In June of 2013, Jorge and Anette Dennis moved from the United States to Ecuador. They left their home to work as volunteers for their church. Though they knew this move would be a life-changing event, they could have never predicted what was to come or just how deeply it would affect them and their relationship with God.
The couple lived in a fifth-floor apartment in the city of Guayaquil. Their role was to coordinate the volunteer efforts of more than 180 young adults who were housed throughout the surrounding cities and regions. Additionally, they were tasked with maintaining a level of protection for the volunteers in regard to their living conditions, expenses, transportation, etc.
Tragedy struck on April 16, 2016 as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the nation's western coast. This was the worst natural disaster to hit Ecuador in more than 60 years since the 1949 Ambato earthquake.
Jorge and Anette were at home in their apartment when the quake hit. Jorge was reading and Anette was using the computer as everything began to shake. The Dennises were used to feeling smaller quakes and expected the shaking to quickly pass. They soon realized things were different this time; and, in an interview with FamilyShare, described the scene as follows:
"During the quake, it felt like the building was going to come down because it was moving so much. It was hard to stand up. We could hear things falling and breaking in the living room."
The Dennises said the shaking got much stronger and lasted for about 45 seconds. Immediately after the quake, Jorge and Anette's thoughts instantly turned to the volunteers whom they were over. They desperately began trying to find out where the epicenter had been and how strong the quake was.
The quake's epicenter was 190 miles away from Guayaquil in a sparsely populated part of the country - 17 miles from the towns of Muisne and Pedernales. During the night of the quake and in the days that followed, the Dennises spent most of their time doing everything they could to make sure their young-adult volunteers were safe.
Several days after the disaster, Jorge went to see the damage and take supplies to some of the hardest hit areas. It didn't take long for him and his wife to see God's hand everywhere they went.
The first miracle they witnessed was the fact that none of their volunteers were seriously injured or killed. With the exception of one young woman who received a bruise on her leg, all of the volunteers were safe and accounted for within two hours after the quake.
This is quite remarkable since the disaster killed more than 670 people and injured 27,732.
However, the most incredible part of this story is the reason behind why the volunteers were all safe. In her own words, Anette recounted the miracle that occurred leading up to the quake:
"About two years before the earthquake, Jorge had two dreams within three months apart. He had a third dream about a month before the earthquake. The clear message that came with those dreams was that there would be some type of emergency, and we needed to prepare the young people we were responsible for.
"So, along with the group leaders and those who had been assigned to help with health-related issues, we began developing an emergency plan for each area where these young people were. Each one was also instructed to put together a 72-hr kit and review the emergency plans for their areas monthly. We also emphasized the importance of staying close to God and obeying his commandments so they could receive his protection.
"They [the volunteers] had been doing this during the two years prior to the earthquake, so after the earthquake hit, most of them felt at peace. They knew what to do and where to go, and they were able to use their emergency packs so they had what they needed during the two nights they spent in the shelters (at the churches), where they stayed before coming to Guayaquil. They knew they could call on God for his help and protection as well."
Though he speaks to each of us in different ways, God always speaks to those who are willing to listen. When we live our lives in the way he want us to, we can be assured that he will help us survive the daily "earthquakes" of our lives. The Dennises learned this lesson firsthand. They had this to say about all that they went through:
"This was a very traumatic experience, but for many, many people it served to turn them back to God and look at the changes they needed to make in their lives. It helped them put more attention on what matters most - their family and their relationship with God. We feel so blessed to have been able to be a part of this experience. It is something we will never forget."