Hurricane Irma, at times strengthening to Category 5 storm, left a wake of destruction over the past two weeks from the eastern Caribbean islands through Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Irma is responsible for the deaths of at least 69 people in affected areas. Tens of thousands are now homeless.
While some Caribbean islands were relatively spared, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Martin/St. Maarten, St. Barthemely, Anguilla, and the Virgin Islands were devastated.
Nazarenes on the Caribbean island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten were heavily affected as the storm hit the island with full force. Three Churches of the Nazarene in St. Martin were severely damaged. A newly constructed church in Marigot, the capital city, was completely destroyed, and the Marigot Church of the Nazarene in Cripple Gate lost its roof and the contents of the building were damaged beyond repair.
District Superintendent Daniel Blaise confirmed at least 75 percent of church members lost their homes entirely. Many St. Martin families are doubled and tripled up in remaining homes, and available food and clean water are limited.
Nazarene Compassionate Ministries is active in the Caribbean responding to the disaster, including in the French Antilles, where a church is organizing a shipment of supplies.
In Cuba, several towns were flooded, and many families from Nazarene communities lost all their belongings as well as their gardens, which are a necessary source of food.
The storm continued on to the Florida Keys and traveled north through the state, flooding streets and damaging homes. In Georgia and South Carolina, Irma knocked out power for millions and caused widespread devastation.
Prior to Irma hitting the U.S., the Church of the Nazarene's Southern Florida District established three main response bases at Fort Lauderdale Dayspring Church of the Nazarene, Lake Placid Camp and Conference Center, and Lehigh Acres Church of the Nazarene. Church leaders in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina mobilized response efforts as they prepared for the storm.
Many areas are still under water, but Nazarene Disaster Response volunteers are helping clean out flooded homes and distributing Crisis Care Kits and other necessities.
More than 16 inches of water flooded the home of Adrian and Elizabeth Calhoun, pastors of the New Smyrna Church of the Nazarene. They lost most of their belongings and will be displaced for at least a month.
A rapid Nazarene Disaster Response team with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries arrived from the Virginia District to help the Calhouns gut out the devastation in their home.
Pastor Joel Tooley, Florida District NDR coordinator, toured the Calhouns' damaged home with a team of NDR leaders.
"You are most likely feeling pretty overwhelmed right now,” Tooley told the Calhouns. “In fact, the enemy may even be telling you to quit. But don't give up now; your church is here. The hands and feet of Jesus are on their way and we're going to get you through this."
A man from the Virginia team also assured them, “You are not alone. Now you have 16 people here with you.”
Despite all that has happened, Adrian took the team on a tour of the church building – which suffered minimal damage – sharing his heart and vision for the community. His excitement and hope in the midst of tragedy was a great example of the “peace beyond understanding” that only God can provide.
Tooley travelled to Jacksonville Thursday to meet the Virginia team, who is also providing warm meals in communities still waiting for their power and light services to be restored.
Pastor Randy Tooley of the St. Petersburg Victory Church of the Nazarene reports Irma took down a giant tree on their property and the church did not have the $1,500 it would take to have a professional remove the tree.
A neighbor asked Randy Thursday if he could try out his new chainsaw on their tree.
"His saw cut through that tree like a hot knife through butter," Randy said.
The neighbor then asked a colleague to bring a Bobcat machine to move the tree pieces to the edge of the road, where the city will remove them next week.
Not only did the church have a prayer answered, the pastor was able to build a stronger connection with his neighbor.
NCM continues to collect damage reports from Nazarene churches and members, though power outages make communication difficult. Information will be added as it is received.
After calling for more Crisis Care Kits last week, NCM received an overwhelming number of kits from churches and individuals.
“Thank you to everyone who has responded!” NCM posted on Facebook this week. “We are well on the way to filling up the warehouses again. For those of you still in process of collecting CCKs, please continue. For those of you who have not yet started, know that the need is already being filled and we are more than ready to meet the existing needs and those that arise in the future. We are proud to be part of a church that cares so much for others and works hard to meet needs in Jesus' name!”
How to help
Continue to pray for those affected by Irma and other disasters as communities begin the long road to recovery. To send a prayer or note of encouragement, go to ncm.org/pray.
Churches and individuals around the world can provide support through the Emergency Relief – Hurricane Response Fund. Donations will be used for immediate needs, such as water and food, as well as NCM’s long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts.
To send donations by mail:
In the U.S., make checks payable to "General Treasurer" and send them to:
Global Treasury Services
Church of the Nazarene
P.O. Box 843116
Kansas City, MO 64184-3116
Be sure to put 128223 in the Memo area.
In Canada, make checks payable to "Church of the Nazarene Canada" and send them to:
Church of the Nazarene Canada
20 Regan Road, Unit 9
Brampton, Ontario L7A 1C3
Be sure to put 128223 in the Memo area.
For additional countries, give through your local church or district, designating your gift to Emergency Relief – Hurricane Response.