By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
Despite a relatively quiet year, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief officials are not letting their guard down for what 2015 may bring.
“It was very quiet for our teams,” said Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief State Director Gibbie McMillan. “That makes you a little nervous and wonder what next year will bring to us.
“I hear we may be in for a severe winter because of a mild summer that we had,” he continued. “When the time comes, we will be there. The Lord provides the volunteers whenever disaster strikes.”
This year, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief teams responded to two major disasters – in May to a tornado in Mississippi and in October to a tornado in Monroe.
When Alice Livingston discovered oak and pine trees had fallen on her home, she wondered where the help would come from.
That help arrived in the form of a team of Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers.
“There couldn’t have been anyone nicer or worked harder,” Livingston said. “My whole family was very impressed with them. It was just great and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
The Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief team that helped Livington remained in Louisville through May 7. The team of four from Hammond worked from May 2 to May 7 in the South Mississippi town that was affected by the tornado.
They removed trees from six locations, five of which were adjoining property owners, according to James Barrow, blue hat for the team.
Barrow said all of the homeowners they met were appreciative and continually expressed their thankfulness. One location even cooked the team fried fish for lunch on May 6.
Barrow said he is forever grateful for the relationships and friendships formed with the residents of Louisville.
“The most meaningful thing to me was the sense that the Lord was able to use us to make a difference in the lives of these great people,” Barrow said. “God is faithful; He loves and cares about people. It is a privilege to be part of what He is doing.”
The team from Hammond was one of four from Louisiana working in areas affected by the deadly tornadoes in Mississippi where at least eight people lost their lives due to the April 28 storm.
In addition to Louisville, teams also worked in Brandon, Pearl and Tupelo and Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief continue handled the rest of the work.
McMillan said all the training the teams take part in during the off season prepares them to respond when disaster strikes.
“We need more people trained because when the need is there it usually takes 12 calls to get one volunteer that can respond,” McMillian said. “These volunteers are people most of the time who are working full-time jobs and or are retired and may be dealing with family illness, personal illness, or may be traveling across the country. There are many factors that come in to play when we call the volunteers.
“Sometimes these people are not able to respond but if we have more people trained then when we call we can still get a good number to respond,” he continued. “We cannot do this unless Louisiana Baptists give to the Cooperative Program through their local churches. This is a great time to be a part of Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief work.”
In the Jackson metropolitan area, a team of six from Woodland Park in Hammond and two from First Baptist Franklinton removed trees from nearly 50 homes from May 2 to May 7.
While working in the Jackson suburbs of Brandon and Pearl, the team stayed at First Baptist Brandon.
Duncan Freche, a blue hat with the Woodland Park team, said everyone he interacted continually expressed their appreciation for the Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief teams working there.
Just like the team from Hammond, the residents of one area in which they worked provided lunch for the team members.
Local businesses and First Baptist Brandon also provided meals for the team.
Before any Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team begins work on a home, they offer to pray with the homeowners. Freche said during their first job, they prayed with the homeowners, who First Brandon had reached out to previously about coming to church there.
“They were very thankful and willing to listen to the gospel,” Freche recalled. “It is very rewarding to have the opportunity to show Christ. We show Christ. It’s not about us. It’s to show Him and that’s why we go.”
During their time in Tupelo, a team of seven people representing five churches in the Shreveport-Bossier City area laid tarp over roofs on two homes and removed trees from four homes. The team members worked from May 2 to May 4 and stayed at Auburn Baptist in Tupelo.
The team members were from First Baptist Blanchard, Grawood Baptist in Keithville, Liberty Baptist in Marion, Bellevue Road Baptist Haughton and Mt. Carmel Baptist in Florien.
Michael Burkhardt, a blue hat with the team, said he was impressed with the attitude of the Tupelo residents, some who lost their homes and even loved ones from the storm.
“The people there had a willingness attitude and didn’t have a defeated attitude,” he said. “Nobody was walking with their head down saying they lost everything. Their attitude was to take it one step at a time and rebuild.”
Burkhardt said the team was able to present a New Testament one of the homeowners whose home was severely damaged, for which the person was extremely grateful to have received.
“If the New Testament is all you have got and many of your other personal belongings have been destroyed, then it becomes something you can lean on,” he said. “Presenting the gospel is just as much a part of it as a cranked up chainsaw.”
Monroe tornado response
Closer to home, disaster relief teams from the state responded hours after a tornado touched down in Monroe on Oct. 13.
Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief teams spent the week cleaning up from a powerful storm that caused significant damage to parts of Monroe.
The Baptist Collegiate Ministry building at the University of Louisiana-Monroe received some damage and the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home & Family Ministries lost 15 pecan trees but sustained no damaged buildings or injuries.
Crews met at Cedar Crest Baptist Church in West Monroe on Oct. 14 before heading out to sites. Some of the teams stayed at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in West Monroe while they worked.
A total of 55 volunteers worked over a seven-day period, between Oct. 14-17 and then again from Oct. 22-24.
The chainsaw teams completed more than 40 jobs. They were from Mt. Vernon Baptist, Cedar Crest Baptist, Bayou Macon Association, First Baptist Church Blanchard, Big Creek Association, Sabine Association and First Baptist Church Ferriday. Thirteen assessors from as far south as Sulphur also came to the site.
“Disaster relief volunteers from across our state did a great job in their response to Ouachita Parish,” said David Abernathy, one of the Louisiana Baptist team members. “So many lives were touched. While every disaster is different, the one thing that never changes is the fact that disaster relief volunteers are making a difference in peoples’ lives because of their love for Jesus and their commitment to respond to people in need.”
Georgia Barnette vital to disaster relief
Without the Georgia Barnette Offering for State Missions, along with some Louisiana Baptist church making monthly donations, disaster relief ministry would not be possible.
“We wouldn’t have funds we need,” McMillan said. “It’s like insurance. The intent is for that money to be there for us in times of disaster.”
This year, two new chainsaw units – William Wallace and North Sabine associations – were added to bring that total up to 48. Disaster relief in the state also has three feeding units, one childcare, 12 shower and six mud-out recovery units.
For anyone interested in becoming a Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer, numerous training events are scheduled throughout 2015. More information, including how to register, can be found by calling 800.622.6549 or visit LouisianaBaptists.org/Men.