Hurricane Irma: Storm survivors praise God at Everglades City, Chokoloskee church services
The members of Everglades Community Church, First Baptist Church and Chokoloskee Church of God prayed God would save them from Hurricane Irma. He did not! God did, however save them in the hurricane. Perhaps Mike Collins, 77, a church member said it best. “When times are good, it can be easy to forget God. It’s when times are difficult that God is most needed.” Collins said the storm hasn’t shaken his faith. “I questioned why, but my faith is secure,” Collins said.
*Wearing an orange polo shirt and shorts, the Rev. Bob Wallace stood on the front steps of the flooded Everglades Community Church on Sunday morning and praised God. Even in a community ravaged a week ago by Hurricane Irma’s 140-mph winds and storm surge, where residents are piling their belongings in muddy roadside trash heaps, and where at least one resident lost a leg to infection.
God is here, Wallace told 16 church members at the 15-minute service. God is here in the presence of the Christian missionaries who've descended on Everglades City to assist in the recovery, Wallace said. He’s here in the food and water that’s been delivered to sustain people. He’s here in the neighbors who’ve been there for one another.
“That’s what I want you to remember today, your faith in God, your faith in each other, and your faith as a family here in Everglades City,” Wallace told his congregation, who stood in front of the little white church with the red door wearing muddy sneakers, Crocs and boots.
“We are truly blessed.”
Two church services Sunday in the Everglades City and Chokoloskee areas gave devastated residents a much-needed opportunity to take a break from the week’s hurricane recovery efforts to reflect.
After singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the church members took turns offering praise — for homes that survived and volunteers who’ve come to help — and requesting prayers for ill friends and those in need. At the end of service, Wallace reached out to Lisa Marteeny in the crowd and hugged her. Her husband just died from an infection, she said.
Hurricane Irma will no doubt be a challenge to people’s faith, Wallace said. “We have a lot of memories in this congregation,” said Wallace, a retired U.S. Navy chaplain who’s been the pastor here for 12 years. “We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve been a family. We’ve stuck it out. And we did it here as well.”
Even though the church is off the ground, the storm surge that flooded homes in Everglades City, Chokoloskee and Plantation Island dumped about a foot of water in the sanctuary and the fellowship hall. The church’s red carpets were still damp Sunday, and mud coated the wood-planked floors. Wallace estimated it will take four months to clean up the mess.
Across the bridge on Chokoloskee Island, the Rev. Lynnette Morris of the Chokoloskee Church of God also held a service Sunday. Lynnette’s church, too, was flooded by Irma. About 50 people sat in golf carts and on folding chairs under white tents for an outdoor service. Wood chairs with blue cushions damaged by the storm were piled up outside the church’s front door.
Morris, who has long blond hair and preached Sunday in an orange flowered dress and white crabber boots, told the crowd that “not only are you swamp tough, but you’re Jesus tough.” “Let’s give some hope to people,” she said. “God has not left us. He’s met our needs every day.”
As a utility worker fixed a power line nearby, keyboard player Karen Bollinger launched into a rendition of “How Great Is Our God.” She urged the crowd to sing along. “We want Everglades City to hear us.”
*The above article was written by Ryan Mills, Naples Daily News, on Sept. 17, 2017 just ten days after Hurricane Irma struck.