By Brian Blackwell & Philip Timothy, Baptist Message
For the past 25 years, Liz Landers has cooked for some of Hollywood’s most notable actors.
But since late March, Landers’ kitchen has been at First Baptist Church in Haughton, preparing meals for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers stationed there.
A former resident of Slidell, Landers said her house was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and that she feels this was a way she could give back to disaster relief volunteers who helped her restore her home.
According to Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief leaders, almost every meal served to the hundreds of volunteers working out of First Baptist Haughton has been planned and prepared by Landers.
Landers shared with the Louisiana Baptist Message her day during the flood recovery efforts regularly started at 4:30 a.m. and ended around 7:30 p.m.
“When the flooding happened I knew I had to do something,” said Landers, a member of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport. “I can never repay what they did for me after Katrina but the best I can do is try.”
Landers, who prepared her last meal at First Baptist Haughton May 12, is among hundreds of volunteers, many from across the United States, who have helped with disaster relief efforts in the various regions of Louisiana impacted by record flooding which began in March.
Through May 12, volunteers have registered 9,658 days of work, logged 3,473 ministry contacts, prepared 70,368 meals, provided 4,042 showers, washed and dried 2,548 loads of laundry, completed 3,421 jobs – and led 50 people to faith in Christ.
The historic rainfall left more than 18,000 homes flooded, according to the Federal Emergency Management Administration, and countless lives impacted. An estimated 85 percent of Louisiana’s disaster relief volunteers were among those affected, Louisiana Baptist leaders noted, but churches rallied nonetheless, rushing to help those in desperate need.
The Southern Baptist Convention helped coordinate the DR units mobilized by state conventions to assist this state, and volunteers like Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief Southeast Regional Coordinator Tom Long, welcomed their help.
“Everybody was really worn out,” Long said. “Our teams worked almost two months in parts of south Louisiana.
“It is sad people are going through heartache and destruction but at the same time it’s a tremendous opportunity to reach out to people beyond their physical needs and listen to their stories,” he continued. “Everybody has a story. Everybody wants to be heard.”
One of the most touching moments in his time at the incident command center at Woodland Park Baptist Church in Hammond was a conversation his team had with a man who felt he had no one to turn to after the storm. After sharing ways they could meet his physical needs – with regard to repairs for his home – the team met his spiritual needs, Long said.
That evening, Long said he witnessed the man accept Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
“He left our office rejuvenated and encourage, knowing someone was willing to sit down and give him direction,” Long said. “We were overflowed with joy, knowing he walked in and was so open and receptive. That’s a reason we do disaster relief – while we are there to meet a need such as helping mud-out their home, we are there to hopefully lead others to Christ.”
MORE WORK TO DO
While much of the work is complete in most affected areas, state leaders emphasize the next phase of disaster relief has just begun in others where floodwaters only recently subsided.
Louisiana Baptists also are forming teams to help rebuild homes as well.
Rob Tibbitts, pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in Vinton, said nearly 30 homes will be rebuilt by volunteers in his community, and he expects that number to grow.
“We’ve found some families open now to the Gospel that we are rebuilding homes for,” Tibbitts said. “It can take up to six weeks to rebuild a home and that gives us the opportunity to build that relationship long-term so we can share the Gospel long-term because we are there with them days, weeks and months helping them get in their homes.”
Crossroads Baptist Church hosted one of the incident command centers for disaster relief operations and the community came together, too, to help neighbors in the weeks following the flooding.
Tibbitts said assistance by Louisiana Baptists and our Southern Baptist partners made a good impression on neighbors, and planted seeds in the hearts of many who received help.
“We are a tiny church that can’t do much on our own,” Tibbits said. “But then others came from our Carey Baptist Association and outside the state to help us knock this thing out.
“You get in a situation like this that’s overwhelming and while you know God will pull through, you wonder how He is going to come through,” he continued. “Then others show up with tools, resources and a smile on their face. It’s a great sense of relief and a great sense of knowing that we’re going to make this and that we will get through this with flying colors.”
He said the disaster reminded him of God uses even tragedies to help us grow spiritually.
“God gives us more than we can handle so we will depend less on ourselves and more on Him,” he said. “In this situation it was more than we could handle. He showed up and did what His people couldn’t do. People are real quick to give Crossroads a lot of credit. The truth is it’s not Crossroads but the body of Christ that made the difference.”
John Cowling, head of operations for the state incident command center at Rolling Hills Ministries in Ruston, said as of May 12, almost 70 days after the rains began, only two incident command centers remained in operation to handle the remaining 29 mud-out projects.
“The volunteers have been an answer to prayer,” Cowling said. “We had and still continue to have this opportunity to serve people and fulfill that calling as disaster relief volunteers to help those who really need the help.”
David Abernathy, director of Rolling Hills, added his appreciation for churches that sent volunteers week after week to help others in need.
“Just because this phase is beginning to come to an end for us, the long-term recovery will last for some time,” he said. “It’s not over yet. We still have a great opportunity for ministry for local churches.
“I can’t say enough ‘thank yous’ to churches who have bent over backwards, as well as all the state disaster relief teams who came in,” he said. “It’s been a phenomenal response.”
Zenoria Baptist Church was one of the 14 church facilities hardest hit by the historic flooding.
The small, rural church in Trout has quite a history where it is sited, only a short distance from the Little River. Its building survived the great flood of 1927, as well as lesser floods in 1953, 1988 and 1991, but it was not as fortunate this year.
Rapidly rising waters caught everyone by surprise and the structure’s interior was destroyed, but not all was lost.
“What began as a little water in the church yard quickly turned into a raging flood that almost filled the inside of the church,” said Steve Campbell, the church’s treasurer. “Thankfully, with the help of men from First Baptist Church, Jena, we were able to remove the pews, the pulpit and most of the furniture before that happened.”
While the quick actions saved much of the furnishings, nothing could be done for the building itself.
“When we finally got back into the building, the ceiling had cracked, the walls had moved out and the floors came up,” said Campbell. “It was a terrible thing to witness.”
The 50-member congregation voted 22-0 to rebuild, but realized doing so would take a God-sized miracle.
“I was very encouraged the night we voted. We were unified,” Campbell said.
A miracle is close to becoming reality: May 8 land was donated 1.3 miles from the church to rebuild, and, May 13-14 the church raised $5,200 from a bake and rummage sale that included music performed by a bluegrass band.
The church hopes to pour the concrete slab sometime in the fall, and has a 2017 commitment from Kingdom Builders to start construction, after $50,000 is raised.
Pastor Joel Johnson gives all the credit to God.
“We are rejoicing in Christ because He is showing us the way and increased our faith even more,” Johnson said. “Everybody is excited that we actually have a place now that we’re not in limbo.”