What a difference a year makes. On Oct. 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael blew through Panama City, Fla., as a category five hurricane, severely damaging the church and parsonage of Amazing Grace as well as the homes of many of its members. On Oct. 20, 2019, Amazing Grace moved back into its rebuilt worship facility. During that year, more than 200 WELS volunteers poured into Panama City to help Amazing Grace with the necessary cleanup and rebuilding. In addition, people from around the world joined together in praying for their Christian brothers and sisters and donating funds and materials to help.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Amazing Grace’s members banded together to check on one another and to help each other. As soon as the roads were cleared, members from neighboring congregations also pitched in. Then, volunteers from WELS Christian Aid and Relief and Kingdom Workers’ Builders For Christ began arriving, including more than 40 Martin Luther College students who volunteered at various times.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Hailey Stade, one of the Martin Luther College students who helped with cleanup soon after the hurricane. “I had no idea what to expect until we crossed the bridge to Panama City. Buildings were flattened. Every tree you saw was on the ground or bent in half. Power lines lay all over the sides of streets and sidewalks. A building was considered lucky if it even had some of its roof intact.”
The roof of Amazing Grace’s church was ripped open during the storm and the parsonage’s roof was peeled up, causing flooding throughout the home. With such extensive water damage, most items needed to be replaced and much needed to be rebuilt. Yet Amazing Grace was blessed with donations and volunteers every step along the way to lighten the load.
On Jan. 12, 2020, members of Amazing Grace rededicated their worship space and invited volunteers back to celebrate with them. About 25 volunteers who helped with the rebuilding process attended this grand reopening celebration.
“The grand reopening was more like a grand reunion,” says Rev. David Kehl, current pastor at Amazing Grace.
Although the past year posed many challenges for them, members agree that this experience brought them closer together—with each other, with their fellow WELS members, and with their community. As they move forward, they’re excited to take the next step with their ministry plans.
As Mr. Torger Reppen, president of Amazing Grace, notes, “It’s so nice to be back in our own building, our own home. Now we can focus on outreach. We’ve been focusing on rebuilding, and now we can focus on daily church stuff.”
View a WELS Connection about Amazing Grace.
To see photos of Amazing Grace during its rebuilding process, view the slideshow below.