ARCADIA, Fla. (BP) – Cliff Knight said he knew God had arranged the visit before he even got to the house.
It was his first day as an Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief chaplain, and he was riding around Arcadia with Rich Power, an assessor visiting homeowners who had requested help in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
“We were making our second visit, and he informed me this next visit may be a tough one,” said Knight, who also serves as associate pastor and minister to families at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala. “Not only was the lady’s home damaged, but she also had lost her adult son six months before.”
Knight didn’t say anything in response, but he knew immediately why he was there. He had lost his 26-year-old son five years before.
“We arrived at the home, and it immediately became clear that her greatest hurt was from the loss of her son more than the damage on her home,” he said. “We listened to her tell her story and share about the son she loved and lost.”
‘God is good’
Then Knight shared his story and told her he could understand her grief.
“I shared how God had faithfully walked us through our sorrow and I knew He would do the same for her,” he said. “We cried together, confessed our mutual hope in the Gospel and then I prayed for her, and we gave God the glory and said, ‘God is good.’”
The next day, Knight and his teammate knocked on the door of another home where the resident had experienced great loss – her husband, son and granddaughter had all died in the past year.
“She too was broken, and obviously we were there for that and not just her home needs alone,” Knight said. “I began to share with her about losing my son and began to comfort her, and she stopped me. She said, ‘Wait a minute, are you the same man that talked to my sister yesterday? She called me last night and told me how much your visit meant to her.’”
‘Only a sovereign God’
Knight said he and his teammate were amazed that God had put those two work requests in their packet of 10 to assess.
“There were more than 800 requests, and God put two sisters who did not live close to each other or have the same last name in our packet so their hurt was matched up with my life story and ministry,” he said. “Only a sovereign and all-knowing God can do and will do that.”
Dan Wiggins, state chaplain coordinator for Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief, said since ABDR volunteers began responding to those affected by Hurricane Ian in Arcadia, eight to 10 chaplains per week have been serving there alongside assessors and work crews.
He said there have been more chaplains who are new like Knight serving in Florida than there have been on other recent deployments.
“Several experienced chaplains have also been there, and they’ve been able to mentor these new chaplains,” Wiggins said.
He said he’s also been able to send two volunteers to Arcadia who met a specific request for Spanish-speaking chaplains.
“That was kind of a God thing because I was praying about it and hoping God would provide someone who could minister to our Hispanic friends, and He answered,” Wiggins said.
Since ABDR work started in Arcadia several weeks ago, 29 people have professed faith in Christ.
Roy Pickering, a chaplain with the Montgomery Baptist Association chainsaw team, said he continues to pray that one particular conversation he had in Arcadia would result in new faith in Jesus too.
When he arrived at the first home of the day with his team, he learned that the homeowner was Hindu, his wife was Muslim and their son was raised in a Catholic school. He spent two hours talking with the wife while the crew worked on their house.
“We discussed religions, beliefs, heritage and the vital need to look each other in the eye and actually listen and understand,” Pickering said. “As the roof work was completing, I became bolder in my speech. I knew that in two hours’ time, I could not untangle a lifetime of merging three major world religions. But I knew Who could.”
He asked her if she had a Bible, and she said she didn’t. He promised to get her one, and she said, “If YOU give me one, I shall read it.”
They had built a friendship in that time, and God used that to soften her heart, Pickering said.
And right then, without prompting, a teammate walked up and handed him a New Testament. Pickering asked the woman if she had seen what God provided for her without him asking.
“She understood and began to cry,” he said. “I gave her the Bible, bookmarking the Gospel of John with a plan of salvation tract. As we left, she waved her thanks, holding the book tightly across her chest.”
Pickering said he knew in that moment that God had ordained his being there that day on his first-ever disaster relief callout.
Wiggins said he’s heard several stories from Arcadia that, like this one and Knight’s, feel like divine appointments.
“No question about it, they were the ones who were supposed to be there at the time,” he said. “God arranged that, and I’m so thankful.”