In Plant City, Florida, on a warm August evening in 2017, Sylvia Stevens was winding down for the evening, when she received a frantic call from her sister-in-law, Mrs. Virginia Johns. Virginia had briefly gone out to her back porch for some air that evening and was startled to see large flames licking the rails of Sylvia’s front porch. Immediately, she ran inside and called Sylvia, notifying her of the fire she could observe from the distance.
This was the beginning of a long night and many weeks of uncertainty as she leaned on God for understanding and faith.
As her sister-in-law’s words spilled out desperately over the telephone, Sylvia leapt into action, horror invading her heart as she saw a very strong glow flickering across the front windows of her home. Incredibly, only moments before, she had no idea of the danger transpiring on her porch as a tiny ember caught fire in a potted plant nearby. Quickly, and praying under labored breath, she managed to escape her house from the back porch out into the darkness of the night with her daughter, Brenda Smith, following quickly behind her.
This was the beginning of a long night and many weeks of uncertainty as she leaned on God for understanding and faith. As the fire department responded not once but twice to put out the flames which had eventually traveled into the attic, her home became filled with smoke and water. Ultimately, the Plant City Fire Department was successful in putting out the fire.
As daylight approached the following day, the sunlight revealed the damage to her home. The fire had burned out a substantial portion of her living room ceiling and a portion of the attic. The floors and much of the walls in various parts of the home were ruined by the strong streams of water expelled by fire hoses. The wood paneling was waterlogged, the wallpaper peeled away from the surface of the walls and, worst of all, the strong smell of smoke permeated her entire home.
“I felt so overwhelmed by everything that would need to be done to move me back into the house. I knew I’d have to stay with family members at their homes for weeks and that made me feel displaced and discouraged,” Sylvia explained.
Taking in the vast damage was almost more than she could bear. She and her sons, Greg Gerdes and Jeff Gerdes, surveyed the immense amount of work ahead of them. She remembers initially feeling very discouraged and fearful. “I felt so overwhelmed by everything that would need to be done to move me back into the house. I knew I’d have to stay with family members at their homes for weeks and that made me feel displaced and discouraged,” Sylvia explained.
Her faith in God never allowed her to delve too deeply into self-pity.
She wondered just how in the world everything could be accomplished so that she could eventually move back into her home. But, her faith in God never allowed her to delve too deeply into self-pity. A faithful believer of Jesus and the Holy Bible, Ms. Stevens resolved that God, whose heart is gracious, would have a plan to renovate her home. She asserted that God would bring the truth of the scripture Romans 8:28 to life: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”
The renovation plans began with the kindness, skills and expertise of the multi-talented men and women in her family, and the many faithful patrons of her church, Harmony Baptist Church of Plant City, Florida.
The renovation plans began with the kindness, skills and expertise of the multi-talented men and women in her family, and the many faithful patrons of her church, Harmony Baptist Church of Plant City, Florida. The faithful congregation of Harmony Baptist, along with Senior Pastor Vance Catlin and his wife, Sandra, continuously offered prayers and many words of hope for Sylvia’s circumstances.
In addition, outside organizations participated in the restoration of the house. Her sons Greg and Jeff, along with others, did much of the construction in the home. A Go Fund Me account was established to facilitate some of the necessary purchases. Furniture was donated from several retail stores. Over many weeks, little by little, piece by piece, her house was not only renovated and restored, she received many new and beautiful items, modifications for ease of use in her home and as she expressed it, “blessings beyond compare”.
Though the process of being away from home was difficult for her initially, she found peace in God’s gracious orchestration of all things concerning her and the renovation. When she was finally able to return to her house several weeks later, she was utterly amazed at the transformation which had occurred. She beamed stating, “God is so amazing! He organized everything for my good, one thing after another fell into perfect place. Whenever there was a need, God found a way to meet it and these great and even small blessings demonstrated to me that He is ever faithful!”
Lamentations promises us that “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.” After settling into her newly renovated house, Ms. Stevens related that now each day begins with thanks to God. She has been blessed by a beautiful testimony whereby a loving and faithful God turned initial moments of fear, despair and discouragement into hope, joy and happiness.