When we used to live in Pittsburgh, we tried to visit our family in Florida every winter. Pittsburgh winters are marked by two colors: gray and brown. All of the vegetation is brown in winter. But when we got off the plane in Florida, there was green everywhere. Green trees and green bushes bursting with life in the middle of winter. It was like being magically transported to another world. Florida (and South Georgia) are green places. Some trees drop their leaves in winter, but live oaks, pines, camellias, citrus, all stay green year round. Most of our bushes stay green too. This Thursday I saw a Florida coastline with no remaining green, completely devastated by Hurricane Michael.
Yes, there were destroyed houses, businesses, cars, and churches. But what was most striking to me was the sheer devastation of the land. Most trees were snapped in half by the wind. Of those that still stood, they were stripped bare of all their leaves. There was no green anywhere, just brown. The land has been devastated by Hurricane Michael. It looks uninhabitable. In many ways, it is uninhabitable. There are very few homes that were not damaged by the storm. There is no running water or electricity. No gas to get around. No stores to buy food, clothing, or toiletries. No cell service to communicate. The land is devastated. Many are trapped with nowhere to turn.
But there is hope. There are clear signs of God’s restoration amid the rubble. Those of you who donated items, gave financially, or went with us to distribute supplies, were a clear sign of God’s restoration amid the rubble. For 6 hours, we distributed food, gas, toiletries, water, diapers, wipes, first aid kits, paper products, and other much needed supplies. The cars never stopped coming. I don’t know how many people we helped. Probably more than a thousand. Caravan after caravan came bringing more supplies, but by 3 pm most of the supplies were gone. Many people broke down in tears as we handed them the supplies they desperately needed. One man, speaking through tears, said, “I’ve never had to ask for anything. I’ve never had to be on the receiving end. This is so hard, but I am so grateful to all of you. Please tell everyone thank you. You are awesome.” Many more spoke God’s blessing over us as we served them.\
God is at work amid the rubble through our sister parish on the coast, Apostles-by-the-Sea in Rosemary Beach. Those of us who went will not easily forget what we saw and heard. The Scripture that kept coming to me on Thursday was Isaiah 61:3–4: “[They will] be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” This is the call of Apostles-by-the Sea. This is our call too. We will be returning to Parker, Florida (near Tyndall Air Force Base) to continue to serve alongside our sister parish in the weeks to come. Details will be communicated soon. Please pray about whether God is calling you to go, to give, or to help gather supplies.