Hurricane-weary pastors buoyed by Fla. conv., NAMB

By Tobin Perry

(PANAMA CITY, Fla.)—When Hurricane Michael barreled through the Florida Gulf Coast last October, it transformed the ministry of First Baptist Church in Port St. Joe. No longer could the church focus on only typical everyday ministry activities.

More than 200 pastors, church staff and ministry spouses in the Florida Panhandle attended a pastor appreciation event sponsored by the Florida Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board for those impacted by Hurricane Michael last October. Called “Night of Sharper,” the Florida convention has been hosting a series of Sharper Ministry Conference events across the state, focused on helping pastors sharpen their ministry skills. After church leaders shared a meal together, worship leader Charles Billingsley led worship and speaker Charles Lowery shared words of humor and encouragement. NAMB Photo.

After Michael, half of the church’s families had lost their homes. Many had to move outside the area to find work and housing. The church’s own building was battered so intensely that it was no longer usable. Marriages were stressed. Long-held family heirlooms were lost forever.

Those issues weighed heavily on Boyd Evans, senior pastor of FBC Port St. Joe, whose own house will either be torn down or gutted to the studs before his family will be able to rebuild and move back in.

“You want to fix all the problems, but you just can’t,” Evans said. “If you’re an empathetic pastor, you feel it. I was just angry for about four and a half months.”

Hitting the Florida Panhandle particularly hard, Hurricane Michael became the strongest storm in terms of sustained wind speed to strike the contiguous United States since Hurricane Andrew hit the East Coast in 1992. Within the first three months following the hurricane’s October onslaught, insured losses had passed $4 billion. The Florida Forestry Service says it will take 2.5 million truckloads to remove debris left behind by the storm.

While it’s often easier to tabulate the impact of hurricanes like Michael on the local economy, they also take a toll on local communities of faith and their leaders.

That’s why the North American Mission Board and the Florida Baptist Convention worked together to encourage and strengthen pastors through a dinner event at Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City.

Steven Kyle (left), pastor of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., and Tommy Green, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, greet pastors and church staff at a pastor appreciation dinner hosted with the North American Mission Board to encourage the ministry leaders and their spouses who were impacted by Hurricane Michael when it hit the Florida Panhandle in October 2018. NAMB Photo.

“You’ve inspired us with your faithfulness,” Tommy Green, executive director of the Florida convention, told the church leaders in attendance.

“Your homes have been damaged. Your churches have been through incredible things to just get back and find out what the new normal is. But so many of you have said this almost verbatim to what I’m about to say. … As you’ve looked at your buildings, you’ve said, “That’s not the church. We’re the church.” God is using you to do something special across this Panhandle. You’re inspiring our entire state,” Green said.

The event was called “Night of Sharper.” The Florida convention has been hosting a series of Sharper Ministry Conference events across the state, focused on helping pastors sharpen their ministry skills. After church leaders shared a meal together, worship leader Charles Billingsley led worship and speaker Charles Lowery shared words of humor of encouragement. Every minister who participated in the event also received a bag full of special gifts from NAMB. More than 200 attended the March 14 event.

“Everybody needs to be loved,” Johnny Hunt, NAMB’s senior vice president of evangelism and leadership, told the Florida Panhandle pastors. “Everybody needs to be prayed for. Everybody needs someone to invest in them. Anyone that ever amounts to anything will be because of the people who poured into them.

“So, we’re here just to say we love you. We want to encourage you,” Hunt said. “We want you to be enthusiastic about whatever God has you doing.”

Johnny Hunt, vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board, brings words of encouragement at a pastor appreciation dinner sponsored by NAMB and the Florida Baptist Convention. More than 200 attended the March 14 event at Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City. NAMB Photo.

Earlier in the month, NAMB invited pastors impacted by Hurricane Michael to a special Timothy+Barnabas Retreat. Hunt started Timothy+Barnabas events 25 years ago to encourage and train pastors worldwide. It’s now a NAMB ministry under Hunt’s leadership.

Evans credits these two events for pastors as key turning points in helping him and FBC Port St. Joe refocus on the task before them.

“In the face of discouragement, this was very encouraging,” Boyd said. “Just being there and for NAMB to say, “Come on at our expense,” was huge. It really gave my wife a great night out. She really enjoyed it.”

Evans said his experience at the Timothy+Barnabas retreat and the Night of Sharper were the most recent examples of Southern Baptists supporting his ministry in Hurricane Michael’s aftermath. He also noted the support of Green and the rest of the state convention staff, along with the ministry of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

“We have definitely not been in this by ourselves,” Boyd said. “It has been very encouraging. The larger body of Christ has been there with us. That has been huge.”

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.
MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,

Published April 1, 2019