As former Hurricane Florence approached the East Coast in mid-September, more than one million people had to make the decision to stay or go.
Regardless of their choice to hunker down or evacuate, the storm changed some people’s life direction, crisis-trained chaplain Abby Spencer said. She and her husband, Wayne, are two of 38 Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains currently serving those affected by Florence in North Carolina’s coastal region.
Deployed to Jacksonville, the Spencers have met several homeowners who decided to weather the storm, including C.J. Hughs-Bowling.
Confident her home was solid as a rock, C.J. refused her daughter’s request to stay with her in the mountains—even though Florence was labeled as a Category 4 hurricane at the time.
Days later, as the storm slowly began beating the Carolinas, C.J. watched the clouds roll in from a blue chair on her back porch. Normally in windy weather, she’d hear her wind chimes blowing, but she’d taken those down because of the storm.
Moving inside, she watched TV reports as the mammoth storm, which by then was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, dragged on.
“[I was] right there,” C.J. said, gesturing to the front of her home while talking to Abby and Wayne.
“I was getting scared because all of this stuff was hitting my house,” she said. C.J. has called this ‘home’ on and off since 1969, including her high school years.
As the winds raged, she heard a tree “snap, crackle and pop” outside, landing across her fence and into her neighbor’s yard.
“God put [the tree] right where it should be,” C.J. said, recounting the moment it fell. “If it would’ve gone in the other direction it would’ve went right through my house.”
Within the first few hours of the storm, multiple trees and power lines fell across the city, leaving residents without electricity.
“[The storm] made me realize I’m not as self-sustaining as I thought I was. I’m about to be 65 and am a pretty independent woman,” C.J. told the chaplains.
Used to storms coming and going within 36 hours, C.J. had stocked up on a few snacks, but not enough.
“She got to a place that she had not prepared for and had to lean on some other source for power and strength,” Abby said after hearing C.J.’s story. In times likes this, Abby said people “have to find a new power source or what they are really relying on.”
For C.J., that’s her community and God.
“People have been so kind and generous and mindful of each other [since Florence hit]. I just wish this would last,” Abby said. “That’s my prayer.”
Recognizing much of her community doesn’t attend church, she sees the city’s need for the Lord.
“Christians kind of keep to themselves sometimes,” she said. Acknowledging she’s called to do more than just surround herself with like-minded people, she referenced Acts 1:8. The verse commands believers to share the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth.
“This is my world,” C.J. proclaimed, stretching out her arms wide. “So if I’m going to the ends of the earth, this is where it is.”
Please keep all those affected by Hurricane Florence in your prayers.