DR volunteers serving Matthew survivors in 5 states

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please see related report submitted by the Florida Baptist Convention below this story.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are already preparing hot meals for storm evacuees in Florida.
Photo provided by Florida Baptist Convention.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- While Matthew was still churning up the U.S. eastern seaboard as a Category 4 hurricane, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were already preparing hot meals for storm evacuees in Florida. Meal preparation will soon number in the thousands as multiple teams and kitchens from other states begin operations today (Oct. 10).

Meanwhile, SBDR assessors are working in coastal communities from Florida to Virginia coordinating first responses for cleanup, mud out and recovery. North American Mission Board (NAMB) SBDR executive director Mickey Caison said many volunteers were in route to their service locations Sunday.

"The heartbreaking thing is that we are talking about the same communities in South Carolina that flooded earlier this year," Caison said. "In North Carolina these are the same communities that just completed their long-term recovery from Hurricane Floyd. They are flooded again."

NAMB Send Relief vice president David Melber shares Caison's concern. He called for prayers for those affected by the storm.

"We are experiencing historic widespread damage from Florida to Virginia," Melber said. "Our greatest need is for prayer that God would direct and coordinate all we do in response. I am so thankful for the Disaster Relief network, and in particular the leadership in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. We have a network of volunteers in motion and resources coming from many states. This crisis is a great opportunity to see churches empowered to serve and minister to the thousands in need. We are grateful for the support in resources, both volunteer and financial."

Caison said SBDR is ready to prepare as many as 100,000 meals per day. North Carolina is preparing for 10 SBDR mobile kitchen operations.

"We currently have volunteers from seven states already involved in the response, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia," Caison said. "Volunteers from Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas are traveling to their areas of service this week and are prepared to respond as assessments determine the areas of greatest need." The Texas units include groups from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Texas Baptist Men. Virginia volunteers are serving with both the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and the Baptist General Convention of Virginia.

Kitchen operations are currently located at First Baptist Church of Flagler in Palm Coast, Fla.; Turning Point Baptist Church in St. Augustine, Fla.; North Jacksonville Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.; Southside Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga.; Northside Baptist Church in Brunswick, Ga.; North Conway Baptist Church in Conway, S.C.; First Baptist Church in Harleyville, S.C.; and Hoffmeyer Road Baptist Church in Florence, S.C.

A Florida SBDR team had been manning a kitchen at First Baptist Church in Melbourne, Fla., serving primarily storm evacuees. That team stood down on Sunday, with plans to move to a new service area this week.

"Most of the rivers and streams will not crest until Wednesday, so we will not know the full extent of some of the damage until then," Caison said. "Assessors will be working at least for another week." Caison noted that the year has been exceptionally taxing for volunteers with widespread flooding, tornadoes, wildfires and other disasters. South Carolina SBDR director Randy Creamer has called for spontaneous volunteers to join with trained SBDR teams to help in the response.

"This is an excellent opportunity for spontaneous volunteers to join with trained teams and serve," Caison said. "This is going to be a large and long response. We need the help."

In the on-going south Louisiana flood response, SBDR volunteers have already provided 678,675 meals, completed 2,839 clean-up jobs, 967 home tear outs and 2,327 mold remediation jobs. Through it all, there have been 10,769 chaplain contacts, 1,612 Gospel presentations and 199 professions of faith.

Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit https://donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.

Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers -- including chaplains -- and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

Please see additional story released by the Florida Baptist Convention below.

**********

Fla. Baptist churches & DR volunteers

scramble to help after Hurricane Matthew

By Barbara Denman

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (BP) -- Two days after Hurricane Matthew hit the Anastasia Island community in St. Augustine, Fla., Walter West gathered his congregation to learn of damages suffered by church members and the community alike.

Although a tree tore through the church's office building, West, pastor of the Anastasia Baptist Church, said damage to the church was minimal.

"However, a lot of church members had flood damage, tree damage and their entire belongings ruined by the flooding."

Residents along the barrier islands surrounding the nation's oldest city had been evacuated prior to the storm and could only return to their homes late Saturday (Oct. 8) after the killer storm passed through Friday.

All along the beaches and intracoastal waterways, homes were flooded, and homeowners began the heartbreaking task of tearing out waterlogged belongings and throwing them to the streets. As the storm surge hit, dozens of beach front homes had foundations ripped from underneath the structure.

Usually on the second Sunday of each month, Anastasia Baptist Church members go into the community to serve their neighbors. On Sunday (Oct. 9) neighbors helped each other recover from fallen tree and widespread wind and water damage. The church with two sites usually has 1,600 in attendance. This past Sunday brought only 225 to worship.

"We are only two days into this; many residents have not come back," West said. "We are still assessing the damage. We are finding more and more homes damaged, and more and more needs."

He urged Florida Baptists to "pray for perseverance. If you have chainsaws and can cut down trees, and help clean water damaged homes, please come. These are the essentials for people as they struggle right now."

From Melbourne in the south to Fernandina in the north, Florida Baptists were out in their communities ministering to the needs following the hurricane's slow-moving assault on the Atlantic coast towns and cities. On Monday (Oct. 10), three days after the storm, one million Floridians -- as far as 30 miles inland -- were without power.

Under the direction of the State's Emergency Operations Center, Florida Baptist disaster relief (FBDR) mobile kitchens moved into place at First Baptist Church in Melbourne and First Baptist Church in Palm Coast and began preparing meals on Sunday. By nightfall, the kitchen in Melbourne was moved as power became available in the region and damage appeared minimal.

Other kitchens were located farther north, including Kentucky Baptists' mobile unit at North Jacksonville Baptist Church, and Alabama Baptists' mobile unit stationed at Turning Point Baptist Church in St. Augustine.

FBDR-trained clean up and recovery assessors traveled throughout the region to discover needs of homeowners that needed to be addressed. In the days and weeks ahead, trained volunteers will come to North Florida with mold remediation and cleaning products in hand to help those who have no place else to turn.

Volunteer Chris McNeal journeyed from Melbourne to Flagler County to assess needs. In the town of Flagler, he met a multi-generational family whose roof had been pierced by a tree. "I shared what we do and told them we didn't charge for our repairs so that we could share Jesus Christ with them," he said. Their reaction was disbelief.

When he asked if he could pray for the family, including small children, grandmother and great grandmother, "They said, "I guess it won't hurt,'" recalled McNeal, a member of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz. "It was obvious the family didn't know much about prayer and as if they had never heard the name Jesus."

McNeal marked this work order as "spiritual priority number one. I am praying for this family and believe we can make a difference in their lives."

Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, visited the Palm Coast site on Sunday. "The level of professionalism demonstrated by our disaster relief teams reflects the significance of preparation," he said.

"Our volunteers are called to serve others in the hours of crisis. The servant heart of disaster relief enables the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be shared in a compassionate and loving manner."

When the storm hit, boat captain Eric Reese, a member of Cornerstone Baptist Church in New Port Richey, rode his motorcycle to Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center where FBDR had set up a command center. When the team moved the kitchen to Palm Coast, he and his motorcycle followed the caravan.

While serving alongside feeding unit volunteers, many of them twice his age, the 27-year-old opened cans and lifted Red Cross cambros used to transport food to neighborhoods.

"I told my wife, if I could help, I would," he said. "I could do anything in logistics they asked of me." After working a 12-hour day on Sunday, the young man rode his bike back to New Port Richey, some 200 miles away, to get back to work on Monday.

Green expressed appreciation for the "cooperative spirit" between our state conventions, adding that it "reveals the heartbeat of Southern Baptists. We are grateful for disaster relief teams from Alabama and Kentucky who are helping us in Florida."

A North Carolina kitchen arrived on Saturday but returned back to the state after the storm caused major damage there.

Christ Coram, associate pastor at North Jacksonville, said his church was "humbled and honored to host the Kentucky Baptists feeding at our church. It's humbling for people to come help us from all over the nation and have first-hand experience of our Cooperative Program dollars are work."

On Sunday, church members took up an offering for disaster relief and received more than $5,000, he reported.

After accessing damage of churches in the Jacksonville Baptist Association, Rick Wheeler, lead missional strategist, reported that most churches in the association sustained little structural damage. "Most did pretty well. Cedar Creek Baptist Church lost their sign and Oak Harbor Baptist Church had some flooding."

"Remarkably, nearly all of the churches east of the intracoastal received only light damage and most had services yesterday. We are grateful -- let the clean-up begin!" 

To contribute to Florida Baptist disaster relief, send a check to Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32207; or go to www.flbaptist.org.

Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.
Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Download Story