A Florida pastor says Holy Spirit-led prayer saved his life and potentially the lives of his neighbors when an EF2 tornado ripped through his neighborhood with little warning.
Pastor Juno Douglas of Sneads Assembly of God in Sneads, Florida told CBN News his entire town was preparing for a tropical storm to hit their area on January 9.
What they did not expect was a category two tornado to rip through 16.5 miles of land within minutes.
“We just thought it was going to be severe weather,” Douglas told CBN News. “It was a minute or two before the tornado hit that we received a warning on our phone about it.”
Douglas, 57, and his wife Aimee, 54, moved quickly to find shelter within their home.
“As I was walking out of the living room to go get my flashlight we could hear the wind and rain picking up. And I hear a loud explosion,” he said.
Douglas turned to Aimee and instructed her to hide in the bathroom. He ran to get his flashlight and then headed to the bathroom for safety.
“By the time I got back to where she was the storm was hitting. The walls of our house were literally vibrating. And the sound was just horrendous,” he recalled.
In that instant, the couple instinctively began to pray in the Holy Spirit.
“That’s all I knew to do,” Douglas said. “God protected us. It was our prayer. As Romans 8:26 says, ‘The Holy Spirit helps our infirmities when we don’t know what to pray. And He knows what to pray.'”
“I believe that morning He certainly heard (our prayers) and intervened for us,” he added.
Douglas also believes prayer spared lives throughout the entire area that was hit.
“That thing stretched about 16.5 miles,” he added. “There was no one killed. There were hundreds of people impacted by it through the area, their homes and property – but no one was killed,” he explained.
“That within itself is a miracle,” Douglas added.
The pastor said the entire incident lasted about 45 seconds, but the damage to their home was extensive. And what was left of his neighborhood was worse.
“It seemed like a bomb went off,” he described.
Douglas thought several of his neighbors didn’t make it.
When he ran to check on them, everyone was safe. But one couple, Jim and Jeanette, were visibly shaken.
“I could see the back wall of their house was gone,” he said. “It was like a dollhouse where one side is open and you can see inside. I’d never seen anything like it…it was a devastating sight to see.”
Douglas shared the couple was just waking up for the morning when the tornado hit and they had “literally” seconds to get to a safe place.
“I saw them coming out from the rubble and they were in shock,” he said.
Juno invited the couple to his home, which had suffered little damage compared to most of his neighbors, to stay warm and dry. Aimee offered them coffee and a hot meal.
They also took the time to pray and minister to the couple.
“A home is where memories are made, griefs are shared, relationships are built,” Douglas shared. “That’s something special and they have lost all that.”
Once the storm was over, many of the residents in Sneads were left to pick up the pieces.
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Douglas, with the help of his congregation, spent the rest of the week assessing the damages and fixing his home.
Debris was moved, tarps were put up, and their belongings were secure.
That following Sunday, Douglas decided to let his associate pastor deliver the sermon.
Unbeknownst to him, his neighbor Jim was in attendance at church.
When Douglas’ associate pastor gave an altar call, Jim immediately walked down the aisle.
Douglas was shocked to see his neighbor-turned-friend giving his life to God.
“I began to weep,” he said.
Douglas went to the altar to pray with Jim.
“He was so broken before the Lord and said, ‘I’ve run from God for over 30 years.’ He said, ‘I am here because of God’s mercy. I recognize that and I want to come back to Him.’ And we prayed.”
Jim gave his life to Jesus and has been back in church every service since the storm, Douglas told CBN News.
“It’s an amazing thing. His countenance (has changed). He’s got such a sweet spirit about him and he realizes it is God’s mercy why he is still here,” he said.
“It is an amazing experience to watch,” Douglas added.
When Douglas recalls the tornado and the days since, he says Lamentations 3:22-23 stands out in his mind.
It reads,”The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “
“I believe that morning that God’s mercies were extended to us, to our neighbors, to people in the area…our hope is in Christ despite the present circumstances,” he said.
“The scripture teaches in 1 Peter, Chapter 1, verse 3 that we have been given a living hope….despite the devastation, things will be better because of our hope in Christ,” he added.