Congregants across communities damaged by Hurricane Ivan gathered on Sunday to receive the comfort of God in the midst of tragedy.
"This is the worst [storm damage] that any of the old-timers can remember," Ron Lentine, pastor of Myrtle Grove Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla. "We've never seen this kind of tree damage. They tell us it may be weeks before we get power and water. But in the midst of this disaster we can be a light."
At last count, the three Hurricanes, Charley, Frances and Ivan, caused a total $22 billion of damages; more than 500,000 people have no power, no water and no phone service.
"We had a lot of roof damage which meant a lot of water damage," said Jeff Helms, singles minister at the East Brent Baptist Church in Pensacola. "Some of our air conditioner units that were on top of a roof were lifted off and thrown around. That caused a lot of damage as well."
"We lost power and water early, so we collected rain water outside in 75 gallon drums for people to use [in the restrooms]," Helms said. "Then we had a gas leak and had to find out where that was in the middle of the night. It got a little rough out there for a while."
Despite the damages, church members across the Gulf States gathered in their chapels or at the church lawn to thank God for his mercy.
"[During the worst of the storm] I kept hearing God say, 'Peace be still,'" shared Mildred Boutwell, a congregant at First Baptist Church in Flomaton, Ala. "My daughter has lost her home and our home lost a roof, but God cares for us."
Meanwhile, pastors gave words of comfort, but also of warning.
"For those of you who know Jesus Christ, you know peace," he said. "But the destruction you see around you now is nothing like the destruction you'll see after death if you don't know Jesus Christ,” said Rev Tim McKnight of First Baptist.
"Believers have an opportunity to share this peace. The witness that you are in caring for the needs of others is going to be a witness for the Lord. The best thing we can do as a church is volunteer in the community and use this opportunity to share Jesus Christ with others.