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Despite losses, Fla. church has ‘taken care of each other’

INDIALANTIC, Fla. (BP)–Holding up a cell phone for students to give one of their own a big group hug, Bill Stanley told 15-year-old Seth Tweeddale Sept. 29 that the nearly two dozen teens assembled at First Baptist Church in Indialantic, Fla., were praying for him and his family.

For 14-year-old Maria Fadden, the group’s concern for one of her friends, after learning the roof of the boy’s home had been literally torn off by Hurricane Jeanne, made a big impact.

In fact, Fadden told the Florida Baptist Witness the Wednesday night gesture was the most significant thing she had witnessed since two strong hurricanes have recently swept through Indialantic, a tiny town on the Atlantic seashore just south of Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Stanley agreed that ministry is about relationships, especially at a time when teens’ lives have been tossed upside down.

“The storm going on in teens’ lives today are not easily tracked,” Stanley said. “In 2004 a teen’s life is one series of decisions, frustrations and challenges after another.”

A Florida native and a graduate of The Baptist College of Florida at Graceville, Stanley said he is no stranger to storms, but these two strikes, a one-two punch for the Space Coast, has renewed his passion for reaching students.

“God’s kind of juiced me up to see what it’s going to be like here,” Stanley said after ending an outdoor Bible study at the church. “I really want to see believers step up and the church be the church.”

Chris Jacobs, 13, said he has been impressed from the biblical teaching in Ecclesiastes which he says teaches that doing God’s will is what matters and everything else is “all vanity.”

“It’s nice to see how church members have pulled together to work on the church,” Jacobs said. “The body has taken care of each other.”

Around the outside of the church, where members met in groups to avoid the stifling air inside, words of encouragement and concern were tossed about as easily as were the bedraggled fronds of once-proud palm trees. A huge mailbox that replaced the one damaged by Hurricane Frances a few weeks ago, also didn’t survive. It had been pulled from its brick enclosure and flung to the ground.

Inside the church, determined members of the choir, clutching sheet music and clad in T-shirts and rubber-soled shoes, made their way to Wednesday night rehearsal.

Attendance was down about 50 percent, said Pastor Jim Johnson, as the hardy bunch strode past a plastic shrouded organ, through a carpet-less sanctuary and into the airless choir loft where they were intent on preparing for Sunday worship.

Johnson said the church has invited a music minister to visit Sunday in view of a call.

“There will be no air, no carpet and no acoustics,” Johnson said. “Now’s our chance to show the world we’re fine.”

Johnson stood animatedly with his 5-year-old son, A.J., just outside of the sanctuary on a darkened street-front where the sun had just faded from the sky. The 30-something pastor, whose own home sustained damage when roof tiles and shingles blew from an area around his 8 and 10-year-old daughters’ bedroom, said the hurricanes have provided an opportunity for believers to make an impact in an unprecedented way.

“In America, Christians have a tendency to think God is supposed to bless us,” Johnson said. “The true biblical teaching is that God reveals Himself to us in how we respond to adversity.”

Recalling Old Testament times when people became believers when they saw how God blessed Abraham and Issac, Johnson said that today few credit God for anything they own — much less the peace, contentment and joy that comes with knowing God.

“The whole point is that when the storm came again, and we got it way worse, God provided yet another opportunity,” Johnson said. “Now we have a chance to show those who don’t know God that we’re fine and that God’s the same.”

Careful not to downplay the terrible tragedy that has occurred with some losing their homes, Johnson said the problem with teachings that focus on evidence of faithfulness through material possessions is false Christianity and misses the point entirely.

“How can you say to someone who is faithful and who lost their house that God must have blessed their neighbor more because their house was spared?” asked Johnson rhetorically. “You can’t.”

Despite not knowing whether insurance will cover the losses the church has experienced, Johnson said his congregation is “pretty pumped” about continuing to reach out to a hurting community and to minister to its own members.

“If we ever needed to meet, now is the time,” Johnson said.

Earlier, while Johnson was leading the adult Bible study and prayer time, Bob Blackwood, a deacon at First Baptist, told the Florida Baptist Witness he knows people who didn’t come to church “are just tired.”

Blackwood recalled fondly a team of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers from North Carolina who showed up after Hurricane Frances but had to evacuate before Hurricane Ivan. In addition to helping to cover damaged roofs with tarps and clear away debris, he the North Carolina team and other workers set up a feeding station nearby at First Baptist Church in Melbourne.

“They did a tremendous job,” he said, lauding their example in reaching out to others outside of their own community. “Our first ministry goes to our body itself, but I think we need to go beyond that.”

The church presently supports mission activities in 15 parts of the world, Pastor Johnson said, in addition to contributing to the Cooperative Program and Florida’s Maguire State Mission Offering (which supports disaster relief). Although starting a disaster relief ministry team might seem appropriate given the seriousness of the times, he said making sure it’s God’s plan should be a priority.

“We are always in the process of seeking out what God has in mind,” Johnson said, commenting on how Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is organized and poised to help when disasters occur.

“The great thing about Southern Baptists is how they partnership to serve the Lord. I’ve often told people that, as a Christian, I could be a renegade or partner with Southern Baptists who share the same views.”

Likening Southern Baptists to red ants who alone can do little, but together can achieve a great “bite,” Johnson said he has a lot of respect for cooperative work.

“When Southern Baptists work together, they are extremely effective,” he said.

To volunteer, please contact the Florida Baptist Men’s Department at 800-226-8584, ext.3121. Financial contributions for relief efforts may be sent to the Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Avenue, Jacksonville, Fla, 32207. For credit card donations please call 800-226-8584, ext. 3049
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com

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  • Joni B. Hannigan