Good Comes from Devastation as Couple's Home Destroyed, but Souls Saved
Juno Douglas, pastor of Sneads Assembly of God in Sneads, Florida, remembers the morning of Jan. 9 vividly. As he was drawing his morning Bible study and devotions to a close, Aimee, his wife, came by the room about 6:30 wondering if he received any weather warnings on his phone. He turned his phone on. He had – severe weather expected.
Little did the Douglases know that in less than 10 minutes their lives and the lives of their neighbors would be ripped apart . . . and then, brought together.
Juno has pastored Sneads AG for 29 years. When the EF2 tornado hit Marianna, Florida, on Jan. 9, Sneads AG suffered no damage as it was several miles away. The Douglases, however, live just down the road from Evangel Church and the adjacent Caverns RV Park that took a direct hit.
“We went downstairs and turned on the TV to check the local news,” Juno says. “They didn’t say anything about a tornado . . . and then the lights started blinking.”
Headed for a flashlight, suddenly Juno heard an explosion. Urging Aimee to take shelter in the bathroom in the middle of the house, Juno ran to collect the three things he felt he might need in case of disaster — car keys, wallet, and pistol — and joined Aimee.
“The walls in our home literally started vibrating,” he recalls. “We got down on the floor and began to pray in the Spirit. We heard heavy winds and pounding rain — then things started hitting walls and everything was vibrating. It (the tornado) was right on us! I told Aimee, I was afraid the roof was about to come off.”
But the roof — or at least a good portion — held and in 45 seconds, all they could hear was the sound of heavy rain. Asking Aimee to remain in the bathroom, Juno went to assess the damage.
Although the house still stood, Juno says that on his first survey of the house he saw the room on the back of the house, a “Florida room,” had imploded and was destroyed; the French doors in the master bedroom had been blasted open, with glass and debris spread throughout the room; and a portion of the roof was ripped off above the master bedroom allowing the rain to continue the damage to the interior of the home.
But they were safe, and the house stood.
Then Juno looked out the front door and felt dread hit the middle of his stomach. No way could his neighbors across the street have survived. It looked like a bomb had gone off. He hurried across the street to the next neighbor’s home and called out — they responded they were ok and family was on their way to help. Juno came back across the street to the homes to the west and immediately next door to them.
“The one house, it was like a doll house, you know where you have the front, but then turn it around and you can see inside?” Juno says. “Well, that was this house, except they didn’t have a roof, either, but the whole back side of the house was gone . . . I don’t think they still have any idea where the roof went.”
After checking on the next neighbor as well and finding them somewhat in shock, Juno was stunned to see Jim and Jeannette Griffin, the couple whose house was totally torn apart, making their way out of the wreckage.
“We had received a weather alert, so Jim was going to the front door to look outside when the pressure from the tornado hit the house, blew through the front door, knocked Jim to the floor, and blew out all of our windows,” Jeannette says. “I was in the hallway, I looked up and saw the roof come completely off the house. I screamed and ran into the bedroom and pulled the door to me by an interior wall — there was glass flying everywhere along with all of our belongings.”
And somehow, with the edge of the tornado basically going through their front door and blowing out the back wall, the only injury the Griffins suffered was that Jim received a small cut on his foot from broken glass.
“It’s a miracle that no one in our neighborhood was killed,” Juno says, still marveling.
Although some may limit ministry to speaking the Word of God, in this case the Douglases simply lived it out before their neighbors.
As their home still offered protection from the elements, they offered neighbors coffee and what they had prepared for breakfast.
“Aimee went up and got some bathrobes and other clothing for those who needed something to wear as well,” Juno says. “And within about two hours, people from the community and the church — older, younger, all ages — were here helping move debris and putting up tarps and securing everything.
“It was,” Juno pauses, his voice breaking, “overwhelming . . . the concern, the people bringing food . . .”
He notes that there were at least 45 people on their property, and he took time to encourage and pray with those who had lost their homes.
“I came up behind Jim, who’s in his mid-60s, and he was looking out our front door,” Juno recalls, “and he just kind of said to himself, ‘I’ve never been homeless before.’ That just really hit me kinda hard.”
“Gratitude,” Juno says, “that’s all we feel and that’s all our neighbors have been expressing — gratitude to be alive.”
As the week progressed, Juno and Aimee checked on their neighbors as they could. However, with insurance calls, estimators, salvaging, finding a place to live temporarily, and keeping an eye out for looters, things were busy.
But there was something Juno says he didn’t know. Jim’s sister attends Sneads Assembly of God.
“The Lord had been dealing with Jim — and I knew that, because I had been praying for him,” says Jeannette, who has maintained her faith in God. “We’re staying with his sister right now, and she asked us to go to church with her that Sunday. So, we went.”
“I had asked our associate pastor to preach that Sunday and he gave a powerful word,” Juno says, “and then he gave the altar call. I saw a man immediately get up and start coming down one of the aisles. I turned and looked at my wife and said, ‘Aimee, it’s our neighbor! I could do nothing but weep!”
Juno then went to where Jim was praying with one of the church’s altar workers and put his arm around Jim and said, “This is my neighbor. I’d like to pray with him.”
When Jim turned and saw it was Juno, he put his arm around him as well.
“We wept and wept and wept,” Juno says. “He told me God had been so merciful to him, how he used to know the Lord but strayed and had done so many bad things, but now he wanted to come back!” Jim rededicated his life to Christ that day.
“I knew the Lord was dealing with him that morning because he couldn’t sit still,” Jeannette says with a bit of a laugh. “The altar call came, he just got up and went, and I just followed him.”
“People are just rejoicing,” Juno says. “What was a disaster, God is getting good out of it! Knowing that God can use us, even in a brief few hours, just to love on people, and to see how He uses that to bring people to Him . . . and guess what — Jim and Jeannette were both back in church this past Sunday!”
“I was a guy who felt like I could do it all on my own,” Jim states, “but let me tell you, the Lord has a way to humble you pretty quick.”
Jeannette and Jim both believe their lives were spared for a reason.
“I just thank Him for His grace every day because it could have gone either way,” Jeannette says. “I would ask that everyone keep us all in prayer because it’s going to be a long haul . . . and that people would pray that God would reveal what He wants us to do.”
As Juno reflects, he says that even though he and Aimee are also living elsewhere as their home needs repairs before it’s livable again, they’re thankful for the opportunities God has given them to touch lives.
“We have lived in this neighborhood for about seven years,” Juno says, “And Aimee told me the other day, ‘If the Lord had us here just for this moment, we’ve served our purpose.’ It’s such a great way to look at it . . . what’s this time (Earthly life) compared to eternity?”