Calvary Chapel Ministers

Calvary Chapel Ministers in Miami
Calvary Chapel Ministers in Miami

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Miami-Area Calvary Chapels Minister Jesus’ Love After Florida Condominium Collapse

Story by Margot Bass
Photos courtesy of CC Miami Beach and CC North Miami, FL

In the aftermath of the horrifying collapse of a condominium in Surfside, FL, Calvary Chapels are uniting to help the devastated and heartbroken community.

The Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachside building, collapsed about 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 24; first responders were initially available to rescue approximately 100 people; by Tuesday, they had recovered the bodies of 11, with nearly 150 more believed to be buried in the rubble. It was very much like the scene of a disaster movie—reminiscent of 9/11.

That first afternoon, inside Ground Zero and surrounded by smoke, sirens, and helicopters, the Miami Beach police chief walked multiple times to a tent manned by eight members of Calvary Chapel Miami Beach and CC North Miami. “Thank you so much for having your people here to pray for us. We really need it,” he admitted. Later he returned to plead, “Please, keep praying for my team.” Then he asked Erica-Sommer Dudley, administrator for CC Miami Beach, “Please pray for me.” It was a beautiful request for Erica, who added, “That alone was tremendous because policemen are very guarded. They don’t just open up.”

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CC Miami Beach (CCMB), located just a mile from the devastation, has stepped up to assist first responders, family members of the victims desperate for comfort and a miracle, and the surrounding community. Erica has taken the lead in coordinating efforts with other area Calvary Chapels, including CC North Miami, CC Miami, and CC Fort Lauderdale. Church leaders and members have been out daily since that first day serving in Jesus’ name in word and deed.

People holding up signs for prayer

Believers from Calvary Chapel Miami Beach, FL, let passersby know that they are available for prayer in the wake of the tragic collapse of the condominium in Surfside, FL, on June 24.

A Fruitful Partnership

When Erica and CCMB Assistant Pastor J.P. Funk learned what had happened that Thursday morning, they knew their fellowship would become very involved, very soon. It was a natural extension of the strong relationship the church had already established with the Miami Beach Police Department. “Senior Pastor Robert Fountain has been the lead chaplain for the Miami Beach PD for over 20 years,” Erica explained. She and Robert’s son David have for years accompanied him to lead worship at meetings of the department’s Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers (FCPO).

Erica’s personal police connections became important in this disaster, as Pastor Robert and his family had just left that Wednesday for a long-planned family trip to Europe, and couldn’t be there to lead. “I ended up messaging the sergeant heading the FCPO, asking, ‘What can we do to support you? We’re here for you no matter what. Obviously in prayer,’” Erica said. She wondered if the church might be allowed to set up a prayer tent inside the disaster zone, not expecting that to happen because access was extremely limited. But the police chief gave them permission, setting it up for them next to the command center. Other faith groups were also allowed to put up tents offering prayer and other support.

Erica continued, “It was interesting because we didn’t get to pray one-on-one for a lot of the policemen; everyone was in shock over what was going on. But just to be right there at the building, in the center of everything, praying over it, and to have that presence was just amazing. God gave our church favor.”

Team posing for camera

The Calvary Chapel Miami Beach prayer team was led by Assistant Pastor JP Funk (front left) and Erica-Sommer Dudley (front right).

Rick Tuttle, a volunteer worship pastor at CCMB, noted that the absence of Pastor Robert and his family, representing half of the small church staff, “provided a unique opportunity for us as a church to come together and not point to our pastor and say, “It’s your job to do everything. It was an opportunity to really step up, rally around the cause, to see how we can be involved, however God would lead us. Most of the people in our congregation are rallying together, genuinely excited about the opportunities that God is giving us to connect with people, to embrace them, show them the truth of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.”

Pastor Darren Bennett of CC North Miami joined the CCMB team that first day and beyond. CC North Miami is a campus of CC Fort Lauderdale, which stands ready to offer support. He shared that he saw a “beautiful camaraderie among the Protestant pastors and the Jewish rabbis” allowed into the site. “There was this solidarity that you could palpably feel. We were theologically challenging each other, but in a spirit of love and truth. We were on a break, trying to refuel to go back out, and here we are, going back and forth about Christ the Messiah.” The affected community is largely Jewish. “The tragedy gave us common ground.”

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 2 Corinthians 2:14-15

Man with beard looks somber

Pastor Darren Bennett of CC North Miami has a somber moment as he looks over the scene of the building collapse. Darren and members of his fellowship came to assist CC Miami Beach as they reached out to hurting first responders, families, and citizens.

Expanding the Ministry

As the disaster scene became more dangerous the next day, the teams were not allowed back in, so they moved their ministry to the perimeter. Prayer teams donned bright green and orange t-shirts saying, May I pray for you? in English and Spanish; 20 to 30 a day then walked the neighborhoods, talking with passersby, knocking on doors, and even going to grocery stores to pray and share the hope of Jesus. “People would see us circled up and praying over areas. They would say over and over, 'Can you pray for me?'” Erica observed. “It was an amazing thing to point people to God. We don’t know what to do, but He does.”

Ironically, the prayer teams had been organized in advance of the disaster. They were a part of CCMB’s Church in the Streets ministry, which had been scheduled to relaunch that very weekend after COVID-19 conditions. In addition, that week the church was already expecting a team of 34 from Youth with a Mission (YWAM) Orlando, FL, to help witness in the streets. “These young, zealous, on-fire-for-God young adults came ‘for such a time as this,” Erica declared. Notified by CC Miami that the firefighters had been wearing the same clothes under their uniforms for several days, the church had the YWAM volunteers gather and wash their laundry.

Assistant Pastor JP Funk, who was a part of the travelling prayer teams, described an encounter with a bicyclist who lives in the area. “He saw us praying as a group and made the sign of the cross as he passed. He actually turned around, stopped, and respectfully watched us pray. He had sunglasses on, but I could see him breaking down, very emotionally.” JP listened to him. “He was thinking about his family and how he had considered moving into the building that collapsed.”

Prayer on the beach

CC believers pray for a man on the beach behind the collapsed building. Many people responded positively to the question on their lime-green t-shirts: May I pray for you?

The prayer teams also shared the hope of Jesus with the reporters outside the disaster site. Erica noticed that a young woman, Selena, was staring at her and finally walked up to her. When Erica asked her if she wanted prayer, the woman replied, “No, I’m a reporter, but I’d like to ask you some questions.” Erica realized, This girl needs a touch from God. “I started answering her questions: Why are you guys out here to pray? It gave me opportunities to share with her how it is to walk in [spiritual] light after walking in darkness, how to persevere through suffering, knowing that Christ is with you.” By the end of the interview, Erica asked again if she could pray with her. “With a big old smile, she said, ‘Yes, please pray for me!’ You could tell she’d been [spiritually] lost or hurt.”

Meanwhile, Rick Tuttle led two prayer meetings Thursday and Friday nights back at the church. “We focused on praying for the victims and their families; also for the first responders by name because we know many of them. We prayed that God would lead us in how to respond,” he reflected.

Destroyed building

When the condominium collapsed, 100 people were rescued; but by Tuesday, only 11 bodies were recovered and 150 are still missing.

Future Plans

Looking to the future, Pastor JP affirmed the outreach would continue, including the prayer walks in the surrounding neighborhood. A makeshift “wall” at a tennis center five blocks from the disaster site has been established. It has become a gathering place for people to pay their respects, light a candle, or leave a teddy bear behind; it’s also a place where victims’ families have placed photos of their missing loved ones. He elaborated, “A lot of our efforts may be around that area, just to be available. It’s about as close as you can get to the scene do something like that. It’s probably our best opportunity to help people process this disaster.”

People standing on beach with destroyed building in background

A view of the building collapse from behind, on the beach.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4a

As time goes on and hopes further wane, JP said, “Our focus is becoming the compassion and presence of God in the midst of crisis at a human level. We pray for the families to quickly recover their loved ones’ remains as this causes great anguish once it is most probable that that they have perished.” Questions have and will continue to arise about how God can allow such death to take place. JP responded, “There are two things that are most true in in every human tragedy: God is good, and God is merciful (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Referring to Luke 13:1-5, where Jesus reflected on disasters that had resulted in the death of innocent people, JP added, “All should repent and turn to the mercy of God while we can because disaster befalls us in unpredictable ways.” He added, “We don’t believe God punishes the image-bearers of His likeness by disasters; we are all frail and fragile in our humanness.”

Erica emphasized the importance of continuing ministry. “My heart aches as I consider how emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted these rescue workers are. My heart breaks for all the families who are pensively waiting for answers, and those who know that their loved ones will never reunite with them in this life; also for those who have lost everything in the blink of an eye, yet praise God that they still have breath in their lungs and live to see another day.”

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Women standing in circle

CC believers often gathered in small circles to pray for family members, individual community members, and for first responders.

 

Team praying with people who lost their loved ones

CC North Miami believers pray with individuals hoping to find their loved ones.

 

Team praying by wall covered in photos of those lost in the tragedy

CC North Miami believers pray over pictures of loved ones still missing days after the collapse. A makeshift “wall” was set up about five blocks away from the site.

 

People looking for their loved ones

Families are hurting as they wait for search and rescue teams to determine if their loved ones are still alive.

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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