By Kevin Gould, Special to ASSIST News Service
NAPLES, FL (ANS – September 18, 2017) — At the beginning of August, I bought an airline ticket for my wife Sheila to travel to Virginia on the fifth of September for our twin grandchildren’s seventh birthday.
The day arrived and we set off to drive across “Alligator Ally” from our home in Naples Florida to Fort Lauderdale Airport for her flight to Richmond Virginia.
Over the preceding week we had been told that a hurricane called “Irma” was on its way but all the predictions were that it would skirt the east coast of Florida and maybe make landfall in Miami. The possibility of it getting anywhere close to Naples seemed very remote, if not impossible.
During the journey to the airport, Sheila expressed her concern about leaving with this storm just over the horizon. I, on the other hand, was fully persuaded that there would be nothing to worry about and I sent her on her way with the famous last words “We won’t even have a breeze on our side of the State. Don’t worry just go and have a good time”.
Had I been an Old Testament prophet I would have been stoned to death for making such a false prediction, because three days later, Naples was being battered by this monster storm called “Irma”.
Travelling back to Naples after dropping my wife at the airport, I was joined on the I 75 Freeway by hundreds of other cars who, like me, were under the impression that Naples would be a safe haven in the days ahead. They decided to leave the danger zone of South East Florida for what they thought would be the safety of the Gulf Coast. Oh, how wrong they, like me, turned out to be.
The following day, I tuned in to the “Weather Channel” to check on the status of “Irma” only to be warned by the meteorologists that she may be taking a westward turn that would see her moving up the middle of the State. She was getting closer but although the outer bands were going to extend to the Gulf Coast, it still would not become more than a Tropical Storm for my part of the world, or so I thought. Wrong again!
By late Friday we all knew that the path of “Irma” was going to come right over Naples and what I believed would be impossible on Thursday would be inevitable on Saturday.
The programming on our local TV stations was given over totally to news about “Irma” and the evacuation notices started to appear. At first my neighborhood was not one that had to be evacuated, so I decided that I would put the shutters up and ride out the storm at home.
By this time, thousands and thousands of people were leaving South West Florida for areas further north, only to find that the journey was hampered by horrendous traffic jams and a developing shortage of fuel.
By midday on Saturday the authorities announced through the local media that a “Storm Surge” in Naples was inevitable based on the current path of the storm and that my neighborhood would probably be under a few feet of water when it was all over. As a result I was issued with a “Mandatory Evacuation” notice.
Thankfully, I was able to go to my daughter Helen’s home thirty five miles inland, to hunker down with her, her husband, my four grandchildren, their German Shepherd called Rex, and a member of my church, who like me was a mandatory evacuee.
Hunkering down to wait for a possible impending disaster is a strange experience to say the least. Shutters cover all the windows, so you have no way of knowing what’s going on outside. A tiny view can be had by looking through one of the little peep holes that are dotted about the shutter.
This feeling of helpless isolation is enhanced by the loss of electric power. The only illumination inside this prison comes from a few flashlights. (Candles should never be used during a hurricane).
Your only contact with the outside world comes via a transistor radio. In a hurricane you can forget about the internet you have to be “old school” and are thankful to be so. I love my little tranny.
With preparations completed, we all hit the sack at about ten-o-clock on Saturday night. We knew that the following day at around five in the afternoon “Irma” would be showing up. We would be facing her head on not knowing what she was going to do to us.
The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, we awoke knowing that the greatest windbag the world had ever seen was about to come knocking on our door. Our companion on the transistor radio informed us that we would be facing winds of about 125 miles per hour but assured us that “We would all get through this” and that tomorrow Irma would have moved on.
As it was Sunday we decided to have church. My son in law got out his guitar, I unpacked my mandolin and my 16-year-old grandson Jaden put together an improvised drum kit consisting of pots and pans for cymbals and a Frisbee snare drum. It sounded great. Yes, it was a noise but it was certainly a joyful one.
After our time of praising the Lord and asking for His protection, all that we could do was wait. The hours rolled by and the wind gained momentum throughout the day. Zero hour for us would be five-o-clock. That would be when “Irma” was blowing at full force and when we would feel her maximum impact and it would last for several hours.
After what seemed like days, not hours, the time had come to meet this thing head on. From the flashlight-lit semi darkness of our shuttered prison we could hear the hurricane howling outside of our door. We looked through the peepholes and little gaps in the shuttering to try and get a better idea of what was going on. All we could see was the tops of the trees swaying uncontrollably under the force of this monster. What was still standing was unknown to us as was the effect of the torrential rain that we could hear beating on our roof and shutters like a thousand machine guns being fired at the same time.
The hours passed while the wind continued to howl. Three of the kids and our friend from the church decided to play a board game and assembled around the table near one of the windows. The game was barely ten minutes old when a crash was heard on the roof, a hole appeared and water started pouring in. We had no way of knowing if a tree had fallen on the roof or if it was some kind of airborne missile catapulted by the force of the hurricane that was raging outside.
The board game came to an abrupt end and all the participants moved quickly to the other side of the room where we knew there were no threatening trees that were likely to be blown over. A bucket was quickly placed under the hole to catch the rain water that was coming in. Not knowing what is happening is the most frightening part of being in the middle of a storm like this. If you could see through the windows at least you would know what’s being blown around and if any trees are likely to fall. With shutters blocking all contact with the outside world, it all really came down to trusting the Lord and putting yourself in His hands. That’s the way we are to live anyway — right? Hurricane or no hurricane, we are under His sovereign care and He has called every believer to live by faith not by sight.
I think we all got to understand that principle a little more on the night of “Irma”.
After a few hours of relentless hurricane Category 4 winds assaulting us, we could hear that the intensity was lessening and that “Irma” was moving on. Soon we would be able to go outside and see for ourselves what had landed on the roof and what else we would have to deal with.
At last, at about eight-o-clock, we opened the garage door and surveyed the three acre property on which my daughter and son in law’s home stands.
Fallen trees and branches were all over. A huge pine tree that stood on the property next door had been pulled up by the roots and was now lying across their fence. The whole property was a lake and we were thankful that the house has been built on an elevated part of the land. What penetrated the roof was a huge branch launched like a missile by the power of this hurricane.
Thankfully the damage sounded much worse from the inside than it actually was when viewed from the outside. My son-in-law, who is a master builder and carpenter, was able to temporarily patch it up pretty quickly. That was the only damage to the house. Thank you Lord.
The following day, we drove back to my house to see if it was still standing. The highest recorded gusts in Florida happened right over my house. Winds of 145 mph. You can only imagine the joy we felt when we approached the driveway and found that there was no damage whatsoever the house, in spite of trees having fallen all around. One actually came right up to my front door without touching it. Praise the Lord.
The church that I pastor, which is right across from my house had no damage either and once again we are so thankful for the Lord’s protection.
Having said that we are of course aware that not everyone has the same testimony and as a church we have reached out to our neighbors and tried to be a blessing and help to them.
You’ve all seen the news footage. The Keys, Everglades City, Marco Island and Naples have all been hit very badly. Many folks are still without power as I write this and some folks who live in Mobile homes no longer have homes at all.
We are thankful to the local churches as well as churches from other states that have come to the aid of those in need. Organizations like Samaritan’s Purse are here too and they are a huge blessing.
Some true heroes through all this are the power workers. They toil day and night in 95 degree heat so that the rest of us can turn on our air conditioners and refrigerators. Thank you all so much. I really hope you all get big bonuses. Many are still without power but day by day things get better.
It was a beautiful thing to work with brothers and sisters in the Lord to clear up all the debris that covered our church property. It was a reminder, if I needed another one, that there is nothing on earth like the Body of Christ. The unity of believers, and the love shared between them, particularly at times like this are miraculous qualities known only to those who know the Lord. It is a love shared with those outside the church too and a demonstration of the difference Jesus makes to a person’s life.
“Irma” has passed. I pray that no more such storms come our way. Our heart goes out to those little islands in the Caribbean who have suffered so much damage. It will be much more difficult for them to recover than it will for us. Please keep t hem in your prayers.
What do I feel after living through the biggest storm to ever come across the Atlantic and being at its mercy? I feel relief and I especially feel blessed. I am thankful to the Lord for His mercy and protection and I feel great compassion for those who are in a far worse situation to my own. I feel the need and desire to tell those who don’t know about the days in which we live, that he is coming soon and that there is still only one way to heaven. By believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and repenting of our sins.
In some ways “Irma” was a wakeup call. It was a reminder that, for some people, all they have is what is here on earth and how quickly and easily they can find themselves with nothing.
It was a reminder that in the midst of the storm Jesus is still King and holds the wind and the waves in the palm of His hand.
“What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the wave obey him” (Mathew 8:27)
Photo captions: 1) Sheila and Kevin Gould before the storm. 2) Flooding outside of his daughter’s home. 3) Florida-shaped damage at daughter house. 4) The church service in dark. 5) The scene that Kevin found when he returned to his home. 6) A young team from Kevin’s church helping others after the storm. 6) Kevin Gould on the front cover of Buzz magazine in the UK. (Kevin’s photo by Clifford Shirley).
About the writer: Kevin Gould began serving the Lord in full time ministry in 1973 at the big Billy Graham youth event at Earls Court London called Spree ‘73, after writing the song that became the theme of the event. After spending ten years traveling as a recording artist and singer songwriter in contemporary Christian music, Kevin became an associate pastor at Copper Street Assembly of God church Sheffield England. After ten years pastoring in South Yorkshire and planting two churches, Kevin was offered the Pastorate at Clover Pass Community Church Ketchikan Alaska where he remained for seventeen years. Today Kevin is the Pastor of Naples Alliance Church in Naples Florida. He has served there for nine years. Recently Kevin returned to his musical roots and recorded an album which was produced by Phil Keaggy. Kevin has been married to Sheila for forty seven years. They have two happily married children Helen and David and seven grandchildren. All of whom love the Lord. Kevin can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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