Chainsaws give entrée to ministry
LIVINGSTON, Texas (BP)--It was just past 8 a.m. when the chainsaws started buzzing outside a small house along a country road south of Livingston, about 80 miles northeast of Houston.
Moments earlier, amid swarming mosquitoes and the dew common on September mornings in the southeast Texas woods, a prayer went up among six men that God would honor their work and keep them safe.
For Gary Hunt and his crew, sharing the love of Christ begins with generators and power equipment.
The men were among several dozen chainsaw crew members representing the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention's disaster relief (DR) ministry in Livingston the week following Hurricane Ike.
The downed trees and widespread power outages in rural southeast Texas provided opportunities for the SBTC disaster relief teams, along with DR volunteers from the Arizona Baptist Convention, to ease the discomfort for many affected by Ike's widespread destruction.
The prayer scene in front of the rural home was repeated a dozen times or more as the chainsaw crews began their long workdays.
Hunt, a welder from Longview, Texas, was serving in his sixth hurricane with the SBTC's DR ministry.
Removing a large tree blocking a driveway or resting on a house often provides an opportunity to talk about spiritual things, Hunt said.
"I understand a lot of guys can't take off at the drop of a hat," he said. "I've gone outside my home church [Macedonia Baptist in Longview] and we've found people who can serve in this way. This team right here is the largest team we've had since we started with Hurricane Charley in August 2004."
Macedonia has its own DR mini-bus to transport people and equipment for chainsaw ministry.
Prayers for spiritual success among the SBTC teams were tangibly answered several days into the effort.
One man, when an SBTC assessment team came to his home to see the damage, prayed to receive Christ as he lay in bed with terminal pulmonary disease.
Bob Caudill, a member of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, and Wayne Rackley, a member of First Baptist Church in Van Alstyne, were invited by the man's wife to talk with him after Caudill asked to see damage from inside the home, something the men rarely do.
Rackley said the decision to look inside was providential.
"Something just led Bob to go in and see the tree from the inside," Rackley said. "The guy could not even get out of bed. He doesn't have very long to live."
Caudill, a retired teacher and coach who had been trained in the F.A.I.T.H. Sunday School evangelism strategy, talked to the man named James after his wife insisted the men see him. The wife is a believer, but she was worried about her husband, Caudill said.
"He knew that God had watched over him and extended his life to that point for a reason," Caudill said. "I explained that reason -- that I was there to share with him the hope and assurance found only in Jesus Christ."
After Caudill explained the Gospel, the man agreed he needed the salvation Caudill spoke of, and Caudill led him in a prayer of salvation.
"The only thing we're doing here is earning the right to share the Gospel," Caudill said.
"I hear guys say, 'You could not pay me enough to do this work, but it gives me the right to share the Gospel and that makes it all worth it.'"
Julian Moreno, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Uvalde, Texas, said he was happy to be serving alongside the SBTC chainsaw teams despite falling from the roof of a house on Sept. 18, breaking his wrist and cracking three ribs.
Moreno sat on his cot in the warehouse where the DR teams were staying, smiling as he recalled his inaugural disaster relief service after Hurricane Rita in 2005.
Despite his mishap, Moreno said he would continue to volunteer in DR work because "you are helping people at the critical times of their lives. Most of these people can't afford to pay someone to do what we do."
For Marsha Stutts of Central Baptist Church in Livingston, helping the chainsaw crews by organizing assessment requests is a ministry that hits close to home.
"Three years ago when we had Hurricane Rita, it was just overwhelming," Stutts said. "That's when we did the DR training.
"This time, we knew a little more about what we were facing. It's amazing the number of people who come to help."
The 57 DR volunteers in Livingston included 18 from Arizona, including Steve Bass, executive director of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. The Arizona team was feeding volunteers and some people in the community -- about 500 meals a day -- by buying food at a local grocery store while they waited four days for a truckload of food to arrive.
"Texans have always been a great help to us," Bass told the SBTC's Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal. "Our ministries benefit from the Cooperative Program, a lot more than we ever put in, and we know where it comes from."
George Yarger, the chainsaw teams' communications director and pastor of Harper Baptist Church in Payne Springs, was one of several pastors among the 39 SBTC volunteers.
Yarger got hooked on DR after he volunteered for disaster relief training following Hurricane Katrina. He figured if he volunteered, his church members would take the lead. Instead, the next day he was on his way to Baton Rouge, La.
"Disaster relief takes you out of your comfort zone where only God can help you," Yarger said. "That's why people come back from mission trips totally changed. They lose their culture and they let God use them. DR is like that."
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.