Last week, we reached out to Todd Mullins, lead pastor of Christ Fellowship Church, a megachurch based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, to find out how they were preparing for the impact of Hurricane Irma. Now that the hurricane has hit, we followed up to learn how they are assisting in relief efforts in South Florida and beyond.
“The church is being the church, and it’s bringing a sense of peace and calm in what were a few very stormy days of our lives,” says Todd Mullins, lead pastor of Christ Fellowship Church (an Outreach 100 church—No. 43 Fastest-Growing and No. 7 Largest). He, along with many Floridians, is praising God that the storm did not hit with the full force that was expected.
Along the heavily populated southeastern coast, the damage was fairly minimal. “Other than tree damage, there have been some buildings that had leaks and water seeped under doors from the outside, but it’s been very minor,” Mullins says, adding that all of the church’s facilities across its nine locations were spared. This meant that Christ Fellowship could jump into action to provide relief to areas that were especially affected.
One hard-hit city was Belle Glade, located about 45 miles southwest of Palm Beach Gardens.
“That community was evacuated because of the storm and the fear that the levees would break,” Mullins says. “The levees didn’t break, which we are all thanking God for, but that community is still having a hard time getting back on their feet. Most of the people there are agricultural workers, and so there is some extreme poverty in that area of Palm Beach County. It’s one of the poorest communities in our nation.”
Christ Fellowship partnered with local law enforcement agencies set up a giving station in Belle Glade. They served about 450 people on the first day and were invited back the next day, which allowed them to serve about 4,000 more. “There’s such a need out there,” Mullins says. “Our teams have been out there serving and working, providing meals, water and food for these people who have gone without food, water or electricity since the storm hit on Saturday.”
According to Mullins, what has really surprised him is how local agencies are reaching out to the church.
“What we’re finding out is that municipalities and city officials aren’t used to working with volunteers,” he says, adding that churches are coordinating volunteer efforts because “churches are used to working with volunteers and organizing response and being able to feed a lot of people at one time.” This includes volunteer efforts from people who came from out of state to lend a hand. Mullins says that Christ Fellowship is specifically working with the cities of Port Saint Lucie and Fort Pierce, which experienced some flooding.
Elsewhere in the region, the church is also helping in the Florida Keys, an island chain that extends south and west off the state’s coast.
“There’s guy in our church who is a helicopter pilot,” Mullins says. “He has been flying supplies down into the Keys because they have been completely cut off. They don’t have enough food or enough water. Every day he’s been flying up here, and we load his helicopter up with supplies, and then he flies back down.”
“It’s been great for our church to have a way to really step up and be the hands and feet of Christ in an opportunity like this,” Mullins adds.
Mullins says he has also been surprised by how people are responding to the church’s help.
“Many of the families we’ve talked to say that the people they serve have tried to pay them, and of course they wouldn’t take any money,” he says. “People can’t understand why we’re doing this for them. They’re so surprised that we’re just loving them without expecting anything in return. It’s such a beautiful picture of the grace of God.”
Mullins says that this is a really unique time for the church to be the church in a tangible way.
“The church in the United States should begin by focusing on helping families rebuild and directing their mission efforts to the needs right here,” Mullins says. ”There’s not going to be enough construction workers. There’s not going to be enough companies who can come in and help these families. A lot of these people just didn’t have the proper insurance, so it’s going to be a struggle to put their lives back together again.”
A Florida native, Mullins has experienced numerous hurricanes but says there was something different about Irma.
“This storm was more sobering than storms we had in the past,” he says. “This one felt like it could have really been the one that wiped out the coast of Florida.”
Mullins says he has talked to other area pastors who feel the same way. “On the day after the storm, when they were able to come outside and see that pretty much everything was still standing, there was this sense of amazement of God sparing us from what could have been complete devastation. This one was different—it felt more weighty.”
For those outside Florida and others region affected by disaster, Mullins encourages them to keep reaching out to their friends, family members and fellow church leaders.
“I have been flooded with calls and texts from pastor-friends all over the nation asking how they can help,” Mullins says. “Although there may not be a lot they can do for me, just knowing that they are there for me has meant so much. You’re not bothering someone by letting them know that you’re praying for them and standing with them. The body of Christ is holding you up. Those words and prayers really fortify those of us who are leading our churches.”
In addition to churches like Christ Fellowship, there are several worthy organizations you can partner with to assist in Hurricanes Irma and Harvey relief efforts. Here are a few of them:
- North American Mission Board
- Convoy of Hope
- Samaritan’s Purse
- Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
- Gleaning For the World
Jeff Chaves is a freelance writer and pastor. He has been married to Peggy for more than 32 years, and they have four children. He is the pastor of Northpointe Community Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.