August 30, 2014
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Hands get dirty to help flood victims in Serbia
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Sandbags line the river in Belgrade, Serbia, to help contain flood waters caused by prolonged rains this summer.  Photo by Marc Ira Hooks/IMB.
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A man in the town of Obrenovac, southwest of Belgrade, shows how floodwaters reached beyond the second floor of his house. In some places the water was nine feet or more.  Photo by Marc Ira Hooks/IMB.
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Because river waters were contaminated by an overflowing sewage system, very little of people's possessions could be salvaged. BGR volunteers helped families haul their belongings to the side of the road for government workers to load into dump trucks.  Photo by Marc Ira Hooks/IMB.
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An Orthodox prayer book hangs out on a fence to dry in one Serbian village. -  Photo by Marc Ira Hooks/IMB.
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Posted on Jul 8, 2014 | by Marc Ira Hooks

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BELGRADE, Serbia (BP) -- While many will spend their summer vacation on beaches or in amusement parks, a handful of Southern Baptists will spend their time knee-deep in mud to help rebuild lives destroyed by floodwaters.

This summer, unusual amounts of rain in the Balkan region of Europe -- specifically in Bosnia and Serbia -- have caused devastating floods, leaving thousands homeless. Flood victims tell stories of how floodwaters broke through local dams, leaving residents with only minutes to evacuate.

They now spend their days sorting through the remnants of their lives, searching for anything that can be salvaged.

"It was devastating," Marina, one homeowner, said through her tears. "When I got here and saw what remained of my house, my whole world collapsed. I could not believe it. I had a nice house and a nice life, but now I am left with nothing."

Marina, a widow with two teenage boys, represents just one of dozens of families in an area outside of Belgrade where Baptist Global Response volunteers, alongside International Mission Board workers, are helping people rebuild their lives.

IMB worker Jim Andrews* has helped to coordinate much of the cleanup and recovery work in the area. "People here are at a point of desperation," he said. "They are grabbing at straws, or whatever they can, for hope."

Andrews said that is where the work of BGR comes into play. In addition to providing funding and resources, BGR also helps to activate and coordinate volunteers who are trained in disaster response and are willing to come to the field on short notice.

Jim and Samantha (Sam) Barrow, a father-daughter team from Longville, La., said they heard about the need for volunteers while they were attending the wedding of a friend.

"In the middle of the wedding we both got an email that came to our phones," Sam Barrow said. "So when we were on the way to the reception, I looked at Dad and said, 'So, are we going?'"

Before the wedding was over the pair decided they would commit to go, and they had less than two weeks to raise funding before flying to Serbia.

Gary Capshaw, a veteran of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's Disaster Relief efforts, served as team leader for the BGR volunteer team. "If you want to see the church come alive, come and do disaster relief," he said. "If you don't get off your pew and get out into the field, then you will never know how alive the church is."

Capshaw and the Barrows were joined by David and Joanne Hendon of Jasper, Ala., who recently retired and decided they would go on mission trips as a couple.

Joanne Hendon said she has always felt her spiritual gift was to serve others. "When I found out about this need, I knew that I was supposed to be the hands of feet of Jesus," she said.

IMB's Andrews said the group spent a week in less than ideal conditions as they helped numerous families.

"When the flood waters came, they also overflowed the sewage system, so it was not just the water that came into people's homes, it was sewage too," he said. "There was almost nothing that could be salvaged because of that."

Volunteers had to do some "really disgusting" work, he said. "Yet they did it with a smile on their faces."

Marina and others said they have trouble understanding why a group of Americans would want to come to Serbia to help them. Yet they are grateful for the assistance.

"I don't know what we would have done if they had not come," Marina said. "I will always remember the day the Americans showed up to help."

To volunteer or give to Baptist Global Response, go to www.gobgr.org.
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*Names changed. Marc Ira Hooks is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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