You could barely see the petite woman standing on her porch behind the mangled trees and debris from Hurricane Ian.
Despite the massive destruction, the 74-year-old woman who goes by “Christmas” greeted Randy Martin and Will Murphy, two chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (BG-RRT), welcoming them into her Englewood, Florida, home.
“I wish I could offer some tea,” she added sweetly while guiding them to her sunroom, which serves as a makeshift bedroom after the Category 4 storm.
Sitting on a pullout sofa with Bibles and devotionals strewn across it, Christmas shared how she didn’t expect to survive the catastrophic hurricane, which has claimed over 100 lives.
“I got my black dress ready for my funeral because I didn’t think I would make it,” Christmas said. “But … I’m still alive.”
While most of her neighborhood evacuated, Christmas decided to ride it out with her two cats.
“The waves were coming and the wind was howling,” she recalled. “Water was coming in and I was mopping up the floor with towels, and the window was rattling and shaking like this,” Christmas said, quickly jerking her hands back and forth.
She tried to hold the windows down, but they relentlessly blew open and shut. In one bedroom, part of the roof caved in.
“A song came to me,” Christmas said, her voice breaking. Grasping the windows she began to sing, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”
Not too long afterward, the storm began to settle down.
“My mind was on Jesus,” Christmas said. Her strong faith has guided her through much of life. Of Polish descent, she came to America from Germany, and for a time she served as a traveling missionary in the Northeast before moving to Florida in 1998.
“Jesus heard you,” Martin said, referring to Christmas’ prayers during the storm. Her eyes filled with tears at the thought of her Savior actually hearing her voice.
Following the hurricane, Jesus continued to answer her prayers. For nearly three days, Christmas was alone and running low on food. Tending to her outdoor plants, she was considering eating the rotting food in her powerless fridge when a stranger pulled up in her driveway.
His GPS had taken him the “wrong way” and straight to Christmas’ house. Sitting in his car, God prompted him to check on the homeowner, telling her about a nearby organization that was giving away food. He kindly returned with a box of groceries for the elderly woman.
He also connected Christmas with BG-RRT chaplains, who ministered to her and others affected by Hurricane Ian. Over the past few days, 20 chaplains have been offering emotional and spiritual care in Englewood and Fort Myers, praying with hundreds of affected residents at both deployments. Tuesday, another team of chaplains opened a site in Punta Gorda to help the community process their grief.
Christmas told chaplains that her hope is for Englewood to have “peace, and that they may know the Lord Jesus because you cannot live without Him. It’s impossible,” she said. “Many don’t want to know Him or talk about Him.
Such a need for God in her coastal city—and in her own life—draws Christmas into constant prayer with God. Before the chaplains left, Christmas double-checked to make sure they’d written down their names in her prayer book.
As they walked outside, chaplains stopped to pray for Christmas, holding her hands.
“Heavenly Father, we thank You so much for sparing her life. We thank You for hearing her words, that she was singing praises to You during the storm. Thank You so much for all You do for us. … We ask that You continue to bless Christmas and that You let her bring the Word of Jesus to all the people who need to hear it.”
As the chaplains walked back to their van, Christmas exclaimed, “God be with you!”
And He most certainly was.
Family of Four Accepts Christ
On Tuesday afternoon, Martin and Murphy met a Spanish-speaking family of four whose home had been damaged in the storm.
“Do you know Jesus?” Martin asked them individually. while they had heard of him, they didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—but each said they wanted one, including their 20-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.
Gathered around the chaplains, the family learned about salvation through Jesus Christ as Martin shared Scripture and read from a Steps to Peace With God booklet.
Martin confirmed with each one that they wanted to be in the family of God and together they prayed to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.
“It was the most beautiful sounding thing I’ve ever heard—four people from the same family read in unison that prayer,” Martin said.