Church Remains Hopeful Despite Hurricane Setbacks

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PANACEA–While not noticeable to all, the communion table in front of the pulpit at First Baptist Church in Ochlockonee Bay shows the signs of the two hurricanes that flooded the church in the past 16 years.

There’s the high watermark from Hurricane Dennis in 2005. And there, up a little higher, is the mark from Hurricane Michael in 2018. But these watermarks are not just reminders of the flooding and destruction caused by the hurricanes, they are also a testament to God’s faithfulness and provision.

Despite the damages caused by the hurricanes, this small concrete block church – located about 50 minutes south of Tallahassee – continues its mission to the community it serves.

That’s why Pastor James Chunn and church members were excited to bring back Vacation Bible School this year after missing it due to the pandemic in 2020. Chunn loves to brag about their VBS and how the Family Night celebration filled the church on its final night.

The bivocational pastor also loves bragging about the smooth and beautiful flooring at the church, the same flooring that children played and performed on all week during VBS. After carpeting was destroyed by Dennis, then replaced and destroyed by Michael, the church just kept its concrete flooring.

Thanks to a grant from the Florida Baptist Convention, the church was able to have its floors redone in recent months with a unique multi-layered coating process for the concrete floor.  Not only does it add to the appearance of the church interior but it’s also easy to maintain and won’t be destroyed should another hurricane flood the area.

“Through the Florida Baptist Convention and all the different agencies and churches, it’s truly said that when two or three are gathered in His name, He is there,” Chunn said. “No matter how small the church is, He can do great things.”

The grant is just one of the ways God has taken care of the church over the years, Chunn said. He can tell story after story of how churches and people from all over Florida came to assist them after both hurricanes:

  • The Florida Baptist Disaster Relief team from Chattahoochee who cleaned and sanitized walls and pews after Dennis
  • The church who rebuilt the pulpit stage after Dennis
  • The church who put on a new metal roof after Michael
  • The woman who donated her $10,000 Baldwin organ to replace the one she saw sitting by the road with other storm debris.

Hurricane Dennis brought a storm surge of 6 to 9 feet in 2005, leaving three feet of water in the church and washing away a landmark waterfront restaurant just down the street from the church. The congregation was able to salvage the church’s wooden pews after Dennis, but the organ was destroyed, as was the new, recently installed carpeting.

“We were hurt so bad from Dennis,” said Chunn, who has the photos to share. “But we didn’t miss a single service. An RV park nearby allowed us to use their recreation area for our services. And we held Bible study at a local restaurant.”

Hurricane Michael was a Category 5 hurricane when it made landfall in October 2018 at Mexico Beach, about 82 miles west of Ochlockonee Bay. The standing water inside the church was even higher this time, and all the pews were destroyed, as was the donated organ.

That’s when one church volunteered to replace the roof. Another church from South Florida sent 100 chairs, 60 of which are currently being used in the sanctuary. The church used part of the grant funds to pay for covers for these chairs, making them look like new.

“This can’t be nobody but the Lord,” Chunn said of how God has provided for specific needs. “God says trust in me and I’m going to take care of the things you need. For some reason, our Savior wants that little church right there.”

The church is currently down to 38 members, but Chunn remains hopeful. For now, he continues to preach on Sunday morning during in-person worship while sharing it live via its Facebook page, like many churches have learned to do during the pandemic. The associate pastor does Bible study on Facebook on Wednesday nights.

“It’s great to see that people are watching our little ol’ service,” he said. “I love Jesus and try to preach the best I can. If I can reach one person out of all those people, then it’s worth being online.”

As the church has made its way through hurricanes and worked through a pandemic, Chunn said they’ve learned to trust in God.

“Is it easy? Heck no, but He always come through, sometimes it’s right at deadline,” he said. “You just have to have patience and be faithful and trust in Jesus.”

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