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St. James City church back open for first Sunday service since Ian

Pastor: "like someone just filled the place with muddy water and picked the building up and shook it."
Posted at 11:36 PM, Mar 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-23 19:30:12-04

ST. JAMES CITY, Fla. — Larry Jinks spent the last dozen years ministering at First Baptist Church in St. James City. With a role like that, you have to know people. Their basic needs. What they want out of life.

Yet who could really be ready for Hurricane Ian?

"The Sunday before (the hurricane hit), I made the comment in the pulpit that the church is not this building and, all this stuff, if something happened that our building was taken away, we could meet out in the field here," said Jinks.

That is exactly what happened for the first Sunday after Ian. October 2, 2022 and nearly every Sunday after that.

Even with so much surrounding a church building filled with water.

"The only way to explain it is it looked like someone just filled the place with muddy water and mud and picked the building up and shook it," Jinks said about the building.

The church parking lot was also full of activity. Pine Island didn't have power and, for the first days after Ian, people could not even drive from Cape Coral to Pine Island. FEMA had set up response trucks in the church's lot.

"We had crane services here," Jinks remembered of those first days in October. "We had a trauma center here. We had a pet trauma center, we had people camping, people were living here. I was one of them. We were living in our vehicle." Jinks called it the "St. James City Sam's Club" as the lot held "water, food, blankets, dog food and hygiene products".

The covered pavilion, behind the church, held Sunday services for months as the recovery process of the battered building started up.

"To see the people that I pastored for the past 12 years and we're now outside, wind blowing in our hair and sand hitting us in the face and big 18 wheelers pulling up in the church parking lot, servicing the (FEMA) conference stations and we're trying to sing hymns to God," said Jinks.

Yet the process of recovery needed real work. Real machinery. Heavy tools.

"How fast can I get there to help?"

A question that Tom Keister, the store manager at the Northern Tool + Equipment, near I-75 and Alico Road, asked. "Generators to pressure washers to pumps, everything you need to clean it up."

Keister said being able to help was critical in those opening days where people still needed to get their bearings.

"It just warms your heart," said Keister on answering the call to help. "It truly does."

Jinks said he got a call from Northern Tool, asking for a "dream list" of supplies.

"I said we need pressure washers to get the mud out," said Jinks. "An air compressor, nail guns, we need sawhorses. Then this big truck pulls up with a big, big air compressor. It tells me that people who are away from us still care about us."

While power was hard to corral in the hours and days after Hurricane Ian, Jinks was able to get the word out on social media. The help came from all over.

"You have to understand (the parking lot) was a hotbed of activity with thousands of people coming in and out. People would just literally find me and my wife and someone would point out, 'hey, that's the pastor!'," said Jinks. "I can't begin to tell you what it meant."