By Brian Blackwell, Marketing Director
MOORE, Okla. – Charles Watson described the scene of a tornado-ravaged area in suburban Oklahoma City as worse than what was portrayed on television.
As the blue hat – leader – of the Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief unit from the Baton Rouge area surveyed the damage upon arrival to Moore on May 24, Watson noticed not only total destruction in neighborhoods but in other areas, homes not leveled but severely damaged.
Throughout their week-long stay in Moore, the team of 15 from six different churches cut down and removed trees from homes, installed tarps on roofs and cleaned up yards.
But even through the devastation that included the deaths of 24 people including school children who died when the storm touched down on May 20, Watson said the residents there have displayed a resilient and grateful attitude.
“We have met people who have lost everything,” said Watson, who began serving on a Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief team during Hurricane Katrina ministry in 2005. “And they have been pleasant.
“Even though they may have very little left, they keep telling us how thankful they are to the good Lord that their families are still here,” Watson continued. “They know it’s just stuff they lost and the good Lord will take care of them.”
Watson and the rest of his team members staying at nearby Southern Hills Baptist in Oklahoma City, were scheduled to return May 31 to Baton Rouge; two other teams were on standby to go to Moore if needed.
The incident in Moore was one of two such instances where Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers responded in the month of May.
In addition to the tornado in Moore, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers the week of May 16 removed trees and cleaned yards affected by a powerful storm that caused damage and power outages to homes and businesses in the Shreveport-Bossier City metropolitan area.
Hours after the storm affected the area, the disaster relief volunteers were among those responding.
According to the Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief office, chain saw units from Boyce and Blanchard along with 16 assessors were ministering in South Caddo and North DeSoto parishes.
The Northwest Louisiana Baptist Association said they had received no reports of damage to churches in that association.
Mission Point Baptist Church in Stonewall was also serving as a mobile command center for the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Ron Johnson, pastor of Mission Point Stonewall, said he was amazed at the level of calmness of residents affected by the storm.
“We have lots of neighbors pulling together,” Johnson said. “Not long after the storm hit we had lots of people come inside our sanctuary for a meeting and many of them were asking questions about what to do next.
“We said, ‘Do as neighbors are supposed to do, and help one another,’” the pastor continued. “And they have done just that.”
The disaster in Oklahoma prompted Louisiana Baptist churches throughout the state to collect supplies, some for its Sunday morning worship service and others for a few days.
One of those was Crescent City Rock Church in Metairie, whose pastor had a direct connection to Moore.
Elvina Louviere, the mother of Pastor Jim Louviere, lives in Moore. When the tornado touched down there, he called and discovered her home was not damaged and she was not injured.
However, he felt he had to act in a proactive manner. The result was a collection during its Sunday morning service on May 26 of such items as anti-bacterial wipes, diapers and toothbrushes.
“I know and appreciate how all kinds of churches and organizations always respond,” said Louviere, who serves as a Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief chaplain. “I love the wonderful SBC people and the excellent respond work done too.”
Northside Baptist in Lafayette also collected items, including juice boxes, baby formula, children’s shoes, bottled water, shampoo, Gatorade and diapers.
Executive Pastor Joe Garner said all the items filled up the church’s van and were delivered over the weekend. He credited promotion through Facebook and other social media as crucial to the response.
“Many outside our church collected items and dropped them off at the church,” Garner said. “Co-workers, friends and family all were glad to contribute and many were thankful that we were doing something tangible to help those affected.”
Five churches from Two Rivers, Washington and William Wallace associations – also known as the Baptist Associations of Southeast Louisiana – combined efforts to collect a variety of items such as Gatorade, trash bags, masks used when performing outdoor yard work, and paper products such as plates. Feliciana Baptist in Clinton, Superior Avenue Baptist in Bogalusa, First Baptist St. Francisville, First Baptist Amite and Hillcrest Baptist in Franklinton collected enough items to fill a 26-foot moving truck, according to Stan Statham, director of missions for Baptist Associations of Southeast Louisiana.
Statham said the truck was to transport the items to First Baptist Moore for distribution.
“It was such a blessing to see people respond to those in need,” Statham said. “We serve a good God.”
In addition to the efforts by the different churches to collect items, the Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief state office is accepting online donations at lbc.org/disasterrelief.
One-hundred percent of the funds given will go directly toward relief efforts in Oklahoma.
“We must pray, give and be prepared to go when called upon as the needs continue to develop,” said Gibbie McMillan, director of the Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief office.