Story by Kathy Symborski
Photos by Dan Esber unless otherwise indicated
Carrying his child in his arms, keeping just above the rising coastal waters flooding his Ft. Myers beach home, John knew they were in peril. In desperation, he cried out to God to save him and his baby. Moments later, a kayak floated up to him—he placed his child into the seat and held tightly onto the side through the storm. That memory would later be used to lead him to Jesus Christ.
Pastor Chris Jennings of Calvary Chapel Cape Coral (CC Cape Coral) has been helping people nonstop after the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Ian over a month ago. With much of Ft. Myers Beach in unimaginable ruins—mobile home parks completely wiped out, houses and personal belongings washed away or ruined by the 12-foot surge of seawater, and store fronts, boats, and other debris collected up by 150-mph winds and deposited in mangrove swamps—there are endless opportunities. Recently, his church worked with a team from Calvary Chapel Philadelphia (CC Philly), PA.
The Prayer of the Unbeliever
When asked how he finds these opportunities, Chris relayed, “We begin praying for the Lord to bring the needs to us. This one day we pulled into a lot, a lady came out from the second floor of her home asking, ‘Are you here to help me?’ We were working on other things in the neighborhood, so I said we would be back later with a team.”
Upon returning, they noticed a plumber, John, working on the first floor. Chris continued: “He said to us, ‘You guys are doing God’s work, that’s a good thing’. We started talking to him and he described how he was there in the storm, in his house with his child, and how they survived clinging to a kayak. We asked if we could pray for him and I used the analogy of that kayak, sharing how God sent His only Son that you would have everlasting life—and all you have to do is reach out and take hold and receive. I asked him if he wanted to do that, and he said Yes! We prayed and John accepted the Lord.”
Jose Ortiz, a volunteer by God’s grace who serves the pastoral staff and the body at CC Philly, was a part of the 14-member team that spent a week with CC Cape Coral ministering to the community. “The Lord was there long before we were, and John knows the Lord was listening to him. Now that he’s met Him, he is enthused and wants to continue in his walk,” added Jose.
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Associate Pastor Jerry Paradise oversees disaster relief at CC Philly; after reaching out to Chris, he organized a group to come alongside Cape Coral with Jose as the coordinator, to be seen by the community as one body. Longtime CC Philly congregant Scott Griffith felt the Holy Spirit’s nudge to volunteer as the team lead where he led daily devotions and encouraged others to perform tasks they were best at—from construction expertise to cleanup, and even comforting homeowners. “There was a special place for everyone on this trip and each role was just as important as another.” He continued, “It was amazing to see how God put the team together.”
Chris reiterated, “God brings teams that are fitted to what you are doing. On this trip [with CC Philly], we had a contractor, George Miguelez, who knew exactly what to do with each house.” During this stage of cleanup, the focus was removing debris, cutting walls to a certain height to let the home dry, and fixing roofs before mold treatment could begin.
The Faith of a Believer
In south Cape Coral, Bonnie Padron was thankfully not home when her 16-foot sliding glass door blew out during the hurricane, causing the loss of part of the roof and collapsing the ceiling. Bonnie’s story made its way to Chris and the team through her friend who attends Calvary Chapel Naples, FL. “When we saw the front of her house, it didn’t look too bad, but the back of her house was completely open with insulation and ceiling covering everything,” explained Scott Griffith. Looking at the devastation, he wondered if he was up for this job. It was then that Philippians 4:13 came to life for him—I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
When Bonnie saw she had lost everything—her home, car, and belongings—she knew Satan could not take the thing that sustained her, her faith in God. “I’ve been through a lot, losing my husband seven years ago, my parents were killed in 1984, I have a sister who is missing, and had cancer. Satan is really trying to bring me down, but he is not going to get me,” she affirmed.
Although she feels a bit like the female version of the biblical character Job, Bonnie knows that God works in people to bring others His joy and love—which happened when a roofer showed up to give her an estimate. Scott recounted, “God sent us a roofer named Zach, who was going through a difficult time. We had the opportunity to pray with him, the women with Samaritan’s Purse, Bonnie, and the whole group encircled in prayer.” As tears fell from the 25-year-old roofer’s eyes, Bonnie recalled, “It was just amazing, and at the end it wasn’t even about the roof anymore.”
Scott initially wondered how God was moving, as he fully expected more opportunities to bring the Gospel to unbelievers, yet about half the homes belonged to believers. “It dawned on me that if He only sent us to unbelievers, what does that do to the people who do know Him?” He continued, “We were an answer to their prayers as they placed their trust in Him!”
Throughout the week, the Gospel was shared with homeowners and others lending assistance. Many seeds were cast, and some were harvested, but the faith of believers was met by God’s incredible faithfulness that He had not forgotten them—even to Dan Esber, the photographer for this story, who had hung up his professional camera awhile ago but recently prayed God would somehow use him and his gift. “That was from the Lord, and Dan was blessed by that, how He used Calvary Chapel Magazine to be a blessing to him and CC Cape Coral, [reassuring] that they had not been forgotten,” Jose disclosed.
Beauty of the Church Shines
Through his years of serving in disaster relief, Pastor Jerry of CC Philly has observed, “The body of Christ never looks more beautiful to the unsaved community that has been struck with disaster than when it responds with the love of Christ. In that environment, people are so welcoming, thankful, and receptive, so it is very easy to share the Gospel.”
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Corinthians 3:5-6
CC Cape Coral believers, knowing it may take years to rebuild, will continue serving their community. Chris’ recent teaching on 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 encouraged the team as well as himself: “If you make yourself available, just stepping out in these things, God steps in.”
Jose recalled how Chris’ encouragement of the sufficiency of Christ was recognized quickly through the week. “Our whole hearts were that the whole town would be fixed at the end of the week—[but] only Christ is able to step in to do something like this.”
Overwhelmed by the hospitality shown to them through the CC Cape Coral congregation, Jose stated, “We did not want for anything. They made us feel right at home, loved on us, did our laundry, fed us three meals a day, and Chris’s heart as a pastor was so good.” He acknowledges that although CC Cape Coral may be small, it was amazing to see what a small church does well in the community, shining its light, rebuilding together through the sufficiency of the Lord.
CC Cape Coral welcomes your prayers as they continue relief efforts to those in their community. You may also help financially through a giving link at cccapecoral.org