Six months have passed since Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Gulf Coast leaving in its path destruction and despair, especially for the Panhandle communities. While much rebuilding and recovery work is continuing to be done by the Florida Baptist Disaster Relief crew, churches and pastors are still gearing up for Easter celebrations.
First Baptist Church of Mexico Beach will host a sunrise service which pastor Eddie LaFountain says is the biggest event of the year for the church. “We start at daybreak like it was in the Bible,” he said. “It puts you in the place where [the disciples] were and reminds you that the only hope we have is Jesus.”
The Mexico Beach church family is still recovering from the damage done to their building by the storm. First Baptist Church of Bonifay came alongside them through the Churches Helping Churches network set up by the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) immediately after the storm. Bonifay has helped with clean up, fielding recovery costs, sending supplies and providing emotional support to LaFountain.
Lewis Miller, west regional catalyst of the FBC, says that the Mexico Beach church has received a lot of help but they have also been of great help to their community. After the storm passed through, the church became a distribution center to the community providing much needed supplies like food, hygiene and baby products.
“Supplies are still coming in,” said LaFountain “and when they stop coming in, I’ll take it as Jesus saying ‘okay it’s over.”
First Baptist Church of Lynn Haven is also planning a weekend-long Easter celebration starting with a glow-in-the-dark Easter egg hunt on Saturday and Easter worship on Sunday. “All our facilities were rendered unusable so we have no Sunday school, just Sunday worship at Lynn Haven Elementary School,” said pastor Tom Daniel. Still the church has seen God moving. “Last week we baptized four boys at the bay and one of them came from an unchurched family.”
The church is also planning a May 4th event at a local community park which will feature inflatables, hot dogs, hamburgers, cotton candy, popcorn, and Christian music at no cost. “We want to give families with kids and opportunity to come and have fun and take a break from the rebuilding,” said Daniel. The church expects 500 to be in attendance.
The Deerpoint Lake Baptist Church family will have a morning Easter service outside followed by a fellowship breakfast and an Easter egg hunt which is all open to the community. Pastor Mike Vosbrink admits that it will not be a service like it was in the past but that he is expecting good things. “[The storm] has forced us to go outside our church and into the community which is what we needed to do anyway.
Boyd Evans, pastor of First Baptist Church of Port St. Joe, will be beginning his message series themed Rise, on Easter. “We deal with hurricanes of all kinds like job loss, sickness, family problems, marital problems, parenting problems but God can raise you up when life drags you down,” he said.
The recovery process “has been painstakingly slow; there is still so much to be done. Blue tarps continue to be in abundance in our area, so that tells you that repair work hasn’t been done yet.” Many are still discovering damage to their properties, the church has lost members because they lost their homes and had to move away, and rebuilding is at a standstill because there are not enough workers to do the work. “We are doing grief ministry on steroids.”
“It’s going to be a two to three year rebuild process and we won’t go back to normal, the normal that we knew is gone but we want to help people change in a way that honors God, help them come out on the other side of this stronger and better.”