News Articles

Sullivan visits Ivan’s victims on less-traveled Panhandle roads

PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP)–John Sullivan had to decide where he was going to go to survey Hurricane Ivan’s impact on churches and homes Sept. 15-16. Would it be the metro Pensacola area hard hit by the category 3 hurricane, or the small towns to the north and east also suffering after Ivan?

With Ivan having leveled large portions of the Interstate 10 bridge over Escambia Bay, requiring all traffic to exit at DeFuniak Springs, Fla., the Florida Baptist Convention’s executive director-treasurer could follow the traffic jam west on U.S. 90 into Pensacola or venture onto the Florida Panhandle’s back roads just south of the Florida-Alabama border.

Sullivan chose the unconventional route to see some towns that “could easily have been the forgotten places.” The Florida Baptist Witness rode along on the trek.

And Florida Baptists in communities whose paths Sullivan crossed in Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties were grateful he took the time to look in on them in their time of need.

After spending the previous day touring Panama City and Jackson and Calhoun counties, Sullivan’s Sept. 18 journey took him to DeFuniak Springs, Liberty, Paxon, Laurel Hill, Blackman, Munson, Berrydale, Jay, Century, Bratt, Allentown, Milton and Pace visiting churches and talking to people wherever he encountered them.

Sullivan was astounded at the damage he witnessed in places where it seemed like tornadoes must have touched down, with trees on one side the road bent over or snapped apart and those on the other side of the road seemingly unaffected. He repeatedly took note of the lack of power, phone service and gasoline and other needs of the residents north of I-10.

At Berrydale Baptist Church, Sullivan was how the sanctuary had suffered major damage to the roof, resulting in significant interior water damage and a fallen ceiling and insulation. He also met Yvette Gandy, the pastor’s wife, and their daughter, Joy, at the site.

Impressed by Yvette’s optimism, Sullivan said she is a “very pleasant person to talk with. They’re going to see their way through the storm.”

Berrydale’s pastor, Robert Gandy, was visiting church members’ homes, using a generator to re-charge freezers that were starting to thaw after two days without power. Sullivan thought it was an interesting idea that he planned to look into further.

Yvette Gandy told Sullivan the family stayed in the church parsonage through the storm. “I was scared,” she recounted, noting that Ivan was her fourth hurricane — and “the worst.”

She noted that many church members’ homes were damaged, so there were few who can help clean up damage at the church, where plans had been afoot for a new sanctuary.

“Tomorrow, we’re going to put some chairs out back” for Sunday worship, she told Sullivan, noting that a cold front was forecast so it might not be so hot. Beyond that, Gandy thought they would convert some Sunday School space for worship services.
“I really appreciate you stopping by and checking on us,” she told Sullivan as they parted.

Bert Settle, chairman of the deacons at First Baptist Church in Jay, was stunned that Sullivan would come all the way across the state from Jacksonville to visit “little Jay, Fla.,” he told the Witness.

“It’s just real affirming of our faith that we are together and we’re family in the Lord,” Settle said with tears in his eyes and his voice breaking, adding, “And our people will know” about Sullivan’s visit.

“I never dreamed that y’all could make it up this way because you’ve been so bogged down in the south. Our prayers and concerns have been with all those people down there, too.”

Ironically, Sullivan had been scheduled to begin a week of revival services at First Baptist Jay beginning Sept. 19.

The church property sustained limited damage, although one of the four columns had been blown from the front of the building, and the steeple had been knocked from the roof and propelled 200 feet to the back of the property where it was lodged in a fence around the church playground.

“We fared well, considering what I see around us,” Settle said.

The 72-year-old deacon, who has been a member of the church since he was 29, said “never in my life” had he seen a storm like Ivan.

“I’m surprised at all this devastation that most of us have homes to live in. … God blessed us.”

Reflecting on Settle’s deep gratitude for his visit, Sullivan said, “I don’t know how to respond to that. I was a little taken aback. This is what you normally do when you minister to the needs of people — you go where they are to minister to whatever their needs are, whether you’re the executive director or editor or head of the department of disaster relief for the Florida Baptist Convention. …

“When you minister to the needs of people, you find where they are and you go meet them. That was the one thing that played into our decision about going across that north tier,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know why I felt when we came out of DeFuniak Springs that it was the right thing to do, but that proved to be a good decision.”
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness. Financial contributions to relief efforts may be sent to the Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave. Jacksonville, FL 32207. Checks should be made payable to the Florida Baptist Convention and noted for designation to hurricane relief. To make a donation using Visa, MasterCard or Discover, call 1-800-226-8584, ext. 3049; be ready to provide the following information: credit card number; expiration date; first and last name as it appears on the card; billing address including city, state and zip code; e-mail and phone number. To aid in relief efforts in Alabama after Hurricane Ivan, contributions for “Disaster Relief” can be sent to Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, P.O. Box 11870, Montgomery, AL 36111-0870. Contributions to offset costs of the disaster relief response also can be given to the North American Mission Board, online at www.namb.net/disasterrelief or mailed to the North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.

    About the Author

  • James A. Smith Sr.