Floods yield 'unprecedented' opportunities
METROPOLIS, Ill. (BP)--A Southern Illinois pastor sees the record flooding along the Mississippi River as an unprecedented chance to impact his community with the Gospel.
"We won't have an opportunity like this to minister to our friends and neighbors for another 500 years," Joe Buchanan, pastor of First Baptist Church in Metropolis, said May 8. "We must be prepared spiritually and physically to minister to hurting people in Jesus' name."
Buchanan said the upcoming week's deacons meeting would have one agenda item: "Find someone who needs help, and help them."
The pastor was speaking to three Southern Baptist congregations worshipping together -- First Baptist Metropolis; Eastland Baptist Church in Metropolis, whose building was surrounded by floodwaters, and First Baptist Church in Brookport, a community under voluntary evacuation orders.
"Thousands of people are in desperate need. Many have lost everything they own, their homes and even their livelihoods. It's time for the church of Jesus Christ to step up," Buchanan said.
After nearly two weeks of record flooding in Southern Illinois, waters of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers have started to recede, leaving mud and debris throughout communities, homes and churches. At least eight Illinois Baptist State Association churches in four regional associations have sustained flood damage.
First Southern Baptist Church in Cairo, under a mandatory evacuation order, hasn't experienced water damage but hasn't held worship services for two weeks. Roger Ferrell, director of missions for the Clear Creek Baptist Association, was eager to get back to the church to finish work on a mission center that will house volunteer mission teams.
"We hope to have shower facilities and bunk bed accommodations ready at First Cairo by the first of June for mission groups to use as their hub as they minister in our association," Ferrell told the Illinois Baptist. "We have many, many people who will be cleaning up for a long time, and we need mission teams to come help us this summer."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew a hole in a levee along the Mississippi River May 2 to save Cairo from flooding. The town sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and the entire town remains under evacuation orders.
Waldo Baptist Church, east of Metropolis, was serving as a Red Cross shelter for more than 30 people, most of whom lived in a mobile home park that was completely under water.
"We're providing shelter, food and spiritual support for people who aren't accustomed to much," Susan Ramage, a Waldo volunteer, said. "One little boy said one of the meals was like Thanksgiving or Christmas because we were serving sliced ham."
A disaster relief chaplain from Third Baptist Church in Marion, Ill., was leading children at the shelter to make witnessing necklaces. When she finished, a mother who had been listening from across the gymnasium asked her how she could be saved. She led the woman to make a profession of faith in Christ.
Hard-hit Clear Creek and Union Baptist Associations have established assistance funds that will be used to minister to their churches and members as well as minister to their flooded communities. For contact information, go to IBSA.org.
Down river in Tennessee, more than 100 homes were flooded and evacuated in Lake County, according to Jason Allison, chief deputy of the sheriff's department and pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Tiptonville.
Flooding also was reported in Dyer and Lauderdale counties in Tennessee, including 75 homes and businesses in Dyersburg.
The Mississippi River in Tiptonville crested at 48.4 feet May 8, a foot higher than during the 1937 flood, Allison said, adding that the high mark was three feet less than predicted. Waters have dropped in some places but may still rise in other areas and could remain for several weeks.
"It's answered prayer," Allison said of the lower than expected crest. "This is what we were praying for."
In response to the disaster, members of Lakeview Baptist started serving meals and operating as a shelter April 25. The church has served as many as 300 meals a day to flood victims and workers including law enforcement personnel. The church also housed several people who stayed overnight, Allison said.
Needs have declined as flood victims have evacuated to live with family and friends away from the area and to a high school in Tiptonville being operated as a shelter by the Red Cross, Allison said.
In addition to providing meals, church members have placed sandbags and helped residents pack up household items.
Jerry Leggett, associate pastor at Second Baptist Church in Union City, said he has lived there all of his life and was shocked at the flooding despite the construction of many levees over the years since the flood of 1937.
The educational space and fellowship hall of New Mitchell Grove Baptist Church in Halls was flooded. The parking lot of Southside Baptist Church in Dyersburg was flooded, though the church building was safe. The congregation met at the Municipal Courthouse in Dyersburg May 8.
Allison, the Tiptonville pastor, predicted the crisis will continue for a couple of weeks. He asked Tennessee Baptists for continued prayers and thanked them and others who have helped.
"We're a small, tight-knit community here," he said, adding that the help "means so much to us here."
Martin King is editor of the Illinois Baptist (www.ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist/current), newsjournal of the Illinois State Baptist Association; Connie Davis Bushey is news editor of the Baptist and Reflector (www.tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.