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Hit 3 times by hurricanes, Fla. church keeps plans for ’40 Days’

SEBRING, Fla. (BP)–Smacked by three hurricanes within a six-week period, Sebring, Fla., known as “The City on the Circle,” is still reeling from damaged roofs and structures, uprooted and broken trees and high waters brought on by Charley, Frances and Jeanne.

First Baptist Church in Sebring is no exception.

The doors were open wide to let in the afternoon breeze Oct. 2. A huge dumpster full of soggy carpet steamed in its parking lot, and an upstairs hallway in the education building was still sticky where the carpet, installed just a few months ago, had been pulled back to expose cement flooring.

Six classrooms in the preschool building were stripped and emptied in preparation for that wing’s restoration. The rain junked about five pianos in various Sunday School rooms and ruined a renovation completed about two months ago.

On the roof there were no tarps covering the damage. They had already been used up to cover damaged homes.

Elsewhere in the four-building complex, signs designated where folks would meet for Bible Study Oct. 3. The only damage to the sanctuary was a small hole blown into a thick pane of glass covering a multi-paned window.

The church’s associate pastor for education, Bill Cole, said the congregation had to cancel worship services for three Sundays in the past six weeks to keep safe in anticipation of the storms’ powerful winds and rain.

“I was sick. I was just absolutely sick,” Cole said, recalling his first reaction at the extensive damage caused by the trio of hurricanes.

Not all news was bad news, however. Cole told Florida Baptist Witness he was in bed at home after surveying the damage to the church by Hurricane Jeanne when he remembered he had not checked on a shipment of “40 Days of Purpose” books worth $10,000 that were placed in the church’s sanctuary for a planned fall campaign.

“I couldn’t believe … that only about a dozen books were ruined,” he recalled. “We will still have our emphasis.”

Both Cole and the congregation’s youth pastor, Scott Sjoblom, credited volunteers from the church, including the youth, with cleaning up much of the mess left by the hurricanes.

“The youth did a large amount of the work in the two days of no school,” Cole said. “They cleared the parking lot and took down ceiling tiles. They did a great job, a superb job.”

Afterwards, Sjoblom said the youth traveled to the Methodist church, where no one appeared to be helping, to clean up that yard.

After Hurricane Charley hit in August, the youth headed out to First Baptist Wauchula to drop off food, household goods, baby supplies and other necessities to the needy community. Several women in the church cooked about 200 meals a days for relief workers.

“They saw a need,” Cole said. “We are blessed with a good group of kids.” The local middle school principal has agreed to allow the youth group of about 150 to meet weekly in the school across the street from the church until their facility is repaired.

Cole decided that the church’s 3-2-1 monthly outreach would resume Oct. 5 despite a lack of available space.

“There are a lot of contacts in a short period of time” with the program, Cole said. “It’s a good time to meet.”
With reporting by John J. Hannigan III.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan