By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
Weeks after a pair of hurricanes hit the U.S. mainland, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief teams still are responding with aid to churches and individuals in affected areas of Florida and Texas.
As of late September, Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association’s chainsaw team was in Jacksonville, Fla. (where Hurricane Irma swept through Sept. 11).
Meanwhile, the Rolling Hills Ministry’s feeding and shower units from Ruston were working in Houston, Texas, not far from where Hurricane Harvey made landfall (Aug. 26 and continued to drop record rains through Aug. 28), Louisiana Baptists State Disaster Relief Coordinator Gibbie McMillan told the Baptist Message.
No Louisiana teams had been activated yet, as of Oct.4, to serve in Puerto Rico which was devastated by Hurricane Maria, Sept. 20.
However, McMillan said plans are being implemented for trained disaster relief volunteers to go to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico beginning Oct. 10.
The response plan calls for volunteers to deploy for a two-week period.
The work will include assisting congregations in feeding operations and water purification, McMillan said, with the goal of helping individuals restore order so they can return to living their lives rather than just surviving.
CHRIST’S HANDS, FEET
A chainsaw team from Eastern Louisiana association responded to Victoria, Texas, in early September, completing 10 chainsaw jobs and placing tarps on the roofs of 19 homes. They spent the last week of the month in Jacksonville, Fla., completing 20 chainsaw jobs and covering eight homes with tarps.
One job in Florida involved cutting up an eight-foot-diameter tree, which alone took nine hours for the 11-member team to complete.
Howard Turner, blue hat for the Eastern Louisiana team, said if the team had not volunteered to cut up the tree, it would have cost around $7,500 for the homeowner to hire a private contractor. For that, Howard said, the couple expressed much appreciation.
“They were shocked someone would show up, pray with them and complete such a massive job at no cost,” Turner said. “It’s always heartwarming to tell the homeowners that we serve a great God and are here to serve them.”
Meanwhile, the Rolling Hills feeding team has served more than 165,000 meals and its shower and laundry trailers have been used for 500 showers and 400 loads of laundry during the five-week response in Texas.
Moreover, the ministry distributed $85,000 worth of gift cards to Harvey victims at various locations from money donated in Ruston.
“The gift cards have turned out to be a tremendous way to make personal contact with those affected by the disasters,” said David Abernathy, director of Rolling Hills. “It’s humbling to know people are placing trust in our organization. They know their direct giving helps in the lives of the others.”
According to North American Mission Board statistics, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams, through Sept. 27, have served 1.8 million meals to survivors of Harvey and first responders, and 288 people have repented, humbling their hearts and surrendering their lives to Christ.
The response to Hurricane Irma includes more than 500,000 meals served, with 46 people repenting for salvation.
McMillian emphasized that volunteers are still needed for the immense response efforts.
“We are a great Convention of churches, with everyone doing their part,” McMillan said. “When we flooded in Louisiana twice in 2016, we had volunteers to respond with help from 29 different states. It is time for our volunteers to stand up and help our neighbors.
“Every dollar that we have for the disaster relief budget comes from the Georgia Barnett State Missions offering, and now is the time for you to give, please be generous,” he continued. “Thanks to the Cooperative Program and our state missions offering we can make the difference needed in times like this.”