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Area churches help flocks keep the faith

September 27, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The blue tarp on the roof of one of the classrooms and the damaged siding on the sanctuary told the story at North Fort Myers First Baptist Church on Evergreen Road. They took a huge hit when Hurricane Irma struck.

Inside wasn't much better. The sanctuary flooded and the carpeting had water trapped inside. They vacuumed out as much water as they could, but the moldy smell inside made it impractical to hold a service there.

So, they held their service in the Fellowship Hall, and they were thankful, thankful to be together, that they had a place to go for worship and that they would be able to return to their sanctuary soon.

Article Photos

Gavin Croft, pastor at First Baptist, gives a sermon in the Fellowship Hall at North Fort Myers First Baptist Church on Evergreen Road on Sunday. The sanctuary suffered flooding damage inside which may result in them having to replace the carpeting.


That was the feeling throughout the area as churches reopened last weekend to help provide a sense of normalcy, even if in some ways it won't be possible for a long time.

Gavin Croft, pastor at First Baptist, was thankful the damage wasn't worse.

"We were spared a lot of damage. There's going to be some roof repair, and some carpet decisions will have to be made, but we were spared, all things considered," Croft said, adding that he considered using the church as a shelter until the mandatory evacuations were ordered.

Once the storm passed, Croft held a midweek service where parishioners came to the church to hug and pray for everyone and make sure everyone was okay.

"We had good discussions on those who have been hammered in the Caribbean. We're no better off than they are. It's not the God loves us any more or less," Croft said. "It's simply God's grace on Southwest Florida at this point. He's in control."

At the North Shore Alliance Church on West Mariana Avenue, they did use the church as an overflow shelter. More than 80 people came in with their animals.

"We felt like the arc, but we did good. The building held up and God protected us for sure," said Pastor Tim Richter. "We provided meals and supplies for them and even held a service for a captive audience."

Richter said God has opened the eyes of a lot of people to see his purpose. One of which being to bring people together in a time when we've become so fragmented.

"Many of us gave a testimony of getting to know their neighbor who we didn't know very well. I spent more time with him at the shelter than in five years as a neighbor," Richter said. "It makes you think about what's most important."

At the Church of the Nazarene on Bayshore Road, Pastor Van Garner said his church didn't have the resources to cover their windows, yet did not see any damage. His residence, however, will need to be reshingled near the garage.

Garner said the Sunday after the storm, they held a praise service as a way of thanks for God sparing them during Irma.

"So many people live in trailers and prefab housing, and they had minor damage and they were praising the Lord," Garner said. "Those of us who rode out the storm were blessed, it increased our faith, and showed us that prayer works, God was in control, and once the storm hit land, it started dissipating."

At the Faith Assembly Church down the road, Pastor Phil Goss experienced little damage, so they went out and helped others by collecting water, food and other goods and fed the neighborhood, as well as people at Suncoast, Immokalee and other stricken areas.

"Everybody is grateful to God it wasn't worse and it was a great time to check on each other. People came out of it stronger in their faith," Goss said. "We live in a great community and its great watching people care for each other."



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