The Otts family climbed in their beds on Tuesday evening, October 9, 2018, anticipating a category 2 Hurricane Michael the following day. Not living in a mandatory evacuation zone, they decided to ride it out. They had been through storms before, even heavy ones, and expected this storm to weaken as many of the storms in the past have done. When they woke the next day, Michael had grown significantly and was forecast to increase to almost category 5. Because it was too late to evacuate, they would have to endure everything Michael was bringing to them.
Expecting Michael to make landfall that afternoon, the Otts decided to head toward the Panama City Church and shelter in the steel construction. Collecting the supplies that they could, they waited and prayed while the eye of the storm crawled ashore in nearby Mexico Beach, Florida.
Descriptions of the sounds that were created by Michael as it raged across the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, and Georgia are varied. Among the reports, Kenneth Swaine, elder at the Panama City Church, stated the sound was like “all the demons of hell screaming at the same time.” Richard Otts, church member, felt as if the roof was going to separate from the church building. Otts was quickly convinced that he, along with his father and other family members, were going to die.
The roof did not separate and the walls did not cave in, but some water had made its way underneath the roofing and into the sanctuary, along with several spots in the hallways. The Otts and Allen Kesler, another church member who stayed at the church during the storm, went to work placing trashcans and plastic totes to collect the dripping water.
After a few hours, the bulk of the storm passed, and those who sheltered in the church emerged to assess the damage. Expecting the surrounding area to have fared as well as the church did, they were sorely mistaken. “It looked like a bomb went off,” said Otts, “Everything that had been worked on and built for years and years was just gone in a single day.” Something miraculous had taken place at their church, though.
The Panama City Church had been protected. Industrial steel signposts that mark accessible parking spots just feet from the church building were bent and twisted. The church itself, along with potted plants near the church doors, stands unbroken. Similarly, trees that lined the border of the church property were snapped like twigs, but the church steeple is unmoved. God protected this property for a purpose.
Nearby, a nursing home facility that the church held a good relationship with needed to evacuate a portion of their residents quickly. As the church was in such good shape, they were able to accommodate about 40 residents until further help could arrive.
Just days after Michael made its devastating trip through the South, countless volunteers from across the country poured into the area to begin relief efforts. Among them were members from the Panama City Church and Gulf States Conference. Each member brought the specific skills and connections that were needed for that difficult time. Among the volunteer help was the Gideon Rescue Company, a small group of dedicated people that orchestrated the delivery of 7,500 pounds of supplies via 15 private planes from across the country. Nori Rac, a member of the Ft. Walton Beach Church, was able to immediately supply equipment and other vital resources to the relief effort. 2Serve, a volunteer organization led by Jim Ingersoll, arrived just days later with more than 100 volunteers and connections with state and federal organizations to set the church up as an official point of distribution of supplies for the community.
It was no mistake that the Panama City Church had been miraculously preserved; it was held together by God to be used as a central point of relief to a terrorized city. The names of each person and organization that helped in this desperate time are too lengthy to share; however, you can learn more about what took place and what is happening now at www.gscsda.org/michael.
is the communication director at the Gulf States Conference.
Gulf States | December 2018