Photo: Sunlight Community Church
Sunlight Community Church members put up shutters to protect against Hurricane Irma in Port. St. Lucie, Fla.
Photo by Sunlight Community Church

Members of The Source Church, a CRC congregation outside Miami, Fla., were busy in the days before Hurricane Irma, which was still packing winds up to 130 m.p.h., when it struck their community.

Working as a team, they helped area residents fasten shutters on their homes to protect windows from the storm. They also made sure vulnerable people in their neighborhood had resources such as water to help get them through what they expected would be serious devastation.

Early on, forecasters were predicting the hurricane would make a direct hit on the Miami area, said Cindy Terpstra, administrator of the church that counts people from the Caribbean among its members.

“We’re grateful that we missed much of the damage and didn’t get the brunt of it, although we had strong winds and rain, and there are a lot of trees down,” she said.

Others across Florida weren’t so fortunate and are now cleaning up after the storm made its way through the Florida Keys, leveling mobile home parks and ripping apart businesses, and then swept up the western coast of the state, leaving billions of dollars of damage in its wake. As authorities are now surveying and cleaning up the damage, they say the death toll in Florida from Irma has risen to 22.

In Pembroke Pines, home to The Source Church, their challenge now is to help people remove shutters and especially to connect with members who may have had loved ones affected by Irma in the Caribbean, which, at category 5 strength, caused devastation on islands such as St. Martin and Barbuda and made a direct hit on Cuba, where it killed at least 11 people and damaged nearly every region of the island, including parts of Havana’s historic district.

“We don’t know for sure how our people were affected, but we will be talking to them. They have connections with Haiti and Antigua,” said Terpstra.

Meanwhile, said Terpstra, she is suggesting to church members that they donate to help support the relief efforts of World Renew, which will be responding to Irma as well as to Hurricane Harvey, which only two weeks ago led to more than 60 deaths and substantial flooding and property destruction in Texas and Louisiana.

“We know what a good job World Renew does and how it is committed to helping people who otherwise may not receive the help they need,” said Terpstra.

In Florida, World Renew Disaster Response Services is monitoring the situation, and regional managers are connected at the local, state, and federal levels.

Local churches are being contacted to identify families most severely affected. Plans are also underway to respond to needs in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, said Bob Laarman, director of DRS, who is working on assessments in Texas now.

In the Caribbean, the International Disaster Response team linking working with local organizations to determine how best to respond to the people in greatest need.

Jacky Chéry, national coordinator of Perspectives Reformées Haiti, a ministry of Back to God Ministries International, said Haiti escaped much of the wrath of Irma.

“By the grace of God we are all safe and sound. In Port-au-Prince, we just received some rains like normal rain,” he said.

In the northwest area (Port-de-Paix), however, Chéry indicated that Irma’s impact was more severe: “Our Bible course students and some church partners report the loss of livestock and gardens that have been destroyed in their community.”

In the past weeks, millions of people have waited anxiously, paying close attention to media reports as the hurricanes gathered steam and headed their way.

“Our heart breaks for the people affected by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey . . . and we pray and prepare for the needs of families who are beginning to rebuild,” says Kenneth Kim, World Renew’s director of Disaster Response and Rehabilitation.

“As we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ to this world, we look to the next few days and months as we prepare to help those most severely affected.”

In addition to responding to Hurricane Irma, World Renew is helping families in southern Asia, where flooding is affecting 40 million people.

Jason Van Horn, chair of the geography department at Calvin College, has been carefully following recent storms as they gathered force off the coast of Africa and then headed west, swirling and spinning on powerful paths of destruction.

“It is unprecedented, what we are seeing,” he said. “Irma was just enormous,” and it could have caused even more damage than it has, he said.

As Christians, he said, it is important to respond to people in need after storms such as these. At the same time, it is important to be asking questions about the effects that weather patterns may be having by warming the oceans and playing a role in churning up such storms.

“We need to be observant. After all, we are called to be stewards of God’s creation, to all that God has provided,” said Van Horn.

Members of Sunlight CRC in Port St. Lucie, on the eastern coast of Florida, were also busy in the days before Irma hit, helping area residents protect their homes.

In a message he sent to CRC Communications, Gary Tenpas of Sunlight Community CRC said he appreciated being part of the group from his congregation that went out to help neighbors.

“Led by Pastor [Scott] Vander Ploeg, we were able to help secure over 25 homes. It was a great time of fellowship and sharing,” he said.

Port St. Lucie also missed the full brunt of Irma, but being a community together and responding to the needs of the neighborhood before they really knew what was in store made a difference.

One church member posted on Facebook Tuesday: “We made it through this together! Our church family helped one another and those in need to get ready for the storm. This is how the family of God is meant to be! ‘Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth’ (1 John 3:18).”

Watch a short video posted by Sunlight Community Church on its Facebook page: