By Norm Miller, Baptist Message special assignments reporter
LAKE CHARLES, La. (LBM)–Two hurricanes, each as devastating as Katrina, were more than a one-two punch to Calcasieu Parish, according to Carey Association Director of Missions Bruce Baker.
Recovery from the cataclysmic storms may take as many as eight years, and FEMA research estimates the overall cost of the damages at $40 million in the area, Baker said. There are 100,000 homes and 85 percent of them have roof damage; eight percent of the structures are uninsured.
“Homes in our area are still badly damaged, but we are beginning to claw out from under it all,” Baker said.
“Disaster Relief teams and others who came to help us – they were spectacular. They are the heroes,” he said. “We are grateful for the hard work they gave us. It was a gospel effort. It was a kingdom effort.”
Local government and community leaders know who the yellow shirts are, Baker added. “We have a fabulous reputation for service and caring. When the mayor needs disaster recovery help, he calls me.”
Baker recalled that Jesus tells us to love our neighbors. “A great way to love them is to show up with a chainsaw crew and a skid steer.”
FROM RELIEF TO RECOVERY
Houston Response is a group of churches that partnered together after Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas and this ministry model has inspired the formation of Southwest Louisiana Response, churches who have come together to share the love of
Christ though caring for those who continue to live in the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
Braylon Harris, who is pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Lake Charles, is also director of SWLA Response. “We’re not observing spring break because enough has been broken around here. Instead, we’re launching spring build,” Harris quipped.
The spring build effort already has 700 volunteers lined up for recovery ministry beginning in March. “But we need 100 teams of 8-to-10 volunteers each who have the ability or the willingness to handle roof repairs,” Baker said. “Our triage for that starts with families that have no insurance, followed by those who are aged or have health issues.” Mud-out teams are in demand as well. The infrastructure to house and feed volunteers already is in place.
Teams from WorldChangers are scheduled to help, Baker said. SBC Disaster Relief teams are welcome to join the effort, too.
With his voice and email inboxes constantly filled, Baker said mission teams and others “from across the country are asking how they can help. The priority is for money to funnel toward pastors, church staffers, and churches; supplies; and volunteers.” People have responded generously, he said, with church-to-church gifts exceeding $250,000.
RESOURCES TO REBUILD
Baker serves on a Long-term Recovery Committee (LRC) – an amalgam of local charitable organizations and churches – a civic organization guided by FEMA regulations.
Baker estimates that $500,000 are needed for roof repair materials in an area he has targeted for ministry. Sixty percent of that is already committed by the United Way, and he expects additional funds will be forthcoming from the LRC.
The United Way, Catholic Charities and the Community Foundation are among those invested in the rebuild as part of the influential LRC. “We’re able to partner with community leaders and other groups while maintaining our gospel witness. We never compromise that,” Baker said.
In a recent LRC meeting, one man offered to underwrite the purchase of three gooseneck trailers for use in debris removal. Baker mentioned that the trailers are of no use without a sizeable diesel truck to pull them.
In addition to a large truck, the list of needs identified by Baker include two tool trailers stocked with air hoses and compressors, nail guns, large tarps, and other wherewithal to support roof repairs and replacements.
The homes of 17 pastors in Carey Association were uninhabitable, and the association assisted them with $5,000 to $6,000 dollars each to help defray repair costs and insurance deductibles. Damage at 19 pastors’ homes exceeded the deductible, but the homes were livable. Those pastors received $2,000 to $3,000.
Some of our churches have closed, Baker said, and others will “need a God-sized miracle to re-open. I mean, a real miracle.”
Importantly, Baker is grateful for how Louisiana Baptists have cared for their sister churches, and particularly how Louisiana Baptist Convention leaders have undergirded the Carey Association’s work.
“I give the highest marks to Dr. Horn, John Hebert, Gibbie McMillan, the Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief workers, and many more,” Baker said. “I want Louisiana Baptists to know that our state convention gets the job done. They get an A+ in my book.”
Volunteers and/or donors can find extensive info at www.rebuildswla.org. Or, call the Carey Baptist Association office, 337.474.1865.