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Hurricane center’s Max Mayfield guided by faith in Christ

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–As Floridians hunker down in front of television sets for the latest hurricane news, they are hoping reports will not bring word of storms bearing down on their homes and worldly possessions. Yet even in the midst of their turmoil, a single, calm voice will guide them through what may be the most cataclysmic event of their lifetime.

That voice, belonging to Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, is one of vigilance and reassurance. As an advisor to national media and governmental agencies, Mayfield’s words often are a matter of life and death.

“You can’t overly alarm people,” the 56-year-old meteorologist said. “But our message is very consistent. We want every individual, every family and every business to have a hurricane plan before the storm. People who had a plan did better than people who did not [in previous years].”

As the voice in the midst of the life-threatening storms, Mayfield himself relies on his Christian faith. He quickly recalls a verse he claims as his own: 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, “Rejoice in everything, pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

“Prayer is a big part of my life,” he said, noting that his prayer is not to change God’s will but to ask Him to limit loss of life and property damage.

Mayfield’s composure during a stress-generating hurricane, he said, can be attributed to his belief in the promise of the peace of God found in Philippians 4:6-7, which he easily recites from memory.

A lifelong Southern Baptist, Mayfield was raised by Christian parents in Oklahoma City. He, his wife and three children are members of Miami’s Riverside Baptist Church, where he is a deacon and has taught Sunday School and led Royal Ambassadors before assuming his demanding job as the hurricane center director.

His Christian faith is “part of who I am,” he said, adding his own personal mission statement is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whatsoever you do, do to the glory of God.”

“Whatever role I assume — husband, father or R.A. leader — whatever I do, I try to do it to the glory of God.”

“He lives out his faith,” his pastor, Raymond Johnson, said, “He is a kind, gentle, soft-spoken and very bright man who is totally committed in his walk with Jesus Christ, in the church and out of the church. What you see on television is who he is in life.”

Because of his commitment to his job, Mayfield often is away from church during hurricane season, Johnson said, adding that this past August and September, the meteorologist did not have a day off from work. “Max sees what he does at the hurricane center as a ministry, a way of saving lives and practicing his faith in his job.”

Mayfield began his forecasting career with the Air Force in 1970 after graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in mathematics. In 1972, he joined the National Weather Service as a satellite meteorologist. He earned his master’s degree in meteorology at Florida State University in 1987 and then became a hurricane specialist.

When he was named director of the National Hurricane Center in 2000, he followed in the footsteps of two other Southern Baptist laymen, Bob Sheets and Jerry Jarrell. The director before Sheets, Neal Frank, also was an outspoken Christian as well, Mayfield noted.

In conversation, Mayfield is quick to bring the focus of hurricane tracking beyond “the statistics. We lost over 100 people, others are suffering and their homes and businesses are damaged.”

The forecaster knows that heartache personally. The eye wall of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 passed over homes of half of the National Hurricane Center staff, causing much destruction. It took months to repair and restore Mayfield’s own home.

Recovery is slow, he admitted, and requires patience, especially last year when four hurricanes hit the state in six weeks’ time. But he believes, “We will get through this; and Florida will come back stronger than ever.”

As he has traveled to communities hit hard by last year’s hurricanes, Mayfield heard “people bragging about the Southern Baptists and other faith-based feeding programs. It’s a great testimony for Baptists and the Cooperative Program,” he said. After Hurricane Andrew, the family of then-National Hurricane Center Deputy Director Jerry Jarrell received their first hot meal after the storm in a Southern Baptist feeding site stationed at his church.

The forecaster believes the 2004 hurricane season was an anomaly, noting that four hurricanes had not hit one state since 1886 on the Texas coast. But he concludes the warming of the sea surface in the Atlantic likely will cause more hurricanes. “That’s not so good news. Florida sticks out like a sore thumb.”

Yet once again, he looks to Scripture for comfort.

“The Bible promises us we will have trouble in life,” he said. “We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. Hope and faith will get us through. I always tell people to pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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