Churches, volunteers join to ease suffering
LUMBERTON, N.J. (BP) -- Serving as a command center for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers has offered Southside Baptist Church in Lumberton, N.J., rich opportunities for fellowship with other believers, said Fernando Downs, pastor of the 150-member congregation.
"The big thing is to fellowship and to know that we are in this together, to minister to people as we reach out to them," Downs told Baptist Press.
Located inland, the church escaped much of superstorm Sandy's wrath and is able to serve as a command center and house volunteers. The mostly African American Southern Baptist congregation hosted visiting volunteers for worship Nov. 4.
"The fellowship was great. From the response that I had from our people and our visitors, it was mutually rewarding," Downs said. "The visitors expressed their gratitude to us for our graciousness and hospitality. The Southside family was just so excited that we had this opportunity to be involved in ministry beyond our walls.
"Our parking area is right now just filled with emergency vehicles. So basically it's those physical things that we are able to provide and of course as a pastor, I also feel a sense of responsibility spiritually," Downs said. "We have told the people if there's a need we can respond to, let us know that."
Downs said the congregation is humbled to be in a position to help, having only suffered electrical outages, a couple of downed trees and insignificant roof damage.
Southside is "just exceptionally gracious and grateful that we were spared ... any significant damage," Downs said. "There's a new storm system on its way and everyone is just holding their breath. The people, particularly at the shore area, can really not bear any more at this point."
A nor'easter storm system this week is expected to bring rain, winds and colder temperatures to New Jersey and New York.
Southside's help has been invaluable, said Steve Reavis, command center director.
"Without them we couldn't have done our job," Reavis said. "They've been so gracious to us, provided us all the things we need and then some."
While the emphasis in New Jersey is beginning to shift to cleanup and recovery, the need for feeding remains high, Reavis said.
"The emphasis is beginning to shift from feeding over to recovery operations, doing mud-out, chain saw work," Reavis said, "and we're bringing in recovery and chainsaw crews from many different states."
New Jersey also was to increase its feeding capacity from 75,000 meals a day to 125,000 meals a day by Tuesday, he said, when six feeding kitchens would be operational.
In New York, Crossroads Church on Staten Island, a Southern Baptist congregation, was mentioned Friday night on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360." Nicole Malliotakis, who represents Staten Island in the New York State Assembly, described a slow response to large-scale needs on Staten Island following the hurricane.
"The first few days there was a problem with communication. No one's cell phone was working, obviously all electricity -- the power -- was gone, phone wires were down," Malliotakis told CNN. "We could not communicate with each other.
"... Those first few days I was walking out here distributing food, water with one of our local churches, Crossroads Church, and Rab's bowling alley who collected a bunch of stuff, and we were the only ones out here," the assemblywoman said.
Crossroads Church, along with Malliotakis, was in the news earlier this year for its stance against New York City's policy barring churches from meeting in public schools.
On CNN, Malliotakis requested volunteers with shovels, brooms, garbage bags and gloves to help clean up devastated neighborhoods. Crossroads was in the midst of the recovery effort. The church, now meeting in a theater in the severely impacted New Dorp neighborhood, was delivering food, cleaning supplies, towels, snacks and information to residents, according to the Staten Island Advance newspaper.
Crossroads also planned to canvass the community to determine needs for generators, tree removal, water pumping and other assistance. The church was accepting donations of all useful items following the historic storm.
With the nor'easter expected Tuesday, temperatures were predicted to fall to 36 degrees in New York City, where about 1.2 million people were still without power.
On Long Island, a woman placed her belongings on the curb after her home was inundated with 7 feet of water, according to CNN.com. Looters threatened her property, and she felt helpless.
"I don't have electricity, so I cannot pump the water. It is just sitting there. Whether someone takes what we have ... I have no control over that. I have no control over any of it," she said.
Some people slept in cars, and lines for food and gas continued to extend for blocks, CNN.com said Monday. Another woman conveyed the sadness she felt at watching people "throwing their family photos out in the middle of the street."
"It's a humbling experience," she said.
In West Virginia on Monday, several counties remained severely impacted by heavy snowfall brought by the storm, although some areas were moving back toward normal.
Allen Travis, pastor of Restoration Church in Mt. Nebo, W.Va., said the situation was improving in his area as crews were restoring power and clearing roads. Restoration is hosting two Southern Baptist Disaster Relief kitchen units that have prepared meals for distribution by the Red Cross.
"Anytime people are in need, in my experience, it's a really great time to talk to them about the Lord, and they're more open to prayer than when things are really good," Travis said. "So we're meeting people where their need is and also hopefully just seeing the church in action ...."
The church's help with disaster relief has brought Travis into contact with people he otherwise might not have met. A family asked him to pray for their mother who has two brain tumors, and a woman who said she had been "away from the Lord" allowed Travis to pray with her in her doorway.
"I hope that our community will see us reaching into them, and see that we are valuable to them, as far as being able to help them, and not just a building sitting on a corner," Travis said.
He expressed gratitude for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the Red Cross, which have joined with Restoration to do what a single person could not.
"[W]e see a lot of people working together to help people, which is just awesome in itself," Travis said.
Compiled by Diana Chandler and Erin Roach of Baptist Press and John Evans, a writer in Houston. To contribute to the relief efforts, contact state Baptist convention offices or, for the North American Mission Board's disaster relief effort, visit namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).