Free Methodists across the United States are praying for residents of the areas affected by Hurricane Irma and giving through the Bishops’ Crisis Response Fund to support relief efforts.
“In most parts of the state, the power is back on. Cape Coral was back online this past Friday evening, and just 30 minutes ago Pastor Juan Grullon from Orlando First reported that power has been restored at the church. We have much to be thankful for in that none of our churches reported any significant damage,” Free Methodist Southeast Region Superintendent Darrel Riley wrote Monday, Sept. 18, in a letter to ministry partners. “So far the biggest impacted area was in the Light and Life Park [Free Methodist senior community]. While the church or none of the major buildings were damaged, several homes were flooded and will be considered a total loss. Additionally a part in the sewer plant was damaged in the storm. It looks like it could be a week to ten days before the parts can be replaced and the system will be back in full operation.”
The hurricane presented new ministry opportunities for Free Methodists in Florida.
“Several churches opened as ‘passive shelters’ to provide a more substantial building for people to ride out the storm and offer spiritual encouragement,” Riley wrote in an email the previous week. (In a separate interview, Riley identified the passive shelter churches as Cornerstone Community in St. Petersburg, LifeBridge in Tampa, and Iglesia Melrose in the Miami area.)
According to Riley, some Free Methodist churches served as “community centers where people without power can come recharge their cell phones and cool off. Pastors have been faithfully checking in with me, even as they check on congregational members. … People have been reaching out personally to help their neighbors. In the midst of this crisis, [Free Methodists] have been the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Irma left many Florida churches and members’ homes without power for days. Despite a lack of severe damage, churches experienced smaller issues. According to a list compiled by Riley, both the Orange Grove Free Methodist Church in Bradenton and the Haitian FMC in Immokalee received roof damage. Along with a small leak in its new temple structure, Iglesia Cristo La Senda had water damage and files ruined in its separate office building. The Dade City FMC’s fence received minor damage, and First Haitian FMC in Miami must replace a window.
There is much reason to thank God. For example, at Orlando First FMC, a huge tree fell but landed in between the church building and educational house without hitting the structures. The hurricane also caused some Floridians to connect with Free Methodists for the first time.
“One of the pastors [at a church serving as a shelter] reported people were so appreciative they said, ‘We want to make this church our church home,’” Riley said. “There has been some good ministry.”
One of the Free Methodist Church’s strategies is to “partner strong,” and that holds true in hurricane relief. Riley is in close contact with other Florida members of the Wesleyan Holiness Alliance as they discuss partnering together for relief efforts. The state’s alliance includes other Wesleyan Holiness denominations such as the Nazarenes, Wesleyans and Salvation Army along with the Orlando campus of Asbury Theological Seminary. Relief efforts have been delayed because hotels are filled with evacuees and do not have room for relief workers, but as soon as the Salvation Army gets basecamps established, it will let other alliance members know how they can help.
Free Methodists in Haiti are thanking God that although Hurricane Irma caused damage in some areas, the hurricane was not as devastating as they feared it would be. Haitian Free Methodist Bishop Eliodor Desvariste reported, “We are OK. Only in the north we have damages. Some members’ houses’ roofs are gone, not church or school buildings. Some farms are devastated. As far as we know now, our pastors, families, students and teachers are OK. Our school directors are preparing to feed the kids. Please continue to pray for us.”
The Free Methodist Church will mobilize and use its resources to assist where most needed in response to Irma. If you’d like to contribute, please do so through the Bishops’ Crisis Response Fund at fmcusa.org/bfund. Don’t forget to continue to pray for and support people affected by the recent Hurricane Harvey.
The Bishops’ Crisis Response Fund is the first line of rapid response to aid Free Methodists affected by natural disasters, famine and persecution. It is a means for the U.S. church to provide immediate, focused assistance through our church’s local, international and missions infrastructure.