From tears to cheers: Church rebuilds sanctuary following Hurricane Michael devastation

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CALLAWAY–The steeple was toppled; the roof, ripped open; windows, shattered.

When Hurricane Michael unleashed its fury on Florida’s Panhandle in October 2018, the historic First Baptist Church of Callaway sustained devastating damage.

Four years since the hurricane’s rampage, the church held a seven-day celebration as its sanctuary reopened.

An illuminated cross on the church’s rebuilt sanctuary shines as a testimony of God’s Light prevailing even amid dark circumstances.

“With 80% of our Northwest Coast Baptist Association churches having suffered Hurricane Michael damage, every church was disrupted in some way, and we have cried and cheered with every partner. Seeing an achievement like this is truly celebrative,” said Troy Varnum, associational mission strategist.

The path to the church’s celebration included its share of challenges. Still, God provided, said Pastor Jessie Dasher.

Following Hurricane Michael, the insurance company offered an inadequate amount of money for the church to complete building repairs. Through God’s provision, the church was connected to a forensic engineer and the help needed for funding to rebuild.

“Throughout the building process, we could see God providing the right people at the right time, so that now we have a great place to worship,” said Dasher.

The Northwest Coast Baptist Association has been involved from day one of the recovery efforts, providing funding, evaluating damage, connecting the church to support and aid and keeping partner churches connected to one another through information-sharing and fellowship.

The weeklong celebration of the new facility started with a Saturday afternoon fish fry, complete with a waterslide and bounce house for children. Festivities continued on Sunday morning with guest speaker Varnum.

“The collaborative process of being the body of Christ is so instrumental to the forward movement of God’s kingdom, especially during recovery from devastation,” he said.

Each evening for the next five days, guest speakers from neighboring churches encouraged those in attendance to remember what God had done and to praise Him.

“As a pastor, I rarely get to hear other preachers live, so to have them come was wonderful,” said Pastor Dasher. “I was inspired by their preaching and encouraged to continue to serve our great God.”

As a display of gratitude, a love offering was collected each evening, with the total contribution of more than $3,000 being given to Holy Hill Baptist Church in Panama City to help with construction of the church’s retention pond and parking lot.

“It was an awesome experience to see fellow churches and pastors come together to help celebrate the blessing of the Lord upon FBC Callaway,” said Pastor James Barker of Holy Hill Baptist Church.

First Baptist Church Callaway“Pastor Jessie kept a huge secret that the love offering received during the week was going to be given to Holy Hill. Their generosity and love in action brought tears of joy to my eyes,” Barker said.

Church members feel a revived sense of thanksgiving for their new sanctuary and classrooms. Some work still needs to be done to complete a currently unused portion of the building, but members trust that the work will be completed as needed and in God’s timing, the pastor explained.

“The church as a whole has handled their hurricane circumstance in an inspiring way, through loss, disappointment, waiting, success and praise, they have truly been remarkable,” Varnum said.

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