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Hurricane’s trauma, Baptist ministry recounted by victim of ‘92

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Hurricane victims in the Florida Keys will get a Christmas gift this year that says, “We care” and “We understand,” thanks to author Dena Cobb and members of Gold Coast Baptist Church, West Palm Beach, Fla., who are about halfway toward their goal of raising the money to send 500 copies of Dena’s new book, “Angels Came Running,” to be distributed by churches in the Keys.
Dena and her husband, pastor David Cobb, truly do understand the hurricane victims’ fears and frustrations. In August 1992, they waited out Hurricane Andrew in a Red Cross shelter in Sebring, then returned to Homestead in south Dade County to find their house in ruins. They had spent a year restoring the house, finishing the work only a month before the storm.
“A pungent, foul odor hung heavy in the air,” Dena recalls in her book. “Pink water from spoiled meat was running from the freezer, blending in with the rain and mud-caked floor.”
The Cobbs’ church, First Baptist of Florida City, fared no better. The roof above the pastor’s study had collapsed. His library of books and commentaries was destroyed. File cabinets containing his carefully cataloged sermons had been overturned — “30 years of work swept away and scattered by the wind, gone forever,” Dena recalled.
The church’s Christian school, where Dena was principal, was damaged beyond repair, and there would be no funds to rebuild it.
Dena remembers the anxiety she felt as the couple sat in the darkness in what was left of their house: “You have no electricity, no water, no telephone, no help; the house is wide open with no way to secure it. You live in Dade County where crime and violence statistics are among the highest in the nation; you cannot call the police, fire department or 911; zoo animals and lab animals are loose; snakes could crawl in the house … .”
Yet she was reminded of God’s promises: Psalm 23, Isaiah 54:17 and Psalm 91:11-12 — “He will give His angels charge over thee … .”
In the midst of their own losses, the Cobbs also bore the responsibility of ministering to other victims in their church and community. All areas of the church that were still livable were opened as a shelter.
“There were times that I felt overwhelmed, there were times I felt overloaded, there were times I felt sorry for myself, there were times I felt that somebody should be doing something for me,” Dena acknowledged in an interview. But those feelings were short-lived, as she could always find someone in far greater need.
Dena realized early on that history was being made, and that she would someday want to write about the hurricane — the worst natural disaster ever to strike the United States, killing 38 people, leaving 175,000 people homeless and destroying more than $20 billion worth of property.
“I started taking notes, even in the shelter,” she said. During the 40 days the area was without electricity, “I would write at night by candle.
“I wanted people to understand that life can change in the matter of an hour — instantly,” she said. And she wanted them to understand that “if you find yourself in darkness, you’ve got to know the Light of the World.”
Angels Came Running is Cobb’s self-published chronicle of God’s grace in the midst of chaos. Readers are introduced to “Mrs. Thelma,” a gracious, sophisticated 77-year-old woman who took shelter in the Florida City church. She hadn’t attended a church service in more than 71 years.
“Not until she saw Christians in action, loving and taking care of one another, did it register with her what Christianity was all about,” Dena recounted. But the Sunday after the storm, with tears in her eyes, she moved out of her rain-soaked pew and walked to the front of the church to tell pastor Cobb she was accepting Jesus as her Savior.
Angels Came Running also recounts the many efforts of Baptists and others who acted as God’s servants and messengers to bring assistance and encouragement to the hurricane victims.
Christians involved in the recovery effort “didn’t get a lot of press during the time,” Dena observed, but “they’re the people who made the difference.”
Southern Baptists, with a well-organized disaster response ministry already in place, had a major impact, Dena said.
She noted the Florida Baptist Convention, in addition to taking care of many pastors’ needs, provided cash gifts to help families impacted by the hurricane — not just Baptist families, but anyone in need.
David Cobb agreed Baptists played a vital role, adding, “I am more committed to the Cooperative Program than I’ve ever been, because I saw it at its best.”
One of the most important ministries offered by disaster relief volunteers was their willingness to listen to people, Dena said. She explained that unlike a fire or other calamity that affects one family, where a whole community can rally around them, with Hurricane Andrew, “Everybody that was a victim … had a story to tell. Everybody had the same story and there was no one to tell it to.
“Our ministry has been entirely different since the storm,” Dena added. After “we really got to see hurt at its worst,” she said, “we came out more compassionate, more sensitive and far more understanding.”
Dena said one of the greatest compliments she has received since writing Angels Came Running is that people have told her they “felt like the book took them there.”
Even David, who served as his wife’s proofreader while the book was in progress, said he sometimes would read passages and have to shed tears because “it comes back to life so vividly.”
Another comment about the book — which Dena also considers a compliment — is that one prospective publisher turned down the manuscript, saying it had “too much Jesus stuff.”
After all, that was what she intended.
“I don’t want to be rich and famous,” she said. “I just want to be a witness.”

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  • Shari Schubert