By Brian Blackwell, Marketing Director
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers exhibited the spirit of Christmas recently when they gave back to those affected in one of the hardest-hit areas by Hurricane Sandy.
No stranger to receiving assistance from others during disasters, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers spent most of November and some of December – including the week just before Christmas – helping those in need in Northeast communities not accustomed to direct impact of major hurricanes.
According to the North American Mission Board, volunteers from 32 state and regional Southern Baptist conventions sent crews to areas. Those volunteers prepared more than 1.6 million meals and assisted more than 1,200 homeowners with clean-up and recovery efforts through early December.
“In some respects, it was a bigger disaster than Hurricane Katrina because of the high population density that was affected,” said Louisiana Baptist disaster relief coordinator Gibbie McMillan. “Our teams were able to share the love of Christ to those who suffered through this disaster.”
The first Louisiana Baptist team left for Staten Island on Nov. 4. Those teams included feeding, mud-out, shower/laundry, chainsaw and chaplain units.
By the end of November, as the need for disaster relief crews dwindled, most of the volunteers had returned to Louisiana. However, the Mt. Olive Baptist Association’s trailer equipped with six showers and four washer-dryer units remained in Staten Island through mid-December for Southern Baptist disaster relief crews from several states to use during their time there.
James Irvine, a blue hat – otherwise known as the unit director – for the Mount Olive Baptist Association shower/laundry unit, said at least 60 disaster relief volunteers used the trailer during the first week he was there.
“The trailer was very important, since volunteers got very dirty cleaning out flooded and mudded basements all day,” Irvine said. “A hot shower and clean clothes went a long way to help out our volunteers.”
Irvine – who also served as a chaplain during his eight days in Staten Island – said many victims of Hurricane Sandy had trouble understanding how such a disaster could happen to them.
“I told them there are things we don’t understand, but we have to accept them,” Irvine said. “And I told them it was important to realize that their loss was just material goods which they can replace. We just had to remind them that Jesus was their hope for the future.
“Most of the people were very appreciative to see Southern Baptists helping out there,” Irvine continued. “Some of them seemed very pleased to see people from Louisiana would come a long way just to help them out.”
In addition to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief crews who ministered in November, another crew of 55 volunteers – mostly college students from Louisiana State University – spent seven days assisting with relief efforts in State Island. Among the volunteers were four generations from the same family – LSU BCM director Steve Masters, his father, daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
“I’m very proud of our students who are giving up their Christmas holidays to serve others,” Masters said prior to the group leaving for Staten Island. “They’re excited about helping and sharing and giving. We’ve done disaster relief projects in several states but I anticipate this being the hardest disaster relief work we’ve ever done.”
The spiritual impact by disaster relief volunteers included 71 people from the 659 gospel presentations made had indicated a decision to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior as a result of relief efforts, according to NAMB. Additionally, at least two people indicated a blessing from a caravan of Louisiana Baptist disaster relief vehicles traveling to Staten Island in early November.
Angela Young, a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, said she was overcome with emotion when she saw the caravan. A professing Christian since 2005, Young said she had stopped attending church shortly after making a decision for Christ because of the negative behavior of people who attended worship services in her area.
Now, Young said, the caravan helped restore her faith in Christians.
“It is hard to describe the feeling that overwhelmed me to tears but I felt closer to God than I had in a very long time because I saw your mission group,” Young wrote in an e-mail to Louisiana Disaster Relief. “I knew I needed to connect with them and let them know how much their commitment to God and their mission helped me to see that God is working and loving.
“Maybe your mission truck was not only out on the road to help people in New York and New Jersey but also to change the life of a person like me who had given up on God and his plan for my life,” Young said. “For that chance brief moment I thank God and I thank you for answering the call.”
Wendy Blodgett, a Newport News, Va., resident, was traveling in her state when she noticed the same caravan and voiced appreciation for the Louisiana Baptist volunteers.
“How wonderful it was to see God’s love being put into action,” Blodgett wrote on the Baptist Message Facebook page. “I waved madly and had tears streaming down my face. My parents spent quite a bit of time in Port Sulphur after Katrina with the Virginia Association. May God bless you and the lives that you will touch as you serve.”
Hurricane Sandy wasn’t the only disaster Louisiana Baptist volunteers responded to in 2012. Other responses included 60 volunteers who assisted with cleaning up lots and debris from properties affected by wildfires in Oklahoma and Texas; 200 volunteers ministering to Hurricane Isaac victims in South Louisiana; and 40 volunteers who helped with the recovery of cemetery graves that were damaged or displaced south of Poydras by Isaac