St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Religious leaders offer relief for Charley's weary

Joined by Gov. Jeb Bush, the group gave about 300 attendees at First Baptist Church of Port Charlotte a time for praise and worship.

MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published August 28, 2004

PORT CHARLOTTE - They came seeking reassurance and encouragement. They looked for community and compassion. They wanted to know their plight hasn't been forgotten.

"I just really wanted to have a church service," said Jill Reazor, 38, whose Port Charlotte home received minor damage from Hurricane Charley. "I just really need to give thanks that I survived."

Reazor, with her two young daughters, joined about 300 people at First Baptist Church of Port Charlotte on Friday to take a break from hurricane recovery efforts for some moments of spiritual relief with religious leaders and Gov. Jeb Bush.

"We're on the road to recovery here in southwest Florida," Bush said during the interfaith service. "We thank the Lord for allowing us to be free and to rebuild."

Bush's words elicited a couple of "hallelujahs" from the audience. Singers led worship songs and patriotic hymns.

Some women came in dresses and pearls, some men in ties. Many more wore shorts, sandals and sunglasses around their necks.

Bush, who entered the church to a standing ovation, gave his message in Spanish and English. He praised relief volunteers and promised continued government help.

Rabbi Solomon Agin told people to rely on prayer to help their spirits.

"Our prayers are answered not when we are given what we ask but when we are challenged to be what we can be," said Agin, of Temple Shalom in Punta Gorda.

Imam Azhar of the Islamic Society encouraged victims and relief workers to look beyond broken buildings.

"We cannot just assess the damage by looking at people's properties," he said. "At the same time, it is important that we realize the spiritual and psychological trauma.

"We need to top this off by giving our hearts also."

The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, brought his international stature and fiery sermon to the sanctuary crowded with weary worshippers.

"Today, in the aftermath of death and destruction and turmoil of this hurricane, I want you to listen for God's voice: "I love you. Trust me and I'll see you through to the end,' " Graham told them. "God hasn't left."

Larry Urban, 71, and his wife, Yvonne, can't live in their house in Deep Creek after the storm tore apart four rooms while they watched from a neighbor's house.

Friday's service, Larry Urban said, reminded him that his beliefs are being tested.

"We continue to have faith that things are going to work out for us," he said. "Of course, this is what we're taught all the time. But until you have something like this, it's hard to say you have the faith."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.