Pastor says even in darkest hour, God is with us

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Pastor says even in darkest hour, God is with us

Feb. 9, 2007    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0621}

NOTE: See related story, “Couple says tornado experience was hard, but harder for others,” e-Review FUMNS #0622 at:

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

THE VILLAGES — The Rev. Dan Jackson joked with his congregation that he had prepared an outstanding sermon for that morning’s worship service, one of his all-time best, but God had other words for him to say after the previous Friday’s storm.

His message was simple. When wrestling with the questions of why some were spared and others weren’t or where was God “at a time like this” he said, “Don’t go there.” It’s enough to know God is always with us.

The Rev. Dan Jackson, executive pastor at New Covenant United Methodist Church in The Villages, preaches Feb. 4, 48 hours after a devastating tornado wrecked much of the area and hundreds of lives. Jackson said even now in the dark days following the tornado, God is with us. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #07-0519. Web photo only.

Jackson is executive pastor of New Covenant United Methodist Church in The Villages. While most of his church’s members weren’t greatly affected, many people in the surrounding community were. The church is several miles south of areas in Lake and Sumter counties that sustained heavy damage during the severe weather system that swept across Central Florida early Feb. 2, spawning several tornadoes. Seven people in Lady Lake and 13 in the Paisley and Lake Mack area near Volusia County were killed. Damage estimates indicate the Lake County area was hardest hit.

Jackson told the congregation he has been deluged with questions from survivors of the tornadoes about why the storms and resulting damage occurred. If God is a God of love, they ask, why do things like this have to happen?

Jackson recounted the story in the book of John in which the cause of a man’s blindness was questioned. Did the man cause his blindness or did someone in his family? Jesus’ answer was neither. Jackson said attempting to comprehend God’s grace — which is always extended — sets boundaries. He reminded the congregation that Christians are not guaranteed an easy life. God promises he will be with us on the journey, and in the midst of the death and turmoil following the tornadoes he is present.

Jackson said he trusts God is “active in this situation because I know God has been active in my life.” He said God “walked with him” while going through a divorce, having open heart surgery, watching his father suffer through 12 years of Alzheimer’s disease and the pain of dealing with the loss of a church he served in the West Ohio Conference that was destroyed by a fire.

Jackson acknowledged that “tragic things happen this side of heaven,” but it’s up to God’s people to “do all that they can to bring about the Kingdom of God.” As people of faith go through this time of grief and recovery, Jackson said they are called to live out their convictions.

“This will be a difficult hour, but it can be our finest hour,” he said.

In many ways it already has been, according to Jackson.

Since the storm hit he said church members have been taking care of each other and the community. He told the congregation he arrived at his office Feb. 2 with thoughts of finishing his sermon, but those plans came to an abrupt halt when he learned about the devastation to neighboring communities. He and church members immediately began checking on each other to make sure everyone was all right. Within hours the church had also prepared 100 hot meals for a local shelter, the district’s superintendent had “bought out” the pillow department at a local discount store for victims of the storm, and the church’s disaster relief plan had been put into action. He said the conference provided health kits, tarps, water and other items.

“I am reminded how good it is to be part of the connectional church,” he said. “I am unspeakably proud to be a part of this congregation.”

Jackson said being the church at such a time of desperation reveals the church’s true mission, it’s essence. “Within 72 hours we saw the character of this congregation. A crisis reveals the character that has already been developed; it doesn’t develop character.”

Ending his sermon, Jackson encouraged members to minister to their neighbors in the coming days and months. He said it took just moments for the tornado to whirl over the area, but it will take much longer for survivors to return to their normal lives.

“Let us trust God to lead us as to how we can help our brothers and sisters,” he said.

After the service Jackson said members are reaching out because they know what it’s like to feel displaced. About 98 percent of the area’s residents retire from other parts of the country.

“I think people join together quickly because they don’t have the 40- or 50-year friendships. At most it’s like four or five years,” he said. “If you put a face on a problem, they’ll try their best to solve it.

How conference churches can help

•  Stay informed; needs change fast. Churches should contact the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center at 800-282-8011, extension 149, e-mail or look for more information on the Florida Conference Web site, under the Disaster Response/Storm Recovery link on the left-hand menu bar, at

•  Gather supplies. Every church can be a part of the response, either by making health kits, packing baby diapers or collecting other supplies. A list of typical items needed is available under the Disaster Response/Storm Recovery link on the conference Web site.

•  Give generously. Churches may respond by giving to Florida Conference Advance #605, “Florida Tornadoes.” Checks should include “Advance #605” in the memo line and may be given at local United Methodist churches, made payable to the church, or mailed to Florida Conference Treasurer, c/o Florida Annual Conference, P.O. Box 850001, Orlando, FL 32885-0207, and made payable to Florida Conference Treasurer.

•  Volunteer. An application form for work teams is available under the Disaster Response/Storm Recovery link on the conference Web site. Storm recovery will match work team skills with opportunities. Work teams will be needed, but the effort needs to be coordinated by the conference’s storm recovery team. 

A bulletin insert suggesting ways to help may be downloaded from the conference Web site.

This article relates to Florida Conference Storm Recovery.

A portion of the information for this story was provided by a storm update in The Orlando Sentinel.
*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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