Being the Church – Hurricane Help

img_2381You never know exactly what you’ll get when a hurricane comes to town – how much wind or water. You never know what you will lose either, the very least of which are power and plans.

Access Church’s plan was to launch services at the new Baymeadows location that weekend, but when predictions of Matthew came into play, the plan changed. The doors to the Baymeadows building were closed that Sunday, but Access Church was open for business.

Mandy and Ryan Howard decided to wait out the storm at a friend’s house. When Matthew came through Friday, the Howards’ neighbor called to tell them a tree had fallen on their house. Waiting for the storm to clear before returning home made for an anxious night. “Once we got to the house on Saturday morning, it was shocking to see a tree that big laying on top of our home,” Mandy said. “The tree had gone through the roof of garage, knocked down the overhang, broken holes in our deck, and knocked over our fence.”

That afternoon, Mandy received a text from Maggie Goodhart checking in on the Howard family. Mandy told Maggie about the tree. Ryan then called Troy Youse looking for a pole saw to start clearing some of the branches, and Troy packed up his family and headed over to the Howard house. Soon after, Mike Von Balson and James Joyner offered to help. “Within an hour or so of Maggie checking on us, people from Access were here, and the tree was being cleared away from the roof,” Mandy said. “We knew everyone had their own clean-up to do, so we felt extremely grateful that they were willing to take time out of their day to help us. It further strengthened our feelings that being a part of the Access family is something special.”

img_2380-2“Grateful” is a theme in the Gordons’ Hurricane Matthew story as well. Josh Gordon works for JEA and was working around the clock due to Matthew. He convinced his wife, Erin, to stay elsewhere during the storm with their two- and five-year-olds. During the hurricane, Erin received a call from her neighbor saying that it sounded like a machine gun was going off behind the Gordons’ house. From what the neighbor could see, there seemed to be about three trees on the house. The next morning Erin went to the house to find a giant mess. “I later found out a tornado had dropped behind the house and uprooted 13 trees between my house and the neighbor’s,” she said. “Water from Pottsburg Creek was up to the house, and there were trees everywhere!”

Over the next few hours, Erin got to work cleaning up what she could, and she called a tree surgeon.Thankfully, the company was able to come out quickly. “I thought I was doing great handling all this on my own, until the guy quoted me $7,000!” Erin said.

Erin felt sick, but was able to negotiate to have two trees removed to start. After the crew had worked for awhile, the owner asked Erin for his money. “He said the water was too high and that he would come back later and finish the job,” Erin said. “I naively paid the man.”

Erin later realized her mistake. When she finally got a hold of the tree surgeon, he denied saying he would come back. “I lost it then,” Erin said. “I had reached my limit of managing this situation. I cried and told God how I couldn’t handle it on my own anymore. I needed help!”

14642007_10154584011529500_7806297407865691655_nThe next morning Erin began receiving texts from Rich Barrett, who had seen the pictures she had posted on social media of the damage. “Rich asked if he could help, but I kept responding that I was fine and that it was too big a job for non-professionals,” Erin said. “I thought he had let it go, but he asked if he could just stop by and see it. Rich showed up, and the next thing I knew, a stranger named Troy was standing at my front door with a chainsaw. A few minutes later, 10 cars pulled up, and people just started working!”

Ten people worked for four hours at the Gorgons’ house and took away everything they could. Erin was shocked that strangers would help her. “I am not poor or widowed,” she said. “I didn’t feel that I deserved the help.”

Josh and Erin had been attending Access for 8 years. They had always loved the church, but after having kids, they struggled to balance home and work life while committing to a small group, so they had stopped trying to make friends at church. “I was blown away that these people would help us just because we were part of this church,” Erin said. “Most of them had never even met us.”

When the church is living out its mission, people take notice. Erin said, “My neighbors are telling everyone, ‘That’s how a church should be.'” The Church is, after all, people in relationship with Jesus and community with each other. When the storms come, when we feel overwhelmed, without power, when there is loss and mess and life feels closed down, the Church remains open. The plan remains the same as well: show up, rally around, help. Or, as Jesus said, “Love one another.”

“I want to express how thankful I am to Rich and the people who helped me that day,” Erin said. “You had no idea what it meant to me and my family. I was so discouraged and had no idea how I was going to handle it. Your generosity will never be forgotten.”