can my church benefit from the CARES Act?

A: The CARES Act allows for any 501(c)(3) organization with 500 or fewer employees that has been substantially affected by COVID-19 to borrow under the Small Business Administration (SBA) 7(a) program—the Paycheck Protection Program Loan. The EPC is a 501(c)(3) organization, which means all EPC churches enjoy this status.

Q: Why are EPC churches eligible for this loan program?

A: The purpose of these loans is to help small businesses to keep their workers employed and compensated through the COVID-19 crisis. This program incentivizes employers to keep their employees instead of laying them off and shutting down their businesses.

Q: When will the SBA begin taking applications for Paycheck Protection Program loans?

A: On March 29, Larry Kudlow, Director of the United States National Economic Council, announced that the SBA would begin taking applications on Friday, April 3. This date may change given the fluidity of the impact of COVID-19.

Q: What is the duration of the Paycheck Protection Program?

A: The Paycheck Protection Program covers the period beginning February 15, 2020 and ending on June 30, 2020 (the “Covered Period”).

Q: What is the loan amount a church may apply for?

A: That amount is determined by the church’s payroll and related employee expenses for the period February 15 through June 30, 2020.

Q: How much can a church or ministry borrow?

A: The amount that may be borrowed is the total average monthly payroll costs for the preceding 12 months (March 2019 through February 2020), multiplied by a factor of 2.5. For example, if the average payroll costs for the preceding twelve months were $20,000, the maximum amount of the loan would be $20,000 times 2.5 for a total of $50,000. The maximum amount available for a Payroll Protection Loan is $10,000,000.

Q: What costs are considered payroll costs?

A: Salary or wages, payments of a cash tip, vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave, health benefits, retirement benefits, and state and local taxes.

Q: Is there a salary maximum that the loan can cover?

A: Yes. Salary expenses above $100,000 per employee are not eligible for consideration as payroll costs. Loan proceeds may not be used to pay salaries above $100,000 per employee.

Q: Is the pastor’s housing allowance included in the computation of payroll costs?

A: The SBA needs to issue guidance on how housing allowance will factor into the payroll cost calculations.

Q: Are there any other ways in which this loan may be used?

A: The loan proceeds may also be used to pay mortgage interest (not principal) payments, rent payments, utilities, or interest on other loans outstanding at the time of the pandemic. As stated above, the total amount of the loan can be up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll costs for the one-year period preceding the date of the loan. However, the only amount eligible for forgiveness is the total spent during the eight-week period beginning on the date of the loan on payroll costs including benefits (except for staff with salaries over $100,000), mortgage interest payments (not principal), rent, and utilities.

Q: How will the church need to document how its Paycheck Protection Program loan is used?

A: The church is required to make a “good faith certification” that the loan is necessary due to economic conditions caused by COVID-19. The church will need to demonstrate that the loan was used to retain employees, maintain payroll, and pay rent and utilities.

Q: How soon must the church, ministry, or pastor repay the loan?

A: A Paycheck Protection Program loan may include a term of up to 10 years from the date of application.

Q: What is the interest rate for a Paycheck Protection Program loan?

A: The maximum interest rate for this loan is 4 percent per year.

Q: May payments under the loan be deferred?

A: Yes, for a period not less than six months but not to exceed more than one year from the date of the loan.

Q: May all or part of the Paycheck Protection Program loan be forgiven?

A: Yes, the program is designed to encourage employers to retain employees and loan forgiveness is a key feature of these loans. A church under a covered loan can have all or a portion of the principal of the loan forgiven in an amount equal to payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, or utility costs during the eight-week period following the origination of the loan. The forgiven amount, however, may be reduced based on a formula that compares the ministry’s employment in prior pre-COVID periods with the number of employees and each employee’s wage or salary in the eight-week period following the origination of the loan.

Q: How does my church apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan?

A: Churches will apply for this loan through an approved SBA lender, which includes most local banks.

Q: What can the church do immediately to prepare to apply for a loan?

  • Confirm the church’s bank is an approved SBA lender. If it is, inform it that the church wants to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan ASAP. Ask the bank to provide the church with loan document documentation requirements. The bank will assist the church in completing the application.
  • Take whatever action is required for the church to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan (Session and/or congregational approval). Depending on local social distancing or meeting limitation regulations, this meeting may need to be virtual.
  • Ensure the church’s 2019 financial statements are complete and first quarter 2020 financial statements are prepared ASAP.

 

Information is gleaned with appreciation from Batts, Morrison, Wales & Lee (the audit firm of the EPC), the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), Horizons Stewardship, and Baptist Press of the Southern Baptist Convention, which utilized a Q&A approach in its report.

EPC pastors, churches in California adapt amid statewide lockdown

 
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Shawn Robinson, Pastor of Clayton Community Church in Clayton, Calif., leads a virtual men’s Bible study on March 19 using Zoom, a popular online video conference tool. 

Having an entire state on mandatory lockdown as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents unique challenges for state and local government, businesses, and 40 million residents of California.

For pastors and churches accustomed to gathering in groups and striving to meet the needs of their members and communities, the challenges take on a spiritual dynamic.

“COVID-19 has impacted our church the most by preventing us from gathering for Sunday worship and midweek community groups, creating isolation, and forcing new ways of maintaining community, fellowship, and worship,” said Andrew Ong, a ministry resident at Christ Church East Bay, which has campuses in Berkeley and Oakland, Calif.

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Andrew Ong

Ong said about 20-25 percent of the church’s congregation is older than 50, with some of its senior members living alone.

“This is leading to much anxiety and loneliness,” he said. “We have a team who is almost done personally contacting all our seniors to make sure they know that we are here for them, and to identify any ways that we can serve them spiritually, materially, and emotionally.”

On March 16, San Francisco-area residents received a directive from Gov. Gavin Newsom to “shelter in place.” Three days later, Newsom announced the dramatic step of requiring all 40 million residents of the state to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Scott Farmer, Transitional Pastor of Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church in Moraga, Calif., laughed during an interview above the screams of grandchildren.

“I’m good. I’m on grandpa duty right now,” he chuckled. “I’ve got a four- and six-year-old that are definitely ready to go to the park.”

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Scott Farmer

Like Ong and other ministry colleagues around the country, Farmer said he and his church are doing their best to adapt to “the new normal.”

“There’s no normal,” Farmer acknowledged. “This is nowhere near normal. We’re adjusting. Last Friday we got one directive from county health not to have gatherings of more than 50, and we adjusted to that until Sunday night when the governor gave us a new directive. So we were gathering Monday morning to adjust to those. At one o’clock we got a new directive to shelter in place. All the schools were closed and all non-essential services. So that’s how rapidly it has been changing.”

Farmer said the church is doing its best to keep people connected.

“We send out an e-news update every week. I tell them what time of day that I send it out because information is changing so fast,” he said.

“All of our ministries: children’s, youth, men and women’s, missions—everyone is all remote now. So we’re all asking the questions, ‘How do you live as a church in a sheltered-in-place environment? How do you care for one another, and how do you care for the community?’”

He added that the church, like many, is broadcasting their worship online and holding Bible study classes online.

“All of our small groups and community groups are virtual now. We have activities for the children that are video-based online, with exercises and things like that.”

Farmer said as the church has increased its video and social media capacity, it has made it a priority to train older members on how to use it.

“They aren’t used to getting online, among other things. We are calling everyone in our congregation who are in their 70s, and we have a whole system of runners who are committed to doing their errands for them by going to the grocery store and anything else for those who are vulnerable,” he said.

“We’re also asking the congregation to think of ways we can serve one another and the community to let us know, and we’ll try to evaluate and respond.”

Shawn Robinson has served as Pastor of Clayton Community Church in Clayton, Calif. for 23 years, and said the lack of weekly gatherings has his ministry team working to create an online learning environment that keeps people connected. The congregation normally meets for worship in a local middle school.

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Shawn Robinson

“Everything is online now,” Robinson said. “We are having a regular Sunday morning service that you can click on at the regular time. We recorded it, and this last Sunday (March 15) was our first one.”

Robinson said his staff recently called on him to prepare several weeks of messages ahead of time.

“We heard Monday morning that come midnight, the shelter-in-place was going to be in effect. So my worship team leaders came to me and said ‘Hey, can we record your messages today?’” Robinson laughed. “Well, OK, so we’re told to be ready to preach in and out of season—that became very real. I had maybe an hour to prepare but I think it went OK. Our executive pastor was going to do the next week, so basically we’ve got three weeks of messages ready.”

Robinson applauded the response of the church staff and ministry teams.

“They just all came together during this amazing time. We’re realizing that we’re not a megachurch, but what we send out we want to do with quality. Funny thing is, we have some recording equipment but if you have one of the newer iPhones the recordings on one of those are probably even better quality.”

He added he has been encouraged by the way people are engaging with the church—sometimes in unexpected ways.

“One of the interesting things that just cracks me up is that just before this happened, our office manager ordered a couple of cases of toilet paper,” Robinson recalled. “When we realized that we weren’t going to be able to get to our office, they brought it to my house. So I just went online and said, ‘Hey do you need toilet paper?’ I got so much response from that! We can say our motto is ‘We’ve got your backside!’”

In addition to dealing with the situation with hope and humor, Ong said the pandemic presents a unique opportunity for the Church to testify to the truth of Jesus and Scripture.

“We need to embody a countercultural community of selfless sacrifice, taking care of the least of these, first amongst ourselves, but also amongst our neighbors,” he emphasized. “We need to bear witness to our hope by not acting out of fear. Our hope is not ultimately in the markets, the government, or even in medical science, but in Christ—and we seek His Kingdom.”

Robinson has witnessed some surprising ways his church has been able to minister to people, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

“I’m just watching our people really reach out to their neighbors, offering prayer, asking if they can go get groceries for the neighbors,” he said. “In that regard, it’s quite encouraging. It’s funny, but I’m kind of excited right now. It’s forcing us out of complacency.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

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The staff of Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, Calif., participate in an online video conference staff meeting on March 17.

Nashville EPC church plant mobilizes for tornado relief

 
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All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., set up a portable kitchen in the front yard of a parishioner and fed nearly 2,500 people over four days in the wake of the March 3 tornado outbreak.

All Souls Church, an EPC church plant in Nashville, Tenn., received $5,000 from the EPC Emergency Relief Fund on March 4 for its ministry to its neighbors in the wake of a devastating tornado outbreak on March 3 that took the lives of at least 25 people. The church holds its worship services in a school near the hard-hit Germantown area of North Nashville.

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Kirk Adkisson

Kirk Adkisson, Pastor of All Souls Church, said most of the congregation escaped the worst of the destruction.

“Thankfully no one in All Souls was injured, but two households are still without power and unsure when it will return,” he said. “My home didn’t have electricity for four days, but we didn’t have any damage. But six blocks south of us is a path about three-and-a-half miles long that is devastated.”

Adkisson reported that the initial relief funds were used to feed people in the area.

“We spent four days feeding about 600 people a day,” he said. “We served breakfast tacos in the morning, then from about noon until about 5:00 when we had to stop because of darkness we would cook burgers and hot dogs.”

He said their team served meals to both local residents and relief volunteers.

“Many people were just walking around because thousands have been displaced,” he explained. “We also were feeding the volunteers who were in the area—it was amazing to watch how many volunteers are helping.”

He said the feeding station was set up in the front yard of an All Souls parishioner whose home was damaged.

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The home next door to the feeding station set up by All Souls Church was heavily damaged.

“Although this man had no power—and still doesn’t—and had some damage to his house, he allowed hundreds of local residents and volunteers working in the area to walk into his house and use his bathroom. He invited hundreds of strangers in.”

Adkisson said that they know many of the volunteers “are going to have to leave soon, but we will continue to serve the community as it recovers. We know we want to pay attention to single moms and the elderly.”

These efforts include providing tarps and grocery store gift cards to local residents.

He also said that the mayor’s office approached him about leading a longer-term effort to stem the threat of developers seeking to take advantage of residents of the historically African-American community.

“We were working in the front yard the other day and a developer approached a guy six times whose home was destroyed about buying him out,” Adkisson said. “This is happening all over North Nashville. Developers are walking up to homes and offering lowball numbers for people to sell their property.”

He noted that in many cases, the offers are attractive because insurance deductibles can be beyond the means of the homeowners.

“That includes African-American churches here,” he said. “Many were damaged, and they also have deductible costs. Many of their parishioners are struggling.”

Adkisson emphasized that the recovery is in its early stages.

“It feels as if most the moves we make at this point are reactionary,” he said. “However, we are here and all-in for the long haul. We have begun the process of planning how to love and serve over the next month, 3 months, 6 months, and even a year.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said he was thrilled to be able to disperse relief funds within 24 hours of the storm.

“Due to the amazing generosity of EPC churches and their members following a series of disasters in recent years, we had funds available to send immediately,” Jeremiah said. “I also am thankful for our churches’ faithful support of Per Member Asking, which allows us to have the infrastructure in place to help in emergency situations when they arise. I expect that we will provide additional funds as Kirk and his congregation continue to assess the needs in their community.”

Secure online donations to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief.

Freeport and Nassau, Bahamas: on the ground one month after Hurricane Dorian

 

by Jerry Iamurri
EPC Assistant Stated Clerk

“This is the worst natural disaster in the history of the Bahamas—please don’t forget us.”

Sarah was not the only person in Freeport who asked me that. But she represents thousands of people who know that the news cycle is short, and that the media coverage that galvanized a wave of relief support since Hurricane Dorian ravaged the northern Bahamian islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco inevitably moves on to other things.

About a month after the storm, Mike DeHaven and I touched down in Freeport after a short Bahamasair flight from Nassau.

The airport terminal was completely destroyed. Baggage handling equipment, seats, and security screening conveyor belts were strewn around the broken walls of the terminal building. A bus waiting on the tarmac drove us a couple of miles to a tent in the parking lot of a strip mall. During the bus ride, we met some nurses from Samaritan’s Purse. They were there to staff a field hospital that had been set up behind Freeport’s main hospital—which was knocked out of service.

Ken Lane, Pastor of the EPC’s Lucaya Presbyterian Church in Freeport, met us at the bus.

We toured some of the areas of Grand Bahama most affected by the hurricane, and saw piles of destroyed furniture and debris in front of every home. Broken utility poles and downed power lines blocked some of the streets, and the smell of brush fires lingered in the air. Ocean water from storm surge had killed much of the grass and foliage, and that dry brush had recently caught fire. Flames came dangerously close to Lucaya’s food distribution ministry, which had previously flooded. Despite the hardships, they have provided thousands of pounds of food, cleaning supplies, and military style, freeze-dried MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat).

We also visited a non-governmental organization (NGO) that was distributing 22,000 meals per day, and had served about half a million meals total since the storm hit. That was only one of two such NGOs we saw in Freeport.

After the tour, Ken took us to meet some of the elders and members of the Lucaya congregation. Sarah is one of these faithful church members, and she is a long-time volunteer in the children’s ministry.

For several hours we listened to them describe their homes being flooded, the floors moving with the ocean waves, their apartments swaying with the hurricane winds, and their fear that they would be overcome by the storm. They showed us videos of waves crashing over balconies and into the second-floor windows of their homes. They talked of their prayers, their faith in the Lord to deliver them, God’s generous kindness, and His blessings on their lives and families. Though many had the thousand-yard stare common to those suffering from the effects of PTSD, they are amazed that the storm spared their church building and are hoping that electricity can be restored soon to the many homes that remain without power.

The Grand Bahama Children’s Home in Freeport has been closed. While the structure itself is sound, the contents are a total loss—including the possessions of its 32 resident children, who range in age from a few months to 14 years old. They were evacuated in the middle of the night during the storm, and now have been temporarily relocated to the Ranfurly Homes for Children in Nassau. These children’s homes have a connection to our churches in Lucaya and Nassau. Additionally, a large group of toddler-aged children were moved from Grand Bahama to the Children’s Emergency Hostel in Nassau.

And we were told that they share Sarah’s concern that people will begin to forget about them after the news media has stopped running stories on the Bahamas.

After spending the night in Freeport, Chrishon Ducker (Associate Pastor of the EPC’s St. Andrews Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau) took us to visit the areas of Nassau that have tried to absorb the influx of those evacuated from Abaco, which included the devastated town of Marsh Harbor. Some of these evacuees are living in the St. Andrews building.

“Abaco recovery still remains a military operation,” he told us. “The British Army just left, the Bahamian Defense Force, the Trinidad and Tobago Army, as well as the Jamaican Army are still patrolling the area around Marsh Harbor and providing for immediate needs.”

Gabe Swing, Pastor of the EPC’s Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor, is visiting displaced members of that congregation who have evacuated to Florida. Swing is an Associate Pastor of St. Andrew’s, responsible for serving the mission post in Marsh Harbor that is Kirk of the Pines.

“Bahamas recovery is going to be a long-term process,” Bryn MacPhail, Pastor of St. Andrews, told us. “We will need help for a minimum of several years, and the clock hasn’t even started yet. We’re still assessing the damage.”

While a full recovery in some areas is likely several years away, there are many, many short-term needs that EPC churches can help meet through continued financial contributions to the EPC’s Emergency Relief Fund. In Freeport, Ken told me that by next summer they expect to be able to host short-term mission teams of moderately skilled individuals, especially those with skills in the building trades.

Marsh Harbor will probably not be ready for mission trip teams that soon, but we encourage our EPC “prayer warriors” to pray for Bryn, Gabe, Ken, and their church leaders as they continue to seek discernment about how they can help with the rebuilding of Marsh Harbour. And please continue to pray for Sarah and the thousands of Bahamians like her.

If you are considering a mission trip or have skill in the building trades, please let us know at info@epc.org. Mike DeHaven coordinated our trip, and also led mission teams to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. He is working with our churches in the Bahamas to help put together future mission trips to help with the recovery effort.

October Jeremiah Journal offers Hurricane Dorian relief update

 

In the October 2019 edition of the Jeremiah Journal, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah provides an update on EPC relief efforts in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

EPC hurricane relief efforts in Bahamas underway as casualties reported

 
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The Bahamas are home to three EPC churches; two of which were in the path of Hurricane Dorian (noted with red line).

Among the reported casualties in Marsh Harbor, Bahamas, as a result of Hurricane Dorian are two individuals connected to EPC churches. Bryn MacPhail, Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, reported that a member of Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor and a cousin of a St. Andrews Ruling Elder are among the casualties.

As of September 9, more than 40 deaths in the Bahamas have been attributed to the storm, with hundreds of people still missing.

Of the three EPC churches in the Bahamas, two are located in areas directly affected by the storm: Kirk of the Pines (Abaco), and Lucaya Presbyterian Church in Freeport (Grand Bahama). Nassau received little effect from the storm, so St. Andrew’s is the staging point for the EPC’s relief work in Marsh Harbor.

In response to the storm’s destructive impact on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, more than $73,000 has been donated to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund as of September 9. The request for donations was issued on September 2.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said that he has been in daily contact with MacPhail and Gabe Swing, Pastor of Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor.

“Gabe and his family were in Tennessee when Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas,” Jeremiah noted. “His return has been delayed twice, but he hopes to arrive in Nassau this Wednesday. The challenge the Swings face when they return to Marsh Harbor is that their home has been described as unlivable.”

Lack of power and wifi connectivity in Freeport since the storm prevented contact with Ken Lane, Pastor of Lucaya Presbyterian Church, until Saturday, September 7.

“Ken reports that the island of Grand Bahama also received significant wind and flooding, although not as extensive and devastating as on Abaco,” Jeremiah said. “The good news is that the Lucaya building did not endure flooding and suffered only minor exterior damage. When the banks in Freeport re-open in the coming week, EPC emergency relief funds will be sent as requested from Ken, who is still assessing the needs this weekend with his leadership.”

MacPhail reported that the recently constructed Kirk of the Pines building received minor damage, but is “standing strong on the main road” of Marsh Harbor—one of only a few structures in Marsh Harbor still intact. An estimated 13,000 homes in the immediate area of the church have been destroyed, including the homes of many Kirk of the Pines families.

Initially planned as a center for EPC relief efforts in Marsh Harbor, MacPhail noted that a pending mandatory evacuation order has put those plans for the Kirk of the Pines facility on hold.

“Sending supplies to Marsh Harbor appears to no longer be prudent at the moment,” MacPhail said via email. “Receiving teams to help rebuild also seems like something that will need to wait until we hear what the government intends for the city.”

MacPhail also noted that many of those evacuees are coming to Nassau.

“Two of our Sunday School classrooms have been converted into temporary lodging. Bedding, towels, and other necessities have been purchased and church members have supplied groceries.” At least eleven Marsh Harbor evacuees will be housed in this space, MacPhail said.

Jeremiah described three specific areas for prayer focus:

“First, pray for Gabe Swing as he returns. With the evacuations to Nassau, there are now more members of Kirk of the Pines in Nassau than there are in Marsh Harbor, so pray for Gabe as he ministers to his dislocated flock.”

The second prayer request is for a mental health team that MacPhail’s wife, Allie, serves with.

“She is a certified therapist and part of a mental health team with the Family Medicine Center in Nassau. They have been at the Nassau airports to provide evacuees with what has been termed, ‘Psychological First Aid.’ Pray for this team as they perform this incredibly important ministry.”

The third prayer request is for protection against looting.

“Looting is already a major problem in Abaco and Freeport,” he said. “Pray for the protection of those supplies, the safety of those protecting them, and of course, the recipients of that help.”

MacPhail requested prayer for the St. Andrew’s congregation and leadership as they assess the best way to meet needs in both their community and among evacuees from Abaco and Grand Bahama.

“I sense that we are being forced to wait before we get a clearer sense of where, and how, to best assist,” he wrote via email on September 8. “Our elders meet on Wednesday evening. Please pray for us as we meet and attempt to discern the best way forward with relief assistance.”

Donations to EPC relief efforts can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief. Contributions are sent directly to EPC churches in the affected areas for needs they identify in their local communities.

 

Relief funds sought for Hurricane Dorian relief

 

HurricaneDorianEmergencyReliefIn response to devastation wrought on the northern Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian, and in anticipation of potential further effects of the storm, the EPC is seeking donations to its Emergency Relief Fund.

“While Puerto Rico was only grazed by the storm and our church in Nassau fared well, it is sadly a very different story for our church at Marsh Harbor, Abaco—Kirk of the Pines, led by Gabe Swing,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Dorian made landfall there with record winds in excess of 180 mph, accompanied by a tremendous storm surge. We are still awaiting reports from church leaders and members, but news reports and social media show devastating damage.”

A third EPC congregation in the Bahamas, Lucaya Presbyterian Church, is located in suburban Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama. As of late afternoon on September 2, Dorian had largely stalled with its center located about 25 miles northeast of Freeport. Damage is expected “to be severe” in that community, Jeremiah said.

Click here to donate to the Emergency Relief Fund, or go to www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief.

Contributions are tax-deductible, and any donations that exceed directly related disbursements will be held for future emergency relief needs.

Emergency fund launched for Midwest flooding relief

 

MidwestFloodingReliefThe EPC has launched an emergency relief fund to help relieve suffering caused by historic flooding in the Midwest. A massive winter storm earlier this month caused streams and rivers in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin to rise to all-time record levels. The flooding has killed at least three people and caused more than $3 billion in damages so far.

Donations to the fund will be sent to EPC churches in areas affected by the flooding for identified needs.

“At this point, the worst of the flooding has been in our presbyteries of the Great Plains and the Rivers and Lakes,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “However, forecasters are saying the waters will continue to flow south down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers so the potential for increased devastation is unfortunately high.”

He noted that many EPC churches are likely to have significant opportunity to minister in their communities as the floodwaters recede.

“Thankfully, due to the generosity of the EPC in giving beyond what was requested by our churches following other recent disasters, we have about $250,000 in our general Emergency Relief Fund that we can use to meet immediate needs.”

Click here to donate to the Midwest Flooding Emergency Relief Fund, and to download printable bulletin inserts to help your church publicize the Fund.

Contributions are tax-deductible, and donations that exceed directly related disbursements will be transferred to the general EPC Emergency Relief Fund to be used for other humanitarian emergency relief needs.

Thank you for providing help to those in need.

March Jeremiah Journal highlights Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

 

In the March 2019 edition of the Jeremiah Journal, Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri and Juan Rivera, Pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, describe how some of the donations to the EPC’s Hurricane Maria Emergency Relief Fund were put to use in Puerto Rico.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

EPC church members safe following Alabama tornado outbreak

 
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Debris litters a yard the day after a deadly tornado damaged a home in Beauregard, Ala., Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

First Presbyterian Church of Opelika, Ala., escaped damage during the March 3 tornado outbreak that devastated portions of southern Alabama. As of March 5, 23 people had lost their lives in Beauregard, a rural community about 10 miles south of Opelika.

“No one in our congregation had major damage or injury,” said Josh Yates, Assistant Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, “though some of our long-time members knew some of the victims.”

Yates reported that numerous aid organizations were in the area, but the authorities are asking people to stay out of the affected area until all residents are accounted for. News outlets are reporting as many as several dozen people are still considered missing.

“We are in a holding pattern right now as far as relief goes,” Yates said. “Since things are still in a search-and-rescue mode, cleanup efforts would probably not occur until next week. Plus, area residents have donated so much in the way of dry goods and supplies that right now we have more than we need.”

Yates noted that the church expects numerous opportunities to minister as the recovery continues.

“We are very thankful that all of our church members were spared,” he said, “but pray for us that we would share the gospel during all of this, and for wisdom to provide the right kind of help when and where it’s needed.”

Emergency fund launched for Hurricane Michael relief

 

HurricaneMichaelReliefThumbnailThe EPC has launched an emergency relief fund to help relieve suffering caused by Hurricane Michael in the southeastern United States—particularly the Florida panhandle. Donations to the fund will be sent to EPC churches in areas affected by the storm for identified needs.

“This storm blew up in a matter of hours to become the third-most powerful storm to ever hit the U.S.,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Many EPC churches were in the path of Michael. Members of those churches will have opportunity in the coming days and weeks to be the hands of feet of Christ to one another and to hurting people in their communities.  Our donations to this fund will help them in this redemptive work.”

As of October 14, the death toll has climbed to 19 people with dozens still missing. More than 700,000 people also remain without power across six states.

Click here to donate online (Choose “Emergency Relief” from the first pulldown menu and “Hurricane Michael Relief (511)” from the second pulldown menu,) or make check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church and designated “Hurricane Michael Relief,” and send to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822

Contributions are tax-deductible, and donations that exceed directly related disbursements may be transferred to the general EPC Emergency Relief Fund to be used for other humanitarian emergency relief needs.

To help publicize the Hurricane Michael Emergency Relief Fund, bulletin inserts in downloadable PDF format are available in several sizes at www.epc.org/emergencyrelief.

Thank you for providing help to those in need.

Mid-Atlantic church leaders assess damage from Hurricane Florence

 
Florence-MyrtleGroveWilmington

Flooding from Hurricane Florence inundated the parking area of Myrtle Grove EPC in Wilmington, N.C., but by September 19 had not entered the church building.

As flooding from Hurricane Florence continues to affect the Carolinas, pastors of EPC churches in the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic continue to assess storm damage and prepare for further flooding from rain-swollen rivers.

At least 37 deaths in three states have been confirmed as a result of the storm, which dumped as much as three feet of rain in parts of North Carolina. More than 10,000 residents remain displaced.

Stacey Miller, Pastor of Myrtle Grove Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, N.C., reported via email on September 17 that the primary difficulty is that flooding has isolated Wilmington. The city of 120,000 is on the Atlantic coast in southeastern North Carolina, just north of the South Carolina border and was still mostly surrounded by floodwaters on September 19.

“Flood waters are blocking roads and highways in every direction,” Miller wrote. “As the inland creeks recede, the rivers are rising and are expected to crest at record levels. So it may be quite some time before routes are clear for people to be able to drive in and out of the city.”

He said about half of the church members and staff evacuated before the storm and are currently unable to return.

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Flood waters covering Interstate 40 outside Wilmington, N.C.

“One of our elderly members is in ICU and her daughters can’t get to Wilmington to be with her,” he wrote. “In the community at-large, we have heard some sobering stories of total destruction of property, and flood damage with no flood insurance. Once all of our members return to Wilmington and assess their property, we may hear of other major losses within our own flock as well.”

Miller noted that he has been able to contact many church members, including some who stayed as well as some who evacuated before the storm hit.

“I know of two members who had trees come through the roof,” he wrote. “Otherwise, most have had trees down in yards, roof leaks, and other relatively minor issues. There have been few reports of major damage for our folks who stayed. As we have heard from members of our congregation, the prevailing theme is that God has been gracious to us.”

He said the church roof lost some shingles, resulting in some minor water damage. “Otherwise, there appears to be very minimal damage to our property,” he said.

Keith Cobb, Pastor of Hollywood Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Greenville, N.C., reported a “significant leak around our steeple, and water under several doors throughout the building. This, of course, is minimal in comparison to what is going on around us.” He noted that since the Tar River flows through Greenville, “we have every reason to suspect that we— like Goldsboro, Kinston, Tarboro, and Rocky Mount—will shortly have many opportunities to help flood victims in our community in the coming days and weeks.”

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Flooding in Leland, N.C., a western suburb of Wilmington.

Greenville is in eastern North Carolina, approximately 120 miles north of Wilmington. The metro area has a population of approximately 175,000.

Kevin Cauley, Pastor of Darlington (S.C.) Presbyterian Church, said extensive flooding is hampering a full assessment.

“Everyone is waiting for flood waters subside to be able to assess damage and have a plan,” he said via email on September 19. “Unfortunately, there is more flooding expected over the next 24 hours.”

Darlington is in northeastern South Carolina, approximately 130 miles west of Wilmington, N.C.

Matt Walton, Pastor of Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Florence, S.C., said a tree fell through the roof of a church member’s house, and his sister’s home in Wilmington, N.C., suffered significant water damage.

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Damage to Matt Walton’s sister’s home in Wilmington, N.C. Walton is Pastor of Trinity EPC in Florence, S.C.

“We will soon see our rivers swollen from water from North Carolina trickling down,” he added,” so pray that that will not cause flooding over the next few days.”

Walton noted that the church property emerged largely unscathed, though a break-in occurred during the storm and some items were stolen.

Florence, S.C., is about 10 miles southeast of Darlington and is home to approximately 40,000 people.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said donations to the EPC’s Hurricane Florence Emergency Relief Fund would be disbursed as quickly as possible.

“As we saw with the hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria last year—and the recent wildfires in California—when there is a need, our churches step up and demonstrate the sacrificial love of Christ. We will get those funds to where they are needed as soon as we can.”

In collaboration with the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, donations to the fund will be sent to EPC churches affected by the storm. Click here to donate online (Choose “Emergency Relief” from the first pulldown menu and “Hurricane Florence Relief (283)” from the second pulldown menu,) or make check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church and designated “Hurricane Florence Relief,” and send to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822

To help publicize the EPC’s Hurricane Florence Emergency Relief Fund, a bulletin insert is available for download in printable, pdf format at www.epc.org/emergencyrelief. The insert is designed to be printed on standard, 8.5×11 paper and cut in half vertically or horizontally.

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Red flags mark EPC churches within 150 miles of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., where Hurricane Florence made landfall on September 14. Wrightsville Beach is 6 miles east of Wilmington, N.C.

Emergency fund launched for Hurricane Florence relief

 

HurricaneFlorenceReliefBThe EPC has launched an emergency relief fund in anticipation of Hurricane Florence’s potentially devastating impact on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and beyond. Donations to the fund will be sent to EPC churches in areas affected by the storm.

“I’ve seen some predictions that Florence could do to the Mid-Atlantic region what Harvey did to southeast Texas last year,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “We all pray that history does not repeat itself, but if the worst happens we want to do everything we can to help our churches and their communities recover as quickly as possible. As the storm comes ashore over the next 24-48 hours, we need to pray for those in harm’s way.”

Click here to donate online (Choose “Emergency Relief” from the first pulldown menu and “Hurricane Florence Relief (283)” from the second pulldown menu,) or make check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church and designated “Hurricane Florence Relief,” and send to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822

Thank you for providing help to those in need.