Photo: Reuters
Photo by Reuters

Hurricane Irma has developed into one of the strongest storms ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean. Making landfall in the Caribbean on Wed., Sept. 6, it has already destroyed buildings, taken lives, and forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. As the storm continues its progress, the Christian Reformed Church in North America is calling on its congregations and members to pray for all who are affected.

“‘God is our refuge and strength.’ The psalmist reminds us that though the earth’s ‘waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging,’ still God will be our ‘ever-present help in trouble,’” said Steven Timmermans, executive director of the CRCNA, quoting from Psalm 46. “We place our trust in God even as our hearts and hands reach out to all those affected by this storm.”

The Christian Reformed denomination has many churches and ministries in the path of the hurricane. In Puerto Rico and Cuba, the CRCNA has partner churches and volunteers who assist with Back to God Ministries International (BTGMI) programs. In the Dominican Republic, Resonate Global Mission has two missionary families — Stephan and Sandra Brauning, and Mario and Yolanda Matos. They also work with staff and partners at the Center for Transforming Mission.

And in Haiti, BTGMI, Resonate Global Mission, and World Renew work together under the auspices of Sous Espwa. Their staff include Troy Sanon (World Renew), Jacky Chery (BTGMI), and Cody and Jessica Zuiderveen (Resonate). Each of these staff members works with a variety of local churches, partners, staff, and volunteers.

At this point, all CRCNA personnel and partners are reported safe and are gearing up for Irma’s impact.

“Thankfully, there is not a lot to update you on from Port-au-Prince [Haiti] so far. We are closing our office in anticipation of heavy rain, but according to the forecast, we shouldn't have much more than that in the capital. We have been trimming back trees around our homes and offices, filling up all of the vehicles and generators with gas, and storing additional food and water in our homes,” Cody Zuiderveen reported on Thursday.

He added, “The most vulnerable here in Haiti are those who live up in the mountains [affected by high winds], those in the north, and those in the communities along the coast who will likely experience significant flooding from the rain.”

One area most likely to be affected is Cap-Haïtien in the northern part of the country, where BTGMI has three radio partners and thousands of listeners.

“One of those is the longest-standing radio partner we have in Haiti (4VEH). Irma can also hit Port-de-Paix, a coastal village where we have two radio partners and more than 12 churches enrolled in a Bible course. We are praying for them, as we know their situation is precarious,” Jacky Chery reported.

Within the United States, the CRCNA also has several Florida churches and ministry contacts in the advisory zone that is expected to be hit by Hurricane Irma this weekend:

  • Sonlight Community Church (Port St. Lucie)
  • Sunlight Community Church (Lake Worth)
  • New Hope Community Church (Fort Lauderdale)
  • The Source Church (Pembroke Pines)
  • Iglesia Cristiana Reformada Vida Nueva CRC (Miami)
  • Iglesia El Buen Samaritano CRC (Miami)
  • Iglesia Buenas Nuevas CRC (Miami)
  • South Kendall Community CRC (Miami)

Luis Pellecer, Resonate Global Mission’s Mexico and Caribbean regional mission leader, is based in Miami. On behalf of these local congregations, he reports, “Some people have voluntarily evacuated their homes already and are driving out of the state. For others, evacuation has been mandatory.”

Churches are taking necessary precautions, installing storm shutters on windows and doors, canceling Sunday worship services, and encouraging members to evacuate as necessary.

World Renew is monitoring the situation in Florida and the Caribbean and is preparing to respond as necessary.

“Our heart breaks for the people already affected by Irma, and we pray and prepare for the needs of families who will face this storm head-on in the coming days,” 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."

You can support this effort financially in the U.S. and Canada. In the meantime, the CRCNA is also urging all churches and members to pray for everyone affected by the storm.

“This weekend, as we prepare our hearts and minds for worship, let us also remember those who are preparing for Irma and its aftermath,” said Timmermans. “Please join me in praying that lives will be spared, that damage will be minimal, and that even in the face of this terrible storm God’s light and love will be made evident.”