NEW YORK CITY (BP) -- Hurricane Sandy, which now has killed at least 96 people on the East Coast, also brought with it opportunities for churches to connect with people in their communities, a church planter on Long Island, N.Y., said.
Most of the response from Ecclesia Church of East Islip has been "friend-to-friend, neighbor-to-neighbor, like loaning your car to somebody who doesn't have gasoline," pastor Sterling Edwards told Baptist Press Nov. 2.
"People have opened up their doors to let other people take a shower if they don't have power," Edwards said, adding that people who do have electricity have provided meals for those who don't.
On one street, he saw extension cords running from one house to another as people with power helped provide it to people without. About 3 million customers in the Northeast remained without power Friday, including most of Long Island.
Edwards moved from Texas six years ago to plant a church in New York, and he remains pastor of that plant, Crossroads Church in Farmingdale, and is pastor of a newer congregation, Ecclesia, about 20 miles away. Both are on Long Island.
A missions team of four adults from Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston was in New York before the storm hit to help with fall festivals at both church plants. The team tried to get out of town Sunday but ended up having to stay.
"They were just here to help us, and they have a tremendous heart, tremendous attitude," Edwards said of the volunteers. "None of this slowed them down whatsoever. They were almost in one way glad to be a part of the action, to be able to help us."
Ecclesia, which is only a few months old, meets in a former Anglican church. That facility did not lose power during the storm.
"We set up a table outside the church Wednesday night and passed out candy to the kids," Edwards said. "We passed out coffee and chocolate chip cookies to the parents to reach out to them.
The storm coinciding with Halloween caused more people to be out on the streets, giving Edwards and other church members opportunities to talk with them and meet needs.
"God has a way of using these events to break us out of our normalcy and cause us to look to Him for help," Edwards said. "I think this has helped us be identified as a church that genuinely cares for people and loves people. I've talked to a hundred more people this week than I talked to ever before this week. God has a way of connecting us with people."
Several members of Ecclesia have had one or more feet of water in their homes, the pastor said, including a groom who was to be married at the church Nov. 2.
"They're going to be married in like three hours," he said. "Their house is one of the houses that was devastated. They had just moved her stuff into his house last week. They've got a foot of water, so the majority of their stuff is ruined."
Just stopping to recount the story of the past five days helped Edwards put things in perspective, he said.
"We've been going pretty hard, and I'm sure we're tired," Edwards said. "Even just doing this wedding today is really putting things in perspective of being a part of this community."
Ecclesia's goal, he said, is to get the message of the Gospel out to nearby residents, and as tragic as the hurricane has been, it has turned into a way to do that.
"I feel like I've been given a really unique seat to see a lot of things happen. We're really excited about it," Edwards said of the promise of seeing lives changed.
In New Jersey, two Southern Baptist feeding kitchens are open at Rutgers University and in Hammonton, serving 33,000 meals today, said Steve Reavis, site director. Reavis said a third feeding site in Toms River in southern New Jersey is slated to begin cooking Saturday (Nov. 3). Once established, the three sites will have a shared feeding capacity of 75,000 meals a day, Reavis said.
At a separate site in Waretown, N.J., Tim Beck was leading a crew of 30 volunteers set to begin Saturday serving 15,000 meals a day, and needs were being assessed for a chainsaw crew for work initially planned for the next two weeks.
A team of 44 Mississippi Baptist disaster relief volunteers departed Kosciusko, Miss., Friday morning to support the Southern Baptist disaster relief response in the Northeast.
Jim Didlake, men's ministry director for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and coordinator of the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force, was leading the caravan on the 26-hour drive to a staging area north of New York City.
Plans call for the initial volunteer team to be on site for one week, with extended deployment to be evaluated during that timeframe. The Mississippi Baptist response includes a self-contained feeding unit, a shower and laundry trailer and chainsaw and mud-out crews.
The Baptist Convention of New England sent a crew to New York City to assist with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief feeding operations.
Bruce James, the BCNE's team leader for evangelism, disaster relief and men's ministry, said he was calling emergency managers along the battered Connecticut coast to see how the BCNE could help.
"I think it looks like the worst areas are going to be along the coastline, and it's going to be flooding and some tree damage," James said.
In West Virginia, where heavy snowfall has isolated residents and downed power lines, emergency crews were airlifting supplies to the state's highest-elevation areas.
"That six-county area is our hardest-hit area with the snow drop," said Delton Beall, state director of missions for the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists. "Still some parts of those counties they can't get into yet because roads are impassable."
Beall added that about 100,000 residents still lack power but feeding units at Wayside Southern Baptist Church in Buckhannon and Restoration Church in Mt. Nebo were soon to be functioning at full capacity.
"We're going to work in concert with the local emergency people and the Red Cross in our area to try and make sure that no one falls through the cracks," Don Knotts, pastor of Wayside Baptist, said.
Compiled by Erin Roach and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press, William Perkins of the Mississippi Baptist Record 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