A month before Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered 6.5 million Floridians to flee their homes ahead of Hurricane Irma’s landfall, Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile tweeted:
“Pray like you believe in God
Pray like God is good.
Pray like God has all power …”
I did not realize the power of those words until I listened to my wife, sitting next to me with tears streaming down her face, cry out to God for our safety. Were were driving south on U.S. Route 27 out of Miami and away from the path of Irma. Initial reports had described Irma as a category five hurricane barreling toward the southeast coast of Florida, where my wife and I live.
Not wanting to risk anything, especially since we live near the beach east of US-1, and fearing the initial impact of a storm that had grown twice as wide as the state, we decided the best course of action would be to evacuate. We packed our little car with non-perishable foods, clothes and valuables, and drove north to Winter Haven—only to realize the next day that Irma had changed course with the eye of the storm now rushing toward the west coast of Florida.
Miami has a long history with storms. Hurricane Andrew tore through the city in 1992, leaving destruction in its wake and forcing residents to rebuild their homes. But here is the thing about Irma—it was more than twice the size of Andrew. It didn’t matter where you were in Florida, you would feel Irma’s effects.
Realizing that Irma was now coming to the place where we had evacuated to, my wife and I once again packed our belongings and headed home, back to Miami. But we were worried about the drive because of debris on the road. Thus, we left, and encountered relatively good weather for two hours until we entered Palm Beach County.
The skies darkened, the rain fell and the wind raged with speeds I feared would knock our car off course. As we continued our southward descent, our phones intermittently buzzed with alerts warning of tornadoes in the area and cautioning us to take shelter immediately. We saw no open establishments, only the occasional car pass by. My parents called periodically to reiterate the alerts. Our anxiety grew; if something happened to us, we would be like the tree that fell in the forest: no one would know.
In the midst of this anxiety about a literal storm, I was comforted by two things that reminded me of God’s grace.
First, my wife prayed with a boldness I had never heard before. Her open cries revealed a reliance on God’s presence with us during the storm, and her trust in His grace after it. In essence, she prayed as though “God had all power,” as though He alone could save us. She helped me put my trust in God when it felt like my own faith was failing, tested by the tornado warnings and anxious phone calls.
Second, when we finally found shelter in Broward County, my wife’s friend did not hesitate to welcome us into her family’s home. I did not particularly have a relationship with her friend, but her entire family treated us as if we were their own. They housed us, fed us and conversed with us for two days and two nights.
The experience was an unlikely reminder of the requirement for Christians to “let love be genuine,” with the sort of love that shows “brotherly affection” (Romans 12:9-10). I use the word “unlikely” because that family did not have any rational reason to bring us into their home. Resources were scarce. Gas stations and stores had run out of supplies. Their only obligation was to themselves. But that was not the path they chose.
God’s providence left me in awe. Yet, I recognize that there are those who did not experience the same blessings.
Irma caused at least 68 deaths in the Caribbean and the Southeast U.S., including Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Millions were left without power, or access to the Internet or telephones. Weeks after the storm, simple everyday necessities, including running water, were still needed. Thanks to churches and other faith-based organizations working alongside government agencies, some of those needs were being met.
Now is an opportunity for Christians to act, forsaking political infighting, and pursue the way of Jesus. Just as the family I did not know blessed my wife and I—which ultimately meant that God blessed us (James 1:17)—we must look for ways to bless others left picking up the pieces from a catastrophic storm.
One possible place to begin is with Charity Navigator’s list of some of the site’s highest-rated organizations that are actively assisting communities affected by Irma.