TUCKERTON, N.J. (BP) -- The 16-member chainsaw crew had stopped for supper at a restaurant just outside Tuckerton, N.J., having driven all day from Cross Central Church in Lexington, S.C., to help survivors of Hurricane Sandy.
Team leader Alan Giddens offered to help a certain storm survivor at the restaurant who said he was fine, directing the team to those in more need, Giddens said.
"The next morning we're in this neighborhood working and I look up and he's standing behind me. And you can just look at him and see, he's just, he's out of energy. And I turned around and spoke to him," Giddens said. "He said, 'I told you last night I didn't need any help.' But he said, 'My body's broken.' He said, 'I can't go anymore. I need your help.' He said, 'I'm a very proud man, but ... I need you.'"
Giddens said the man, 51 and strong, cried as he related his plight, expressing surprise and wonder that the crew was there to help.
In what Giddens described as a providential meeting, the New Jersey man told the crew he had lost everything. His New Jersey coastal community home that had housed four generations of his family suffered four feet of saltwater as Sandy churned Tuckerton Bay ashore. He had no hurricane insurance.
The crew encouraged the man to go home and rest, Giddens said, and made arrangements to include his home in the day's recovery work. As is the group's custom, they offered to pray with the man before beginning to work on his home that evening.
"We prayed with [him] and [he] broke down and he said, 'I want what you guys have,' and we shared the Gospel with him," Giddens said. "And he said, 'I can't do that. I've been bad in my life. I can't. There's no way I can go to heaven.'
"Of course we shared with him we've all been bad. We've all sinned. We sin every day. But Jesus died on that cross for our sins and that He forgives us," Giddens said. The man accepted Jesus.
"This guy was so excited that he was screaming out, 'I love you, Jesus,'" Giddens said. "He even called his friend on the phone and he said, 'I just had to call and tell you I just accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,' and he said, 'And you need to too.'"
The Cross Central Church recovery team arrived in New Jersey on Halloween and began work the next day, clearing debris, damaged furniture and fallen trees from homes and streets in Tuckerton, Little Egg Harbor Township and Absecon. Like the man they encountered at the restaurant, the people generally were slow to accept help, Giddens said.
"The first day we got a lot of, 'No, we're OK. We don't need help,' ... because that part of the country is not used to seeing yellow shirts," Giddens said, referring to the common uniform on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and recovery volunteers. "By about the second day ... people started coming up and thanking us for being there, just going out of their way to thank us."
The team helped 29 families.
"We were able to share the Gospel with every one of those families, pray with them. In some cases, something we'd never done before, we'd be working on the streets and when we got through working we'd have seven or eight different families out in a big circle praying with us," Giddens said. Spiritual outreach is at the heart of the work.
"We always tell each other that when we go here, it's not about cutting the tree. That's why we go there, that's what our reason is, but that's the excuse we use. We're going to share the love of Jesus Christ, to share the Gospel. That's what we're going there for," said Giddens, who has participated in disaster recovery work for 10 years.
The New Jersey man who accepted Jesus discovered the true purpose of the visit, Giddens said.
"And this guy goes, 'I just figured it out. It's not about cutting the bushes and the trees, is it?' And I said, 'You got it.... You got it, buddy.'
"He said, 'I've lost everything I had in this storm, but I've gained it all now,'" Giddens said. "If we wouldn't have done anything on that trip but that, it would have been a huge success. But we were able to help him, his wife and 28 other families."
The chainsaw crew returned to South Carolina after spending six days on the field. Cross Central had just hosted disaster relief training a couple of weeks before the storm, and for half of the crew it was their first recovery mission.
"We just came out of training, and now we're being called out," Giddens said. "So I think that's why there's so much excitement."
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer. Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to the disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or, via the Web, contribute to NAMB's disaster relief fund at www.namb.net/disaster-relief-donations
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