By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
ALEXANDRIA, La. (LBM)–The novel coronavirus pandemic has kept most of the state’s population at a general standstill for nearly two months, but not more than 100 Louisiana Baptist volunteers who have been on the front lines providing disaster relief to tornado-stricken victims, for instance, while also offering them the hope that is found in Christ.
MINISTERING TO THE MULTITUDES
Since Gov. John Bel Edwards issued his first of several statewide restriction measures, March 13, disaster relief teams have ministered at feeding sites, provided hospitals with essential protective equipment, established a homeless outreach center, set up a mobile shower station to assist a jail in its COVID-19 response, and, completed chainsaw and other cleanup duties in multiple tornado-stricken communities.
Gibbie McMillan, Louisiana Baptists state disaster relief coordinator, said he has been amazed at the volunteers’ selfless attitude.
“They have been champions,” McMillan told the Baptist Message. “They had the time off from their regular jobs and felt like as long as they practiced common sense social distancing they would be alright. Thankfully, none of our team members even got sick and we credit that to precautions and the many prayers from others.”
McMillan said maintaining proper social distancing of at least six feet while trying to accomplish the task at hand was difficult, but not prohibitive.
“There is a certain amount of risk involved when you throw in what we have been dealt the last couple of months,” McMillan added. “Our teams still did it because of their commitment to help others. We didn’t do it for fame or money. We did it to be the hands and feet of Jesus through the local church.”
ENCOURAGING THE SICK
Five days after Edwards issued his first proclamation, Louisiana Baptists provided 10,000 N95 respirators to Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans and another 14,000 masks to other hospitals and clinics around the state from disaster relief inventories. Then, March 23, the New Orleans Baptist Association and Louisiana Baptist Convention gifted the Baptist Community Health Services in New Orleans with 560 N95 respirators, combined, and other much needed supplies. Two days later, disaster relief volunteers delivered an additional 500 N95 respirators and 250 Tyvek protection suits to BCHS.
“Sometimes you do things in life and you have no way of knowing if you accomplished anything,” said John Hebert, Louisiana Baptists missions and ministry team leader. “Giving those respirators to the hospital was very fulfilling in that we knew that they were going to save somebody’s life,” Praise God. He’ll receive all the glory.”
FEEDING THE HUNGRY
On March 27, a feeding unit cooked meals in Lake Charles for hungry school children, their families and the elderly.
Volunteers from Carey Baptist Association, Washington Baptist Association, First Baptist Church in Slidell and an Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief team prepared the food at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles and transported it to Mount Olive Baptist Church where it was distributed to families in a drive-thru lane. United Way provided funds as part of its support of “second responder” coalitions (Southwest Louisiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters).
By the time the response ended May 1, the teams had prepared 50,000 meals.
“This was all new territory because we had to self-quarantine from the rest of the community, whereas in all other disasters we are able to interact with those we serve,” disaster relief volunteer Liz Landers said. “But this was so rewarding. I saw people from different churches and parts of the community coming together to serve for one purpose. We may never meet those we helped, but we know for sure based on the stories we got back from those at the drive-through lane that they most definitely appreciated all we did for them.”
Further east, a team from the Baptist Association of Southeast Louisiana along with volunteers from New Orleans packed 200 meals, 40 snack packs and 40 hygiene kits and delivered them, April 10, to the Unity of Greater New Orleans, a non-profit organization that leads a collaboration of 63 organizations who offer housing and support services to the homeless. Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief provided most of the funding, with BASELA adding some money and providing most of the manpower; Jack Brown Grocery Store in Franklinton assisted in ordering food, and donated some items; and the association’s Hope Center provided some snack items.
COMFORTING THOSE IN NEED
A team from Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association set up a a mobile shower unit at the Livingston Parish Jail for seven weeks to support the facility’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, Mt. Olive Baptist Association stationed a shower unit outside Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Alexandria for five weeks for use by medical personnel who were on continuous rotation with limited shower facilities in the hospital.
Hours after a tornado damaged nearly 300 homes in the Monroe-West Monroe area, April 12, disaster relief teams and volunteers from Rolling Hills Ministries, Temple Baptist Church and Calvary Baptist Church in Ruston as well as from Cedar Crest Baptist Church and First Baptist Church in West Monroe teamed up for a response. The Minutemen Disaster Response, a non-profit response team in McKinney, Texas; and, Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational humanitarian aid organization founded by evangelist Franklin Graham, also assisted.
The following Sunday, another series of tornadoes devastated the state, this time in the cities of Leesville and Mandeville, and Natchitoches Parish. Teams from area churches banded together and helped with the cleanup.
A third round of storms wreaked havoc on the state, April 22, causing damage to homes in Rapides Parish, including buildings near the Louisiana State University in Alexandria campus. Teams from Natchitoches and Leesville helped with cleanup in Rapides Parish while volunteers from Eastern Louisiana and Washington Baptist associations helped clean up an area in McComb, Mississippi, a community hit hard by storms the same day.
Approximately 20 disaster relief chaplains also answered phone calls at a coronavirus prayer line to talk with and pray with people impacted by the virus, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., March 27-May 2. Stan Statham, disaster relief consultant and director of missions for BASELA stated “chaplains also used their time dedicated to answering the phone to pray for our governmental leaders, pastors, and churches.”
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Moving forward, McMillan said disaster relief teams will continue to respond as needs arise, including with regard to support for the ongoing Operation Bahama Rebuild.
Since early December, more than 100 Louisiana Baptists have helped teams from Mississippi rebuild the 128-year-old St. Matthew Baptist Church that was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, Sept. 2, 2019. A team returned from the island in March, after installing trusses in the fellowship hall and pouring concrete in the foyer of the worship center. Both areas were parts of the facilities that were destroyed by the storm.
The coronavirus pandemic has prevented teams from returning to the island since mid-March. But McMillan said work is scheduled to resume as early as June, adding that volunteers are needed to help install trusses and decking on the roof of the worship center and complete the fellowship hall.
“We have groups of people who are lined up to go back as soon as it is safe,” McMillan said. “We are expecting to be there in the middle of June provided the government okays travel.
“Many of the trips that have been planned to other places in the world have had to be cancelled due to this virus,” he continued. “If you were one of those who couldn’t go on another mission trip, consider joining us in helping this church rebuild.”