Hurricane Ian Shakes Faith in Southwest Florida, But Can’t Destroy It

Fort Myers, Florida – In the darkness and despair, even Jane Compton, who lost her home and her fortune, had a glimmer of light and hope Hurricane Ian’s WrathWhen the storm approached last week, she and her husband found sanctuary at a Baptist church and cuddled up with fellow parishioners through the wind, rain and worries.

They prayed that the gust would subside and that God would protect them from harm. The hurricane made landfall last WednesdayA flood swept under the pews and drove the congregation to the pulpit, further testing their faith. A raging storm tore off the church steeple, leaving a large gap in the roof. The parishioners shuddered.

“God save us,” Compton prayed with her husband, Dell.

she compared deluge In the Bible story Noah’s Ark they said they didn’t know when the waters would stop rising.

the storm has passed, Its devastation is manythe church in hard-hit southwest Florida provides a steadying force in the lives of those plunged into turmoil and grief. , uncertainty swirls in the sanctuary.

The Comptons’ pastor of Southwest Baptist Church, a congregation of several hundred in one of Fort Myers’ most devastated areas, said Pastor Robert Kasten.

Many of the nearly 250,000 Catholics in the Parish of Venice, which spans 10 counties from just south of Tampa Bay to the hurricane-borne Everglades, are also being tested. Bishop Frank Dewane has visited as many of his 50 parishes and his 15 schools in the diocese as possible.

“A lot of people just wanted to talk about ‘why are they suffering so much,'” Dewane said of parishioners he met as he celebrated Mass over the weekend at a flooded Northport neighborhood church and a stormy parish hall. Told about – Sarasota church damaged. we have to go on. We are people of hope. ”

Priests had a fine line between holding masses to provide comfort and not endanger elderly parishioners. Widespread shortages of running water and electricity and flooded roadsOne rescued man kept asking about his wife, unaware that she had drowned in the storm, Dewane said.

Around Kasten’s church, a nearby mobile home park where many of his parishioners lived was flooded. About a quarter of his congregation suffered extensive damage to their homes, and many like Compton lost almost everything. The church sanctuary has become a temporary quarters for nearly a dozen newly homeless people.

Most people handled things fine until the reality of tragedy struck.

“They burst into tears when they saw the picture,” Kasten said.

“The mere shock of knowing and seeing what they knew had happened overwhelmed them. I am just appreciating what you have done for me,” he said.

Retired Barbara Wasco, sleeping in a lounge chair at Sanctuary, believes the community will be rebuilt.

“I’ll make it through,” she said.

Hurricane Ian’s fury—150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) winds and deluges—dead dozens and left millions stranded. For many communities, it was the worst calamity in generations.

Rhonda Mitchell, who lives near a Baptist church, said all she had left was faith in God.

“We don’t know what he’s going to do,” she said.

“I lost all my life,” she said, and began to sob. “I’m still here, but I’ve lost everything I own. …I’m just trying to figure things out.”

Reconstruction work is already underway at the badly damaged Catholic churches and schools. But Dewane said his priority is to “meet people where they are” and help the Catholic community support the overall relief effort.

It can range from finding shelter for teachers whose homes have collapsed to helping elderly neighbors consult, even though many schools are reopening this week. The Diocese works with Catholic charities to set up distribution centers for donations and supplies provided by FEMA.

But many successful initiatives are grassroots. When a small group of nuns in the inland town of Wauchula lose power, they decide to empty their freezers of meat and other perishables and invite the whole neighborhood to a barbecue. A fire blazed, and hundreds of people lined up and began adding what was in their own fast-warming refrigerators.

“We are doing the best we can. I think we can only be instruments of the Lord.”

Reverend Charles Cannon, pastor of St. Hillarys Episcopal Church, preached on the temporary loss of community. Much has been lost, he said, but not all is gone.

“People think they’ve lost everything, but if they haven’t lost themselves and loved ones, they haven’t lost everything,” Cannon says, outside among the fallen branches of a once-majestic oak tree. said after a Sunday service at

Cannon pointed out that the debris that left the church grounds looking like an ugly and eerie place could be cleaned up.

“Most of the job was to make people feel safe again,” he said. None have water. We are working hard to make them feel comfortable again. ”

Down the street, about 50 parishioners from the Assembly of God Bethlehem Ministry gathered to share their struggles. They detailed how they had no electricity, no drinking water, and in many cases their homes were left in disrepair.

“But God kept them safe,” said Victoria Araujo, a parishioner and occasional Sunday school teacher.

“Some people have lost more. We need to pray for those who have lost more than we have,” said Pastor Ayrton da Silva, whose congregation is mostly Brazilian immigrant families. rice field.

The storm has truly tested the resilience of his community, he said, adding, “I think people will think about faith, family and God.”

Five years ago, Hurricane Irma hit the area and caused extensive damage to the church. Repairs were still underway when Ian was hit. This time the church fared much better.

After all, “it’s just a building,” said da Silva. “The church is us.”


Dell’Orto reports from Minneapolis.


AP’s religious coverage is supported through a partnership between AP and The Conversation US with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.


For more AP coverage on Hurricane Ian, see: apnews.com/hub/hurricanes

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/10/04/hurricane-ian-shakes-sw-floridas-faith-but-cant-destroy-it/ Hurricane Ian Shakes Faith in Southwest Florida, But Can’t Destroy It

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