Having lived in Miami for seven years, Rev. Robert J. Maulella, pastor at Faith Lutheran Church, Sebring, Fla., thought he knew hurricanes. But Hurricane Irma proved him wrong.
The eye of the storm, with 100-plus-mph winds and tornadoes, tore a path of destruction through South Central Florida in late summer 2017. Power poles were leveled, trees twisted in half, roof shingles peeled off and boat ramps and docks ripped off their footings. “My own property was safe, however, the area around our church did not fare as well,” Maulella said.
The wind peeled away a third of the shingles on their thrift store and tore away walkway soffit, exposing wood and insulation. It piled branches 12 feet high in their parking lot, blocking access to the sanctuary doors. The church steeple was damaged, leaking water behind the altar area. Electric surges damaged four air conditioners. Power was off at the church for two weeks and two-weekend services had to be canceled.
This congregation is still recovering from a three-year vacancy and years of decline,” Maulella said. “We do not have excess resources to put toward major repairs. We rely on the income from our thrift store … income loss would have been catastrophic.”
Furthermore, air conditioning is a necessity in South Central Florida, even in the winter. “It not only creates a comfortable environment but also prevents mold growth,” Maulella said. “Mold would have set in and perhaps the building would have been condemned.”
A storm like this also knocks the wind out of the sails of the community for a while. “I recall saying for weeks after the hurricane ‘I feel so tired all the time’,” Maulella said. In the midst of this chaos, the Body of Christ responded.
Food banks from around the state drove trucks of water and other food supplies to the region. Other churches and schools collected funds, gift cards and supplies and drove them down to Faith. One Lutheran school 30 miles north collected canned goods, diapers and other items and brought them to the church. Two other Lutheran churches sent teams to help with tree cutting and cleanup.
In addition, “I was contacted personally by our mortgage company, Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF), who holds the loan on our sanctuary building. [They said] to apply for a Kaleidoscope Fund grant.”
Shortly after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma wreaked havoc in Texas and Florida, LCEF announced Kaleidoscope Fund grants were available for borrowers in natural disaster areas. This was made possible by over 280 LCEF investors who contributed their interest earned to this fund. The Kaleidoscope Fund is a granting initiative established by LCEF in 2016.
From Houston to North Miami, 12 individuals and ministries received support. LCEF granted a total of $56,800 to those affected by Harvey. Over $245,000 was granted to those affected by Irma.
“If we had not gotten these funds we might have had to close the store — Our thrift store serves 400 people per month.”
Five months later, the thrift store has a new roof, 75 ceiling tiles were replaced and the sanctuary leaks were repaired. Damaged trees have been cut down and mounds of debris hauled away. The lighted sign is repaired but still missing a few slivers of material. The air conditioners have been repaired. The only thing left to repair is the soffit. The leaves have even grown back so it looks like the tropics again.
“We are so thankful to our friends and brothers at LCEF for their generosity in providing this grant. This grant has enabled all this ministry to continue… a devastating loss if physical disrepair had forced us to close our doors! Furthermore, these funds have given us the encouragement and the impetus to keep going and to focus again on reaching our community for Jesus.”
In times of tragedy and uncertainty, it’s reassuring to know the Church will reach out and respond in love to those who need help, hope and healing. Lutheran Church Extension Fund is grateful to God for providing generous partners (who tell others about Jesus through their sacrificial giving) to fund this ever-important, life-saving work.
Lord, amid the tumult of disaster, continue to build Your kingdom and turn even more souls to Christ. Amen.