LABELLE — Richard Shuette and his wife Janet have lived in their home in LaBelle for 22 years and were used to doing things themselves. But age has limited what they can do. “The older I get the harder it is for me to do things,” said Richard.
When Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022, the deadly storm peeled back part of the Shuettes’ roof and water was seeping in. Volunteers had covered the roof, but now the ceiling, along with the blown-in insulation, needed to be pulled down to allow it to dry out to prevent mold from growing. Richard, 84, was understandably worried. “I was concerned about the damage on the inside getting worse because of the mold,” he said. “I could see part of my ceiling coming down.”
Then the Shuettes got help they weren’t expecting. “First one car, then two, three, four, six, eight, ten cars,” recalled Richard. “I thought wow, this is fantastic. It’s wonderful.”
These visitors, moved by love of their neighbor, were just some of the hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses from as far away as Alaska came to Florida to give of their time and energy to help stabilize homes damaged by Hurricane Ian.
Twenty-three of the volunteers, including three generations of a family from Lehigh Acres, drove to LaBelle to help Richard and Janet. “Even though I’d never met him, we worship the same God,” said 76-year-old Joe Holland. “We are a brotherhood worldwide. Somebody needs help, we’re there for them. When I needed help, they were there for me.”
William Rivera and his wife brought their 12-year-old daughter to help too. “It gives her a good example of how friends help each other and love one another,” said William. “We want her to see that and to be among friends. It’s a form of worship too.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses consider helping others during times of disaster an important part of their ministry. Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesperson for the Witnesses, stated: “We view what the Bible refers to as the ‘relief ministry’ as vital a part of our worship as our hallmark door-to-door ministry and our Bible education programs. Really, the primary motivation is love, which Jesus said would identify his followers. When members of our brotherhood are affected when disaster strikes, we organize our efforts to provide relief to them, not only materially, but primarily spiritually and emotionally.”
Many, like the Shuettes, are grateful for such support and the love that motivates their fellow Witnesses to action in times of disaster. Richard marvels at the energy and love of so many people reaching out to help him and his wife. “These folks come in, and I thought, wow, what a blessing!”
You can learn more about the disaster relief efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses at www.jw.org. Search “relief” to find articles and videos related to relief efforts worldwide.