Finding peace and joy amid the rubble of Hurricane Michael
November 2, 2018
For 17 days straight – every day since Hurricane Michael struck – Rebecca Hambly has been clearing debris from her yard on the rural outskirts of Marianna, Florida. As she continues to walk back and forth, carrying bundles of branches, she describes the harrowing experience of riding out the storm with her two children, ages 11 and 8, along with her sister, her sister’s three children, and her 80-year-old father. Her husband, Nathan, was deployed with the National Guard during the hurricane to help rescue and recover people in danger.
“My father gave the kids a game: count how many trees your hear falling,” said Rebecca. “They stationed themselves at different windows. We thought there would be, maybe, three trees. They counted 57 – then we gave up.” Large trees fell all around the house, one so close that it scraped slowly down the side, coming to a stop inches from a window. It took the family two days to be able to leave because so many trees were blocking the driveway. But 11-year-old Memphis said he wasn’t that scared: “Not really,” he said. “Plus, after the hurricane, a bunch of people from my dad’s unit came to cut us out.”
Still without power, the family has been cooking outdoors over an open fire and making the best of what has become an seemingly extended camping experience. As far as Memphis is concerned, he doesn’t miss school. “Tomorrow night’s another cookout, and we’re going to carve pumpkins,” he said.
Today a Mennonite Disaster Service Early Response Team has arrived to help cut some of the largest trees from the Hambly’s property, particularly a tall one leaning against the roof of a storage barn. Nathan, who is undergoing treatment for cancer, nonetheless works alongside his wife and the MDS volunteers.
Shortly after the storm, Rebecca and Nathan also worked to remove a large tree that had fallen directly on top of Rebecca’s father’s house. “Dad lives in town. He does woodworking, and his workshop was destroyed. The hardest thing in all this is watching my dad lose everything.”
Rebecca acknowledges that, as she works to take care of her father and give her children some sense of normalcy, her family is coping with a lot of stress. “People tell us they don’t know how we do it. We don’t either,” she admitted. “Except I think of what the Bible, in Philippians, tells us: that God will give you peace that exceeds understanding.”
As the MDS volunteers clear the trees that have been literally hanging over the heads of the Hambles for two weeks, Rebecca shares her plans to continue helping her father as well as her church, Rivertown Community Church, which has become a relief hub for the community.
The volunteers share a sense of joy that they can help the Hamblys and others in Marianna. Florida unit chair Ervin Miller, who operates a construction and remodeling company in Sarasota Florida, brought a crew of five volunteers, including himself. He considers it a blessing that he is able to help. “MDS is here right after the storm, and then we’re here for the long haul, for the rebuilds,” Miller said. Watching Memphis helping his family, Miller recalls growing up on a farm himself in Ohio. “All these skills I can bring to help people, I learned because I had to pitch in growing up,” he said. “At the time, I always wished I could just go play baseball. Now, I’m blessed to have the skills to come do this work.”
Miller also empathizes, from his own experience, with anyone who has had to shelter in place during a hurricane: “Even when the wind is just 60 or 80 miles per hour, you get this lonely, eerie feeling.” As a unit chair, he encourages people to volunteer through MDS because, even though ERTs respond very quickly after a disaster, their work is planned based on a community’s needs, the safety of the crew, and the ability to work without becoming an additional burden on already-suffering areas. Ervin also wanted to send a message to potential volunteers about the sheer joy of service: “You haven’t lived until you’ve tried an MDS job. Try it. Just try it.”