Brandon and Randi Jo Rooks, residents of Leland, North Carolina, outside their home, which was damaged during Hurricane Florence.

Loving Neighbors Through Life’s Storms

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Randi Jo Rooks woke up in a panic the Saturday morning after the storm. She felt the urge to post in her neighborhood’s Facebook group at 5 a.m.

“I’m awake already. Please send news y’all at Stoney Creek are okay and tell us what the water levels are doing,” she wrote.

Hurricane Florence hit her North Carolina community the day before, Friday, September 14, 2018. Randi Jo’s family had evacuated to New Jersey on Tuesday, but she stayed in touch with neighbors through social media.

North Carolina residents covered windows to protect their homes from flying debris, but the hurricane’s strong winds dropped massive trees onto some homes.

Randi Jo (in pink, wearing gloves) helped her neighbors find resources and groups who offered to help clean their homes after the storm.

Four years before, Randi Jo began pursuing relationships with her neighbors, even creating that Facebook group to help develop community among them. She had no idea God would use her actions to establish a lifeline for the Stoney Creek subdivision during an unimaginable crisis.

Stoney Creek, a neighborhood of 44 homes in Leland, came together in the aftermath of the storm.

“The flood maps are not accurate at all,” Randi Jo says about her small neighborhood in Leland, near Wilmington. Recognizing the potential danger of a severe hurricane like Florence, she knew her family had to go. But not everyone made that decision.

The Rooks family evacuated to New Jersey and returned to find an unexpected level of flooding that affected their community. Their garage had been immersed, including one of their cars.

Randi Jo (in pink, talking to a neighbor) says facing a disaster like Hurricane Florence is a difficult experience, often understood most by others who have shared the same journey.

Neighbor Tom Meyer, his daughter and their four animals stayed behind. Tom rode out storms before and thought they would be okay, but rising floodwaters entered his home, forcing everyone to the roof near his second story window.

Soon after Randi Jo posted her Facebook message, she says Tom’s ex-wife, who’s also in the group, replied, “Tom is still at the house and needs rescuing. I’ve been talking to the police but they can’t come yet, he’s scared and he wants out now, can someone help?”

Tom Meyer escaped rising floodwaters in his home thanks to a Facebook post and a neighbor’s boat.

Chris Jackson and his family also stayed in their home. His wife, Connie, checked Facebook, saw Randi Jo’s initial post, and told her husband. Chris drove his boat to Tom’s home and helped everyone move to higher ground.

Randi Jo Rooks, with her husband, Brandon, recounts how God used a Facebook post to help her friend Tom Meyer.

In the days following the flood, Randi Jo saw an opportunity to encourage her neighbors — even as her family faced their own devastating losses and an uncertain future.

Struggles that bring you closer to God

Tough times were familiar for Randi Jo’s family, who moved into Stoney Creek in 2011. From 2013 through 2015, Randi Jo, Brandon and their children — Raymond, Evelyn and Annabelle — experienced family stress. Brandon’s work and graduate school schedules diminished his time with the family. Meanwhile, Randi Jo suffered from Lyme disease, shingles, mononucleosis and a herniated disc.

Gathered piles of belongings offered people a chance to look for the salvageable items amid the damage.

Tom (at right), his nephew (at left) and a friend pause outside Tom’s house amid flood-damaged belongings, including his truck, and many of his tools and other equipment.

Those difficult years changed the family and their view of God.

They grew closer to God. They also sensed the Lord preparing them to serve others. When Hurricane Florence devastated their neighborhood, their neighbors needed God and tangible help.

“That was the start of us having to let go of things and really accept His sovereignty, even when it’s hard.”

Randi Jo Rooks

Randi Jo knows what that need for God feels like. She began her personal relationship with Him in 2007, the same day her beloved grandmother died. Her grandmother was a Christian. Randi Jo says she told God, “I just want to know You like she knew You.”

Other communities near Stoney Creek experienced flooding and storm damage.

Global Aid Network® (GAiN®), the humanitarian partner of Cru®, brings aid and volunteers to support people around the world during and after crises like Hurricane Florence.

Her growing faith over those years moved her to connect with her Stoney Creek neighbors. The diverse community included locals and those from northern U.S. cities, young families and older couples.

At first, results were disappointing as she didn’t connect with neighbors the way she’d hoped. She says she failed in a lot of ways because she didn’t rely on God. She needed direction and asked Him for help. He responded and gave her relational ideas that worked.

Can we be friends?

Randi Jo channeled her intentions into three areas: prayer, presence and social media.

Prayer opens doors.

She started praying for her neighbors. Randi Jo says it’s important to pray specifically for people. Prayer is powerful and God touches hearts through it. Weekly prayer walks around your community can plant seeds for change.

Volunteers spent many hours cleaning out homes for residents.

Presence is a ministry.

Randi Jo became a presence in her neighborhood by simply playing with her children outside. She crossed paths with neighbors and made connections that developed into friendships. Spending time outside and interacting with others could create new connections.

Randi Jo says that while most Americans don’t face financial poverty, “they do have poverty in other areas, such as a lack of close, quality relationships, and also spiritual poverty — meaning there’s not a strong dependence on and connection with the Lord, which relates to relationship poverty as well.”

Because sewage-filled water entered Stoney Creek homes during flooding, volunteers took precautions while removing debris.

Social media connects us.

Randi Jo set up the Facebook group to pull people together. Neighbors shared concerns and some complaints, but Randi Jo says “pockets of beauty” surfaced too.

Could you follow in Randi Jo’s footsteps?

Social media could help you develop relationships in your neighborhood. Be willing to see how those conversations can open doors for you and others.

A natural disaster may not affect your community, but there are present needs that could use the help of a willing neighbor — and that neighbor could be you.

God values the ways we extend kindness and encouragement to others — both in times of peace and in turmoil:

  • Mark 12:28-31 tells us how we’re to love our neighbors. How will you love and pray for yours?
  • Luke 10:25-37 shows this revolutionary love in action and shows us that neighbors aren’t always like us; they can include diverse people with different experiences. How could you pursue relationships with people who are not like you?
  • Galatians 6:2 invites us to willingly enter into the burdens of others. Where can you lean into another person’s difficulty and encourage them?

Damage, debris and decisions

Days after the storm passed, Randi Jo shifted gears to encourage her hurting neighborhood, even though she was hundreds of miles away in New Jersey.

Meeting the needs of others in hurting communities can open doors to the gospel.

She sought nearby churches that wanted to assist with clean-up and supplies. The Bridge Church in nearby Wilmington, which served with Global Aid Network®, a partner of Cru®, helped Randi Jo and the residents of Stoney Creek.

How GAiN® Helped a Hurting Community

People who wanted to help Stoney Creek after Hurricane Florence flooded the neighborhood connected with Global Aid Network®. Al Goff, president of GAiN®, the humanitarian partner of Cru®, says Cru staff members in Wilmington suggested they collaborate with The Bridge Church, which received many requests for help.

One of those requests came from Brandon and Randi Jo Rooks.

“I led a group of us out to this area to assess the damage,” Al says. “When I came upon their house, I just took a chance and went in as the door was open and found them.”

Randi Jo created a list to help GAiN respond to neighbors’ needs. She also gave GAiN leaders insight into people’s spiritual backgrounds, which helped volunteers minister to them. Al says they started by identifying people who didn’t have flood insurance, and from that group, focused on single parents, the elderly and families, including people with special needs.

The strategy allowed GAiN to focus on those least likely to get help or have the ability to help themselves in a crisis. After helping the first group, GAiN volunteers channeled their energies toward the rest of the neighborhood, serving there from September 19 to September 23, 2018.

“The work we do is gutting their homes, getting out all wet furniture, debris, drywall, carpets, so that the frame could dry,” he says.

Brad Supple, a field strategy representative for GAiN, also served in Stoney Creek. Getting to the neighborhood was their priority.

“We found out no one was working there, and we had the resources and manpower to react quickly to the needs in their community.”

They coached volunteers to take the time to talk with the people of Stoney Creek and hear their stories as they were hurting, Al says. “Taking the time to mend the broken heart is as important as the physical work.”

She made Facebook connections and routed volunteers to her neighborhood and others nearby. And as survivors from other floods saw Randi Jo’s social media posts, they shared tips, which she passed along.

When her family returned to Leland, Randi Jo helped her neighbors, repeatedly offering the ministry of presence by listening and hugging people as they grieved. Many did not have flood insurance and lost everything.

More than 880,000 people in North Carolina and South Carolina lost power when Hurricane Florence made landfall in September 2018.

Randi Jo says Stoney Creek will never be the same because of the flood damage. Seven feet of water poured into her home and many others, and 228,000 gallons of sewage flowed into homes through pipes after a sewage pump broke during the storm.

The tragedy brought neighbors together as they helped one another in the aftermath, but people are finding new places to restart their lives. Randi Jo says some are in the process of selling their homes while others are working to rebuild and stay. Her neighbors as she knew them will never be neighbors together again.

Randi Jo hopes her community knows God loves them and that He loved them through her family.

Showing God’s love to their neighbors is important to Randi Jo and her family.

“My greatest prayer is that when people look back at this time, they will know they were touched by the Lord Jesus through His body and that they won’t remember the devastation, they won’t remember the awful smell,” she says, “but they will remember the fragrance of love and that it was Jesus.”

Melody Copenny
Words by

Melody Copenny

Melody serves as managing editor for Cru Storylines™ and a journalist with Cru®. She’s an Atlanta, Georgia, native and University of Georgia graduate with a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism. She enjoys the intersection of creativity, theology and popular culture in her writing projects.

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Ted Wilcox
Photos and videos by

Ted Wilcox

Ted loves zigzagging the globe, capturing photos and stories of what God is doing. Originally from California, he serves as a missionary photojournalist with Cru® in Orlando, Florida. Ted also ministers to international scholars who come to Orlando to study.

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