by Joe Conway
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — As the first light rains from the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew passed over south Florida Wednesday, Oct. 5, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders were planning their response to the potentially devastating storm. Computer models give a high probability of a Category 4 hurricane with a massive storm surge making landfall late Thursday or early Friday somewhere near Palm Beach on Florida’s east coast.
“We’ve been in close contact with our state partners and are preparing to help in any way we can,” said Mickey Caison, executive director for NAMB’s SBDR team. “The potential for harm to people and massive property damage is certainly a major concern. We began our first Matthew planning meeting, as we do all of our state partner meetings, in prayer.”SBDR state leaders in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, along with national leaders at the North American Mission Board, have been meeting and mapping out rapid response in the storm’s potential aftermath. All this while a full-scale response continues to south Louisiana flooding and long-term rebuild projects in multiple states from other disasters.
Caison said SBDR leaders have begun dialog with their counterparts with both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross to coordinate planning. Feeding units may be deployed to assist the large number of storm evacuees leaving coastal areas in advance of landfall.
“The potential of a mass feeding operation and then clean up and recovery are concerns,” Caison said.
“We could easily be looking at eight mass feeding sites in Florida alone with capacity of 300,000 meals per day,” he noted. “We are also gauging our supply preparation and transportation for water, rolled roofing and other supplies we would need to truck in.”
With highly populated coastal communities in the projected path, more than 2 million people have been encouraged to leave parts of Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. All three of those states’ governors have declared states of emergency in advance of Matthew’s arrival. Mandatory evacuations began in some south Florida communities Wednesday.
Hurricane Matthew is already blamed for the deaths of at least 50 people on Caribbean islands as it passed. The storm destroyed a bridge that serves as a major thoroughfare in Haiti’s western region.
One forecast model even calls for Matthew to veer east and pull a 360 degree turn back into the U.S. east coast. Regardless of the storm’s path or level of destruction, Southern Baptist volunteers stand ready to activate immediately and provide critical aid in response to whatever Matthew brings.
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 U.S., along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit 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.”
by Emily Rojas/Biblical Recorder
ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (BP) — Sundays at 11 p.m. after a long day’s work, Chinese restaurant workers in Rocky Mount, N.C., meet at Sunset Avenue Baptist Church to worship the Lord.
The congregation is one of many for Chinese restaurant workers in small cities across the U.S. through Friends of International Restaurant Employees (FIRE), a ministry of Chinese American church planter Kewen Dong. Holding worship meetings late at night allows restaurant workers to attend.
“There are 1 million Chinese restaurant workers living in the United States,” Dong said. “Many of them live in small cities … and in these cities, they don’t have a Chinese community, and also, they don’t have any Chinese church. And these people live in very, very isolated conditions.”
Dong entered the ministry after he felt God closing the door on his medical career and leading him to open a Chinese buffet restaurant in 1999, some 35 years after he dedicated himself to the Lord. In his new career, Dong would visit with the restaurant employees, learning about their lives and their hardships. He began to feel God moving his heart to care for these people.
It was because of this experience, Dong said, that he began to realize where God was leading him in his future work — to plant churches among Chinese restaurant workers and share God’s Word with them.
In 2006, Dong began a late-night worship service for restaurant workers in Virginia Beach, Va. Four years later, God led him to North Carolina to partner with a Baptist church in Elizabeth City in another outreach to Chinese restaurant workers. His calling to Rocky Mount came in 2013. In North Carolina alone, FIRE has started a monthly Bible study in Greensboro and has begun church-planting efforts in Fayetteville, Cary and Aberdeen.
Through the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO), Dong has provided his churches in North Carolina with resources, including Bibles and other tools to better know the Lord.
Though Dong has traveled far with the Lord, he knows that he still has a journey ahead of him. He feels called by the Lord to continue to reach Chinese restaurant workers in other states in the American Southeast, a place where there are few efforts to reach Chinese people with the Gospel.
Dong’s road to the U.S. wasn’t easy. During his early years in China, the government forced him to leave his family and become a farmer. During that time, he faced hardship and experienced the Lord’s provision, gaining a personal knowledge of the Lord and vowing to follow wherever He would lead. Soon after, Dong was selected by the government to study at a university and pursue medical degrees. He continued to seek God’s will and glorify Him, even while living in communist China.
“As I look back … I see how God has been with me all along the way,” Dong said, expressing confidence that God will continue to guide him in the years to come.
For more information on the NCMO, visit ncmissionsoffering.org.
By Carmen K. Sisson
BATON ROUGE, La. – Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers continue flood recovery efforts across south Louisiana, coping with intermittent rain as they tear out insulation, sweep mud from houses and carry buckets of sodden clothing to curbs.
Few areas were left unscathed last week when nearly 7 trillion gallons of rain fell, killing 13 people and damaging more than 60,000 homes in 20 parishes. State officials estimate the damages will exceed $20 billion, making the 500-year flood event one of the worst disasters to strike the United States since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The damage begins in Hammond, La., and extends 160 miles west toward the Texas border. Along Interstate 12, once lush foliage is withered and gray. Trash flanks fences. Advertisements for home guttings become more numerous with every mile.
Neighborhoods and side streets tell a heartbreaking story. Clothes, mattresses and household furniture lay strewn across wet lawns in hopes that the sun will shine long enough to dry them. Everything that was not salvageable is piled high along the roadways, transforming shady lanes to narrow pathways, children’s toys providing the occasional jolt of color.
Even some of the most seasoned volunteers were surprised by both the scope and intensity of the damage. A few weeks ago, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) chaplain Roy Christy, a member of Northern Hills Baptist Church in Holt, Mo., was tearing out walls in flood-damaged Texas. This week, he is assessing homes and offering emotional support to flood survivors in Baton Rouge, where more than 19 inches of rain fell in 15 hours. In Watson, La., northeast of Baton Rouge, more than 31 inches of rain fell.
“The damage is impressive, very extensive,” Christy said. “But the people here help each other out a lot. They’re very focused on the community, not just themselves.” Christy and his team are working out of Zoar Baptist Church while assisting local homeowners.
Flood survivor Fay McDowell, 82, has been a member of Zoar since 1962. Her home, located on a busy inland highway, has never flooded, but when the water began rising, she knew she had to leave. She had just enough time to pack a few clothes and place her terrified cat, Mimi, in her attic. Then she grabbed her suitcase and her dog, Honey, and opened the door. Water poured into her kitchen, and it was continuing to rise. So she fled to the only place she knew she would be safe—her beloved church.
When she was finally able to return home, the sight brought her to her knees. Everything in the house below waist-level was ruined.
“Oh, God, how do people make it that don’t have God’s help,” she said Monday morning, crying as she recalled how bleak things looked. Her husband died three years ago, and she wasn’t sure how she would get the help she needed to begin piecing her home—and her life—back together. Hope arrived wearing gold shirts and carrying shovels.
“God brought me to my knees, and I want to tell you, y’all made me stand back up,” McDowell said as she stood in a prayer circle with Christy and the other SBDR volunteers. “God sent me angels.”
Their work is a race against time. They have already removed most of the sheetrock, baseboards and flooring, but mold is beginning to appear, and they are scrambling to get the house gutted and sprayed with Shockwave, a disinfectant designed to kill and prevent mold.
McDowell is currently living in her 12-by-18-foot sunroom with her dog and cat but hopes she will soon be back in her three-bedroom house. She is appreciative for the little things. While one group of volunteers set up a dog kennel in her back yard, filling it with cushions and a bucket of fresh water, others struggled to get her air conditioner running.
“Thank the Lord,” she said, when the first wafts of cool air began flowing from the vents. “I’ll never again doubt God and His miraculous work. These people are like angels. God has some special people doing this work.”
But the blessings go both ways, said volunteer Sheila Gatlin. She and her husband, Roger Gatlin, attend Pisgah Baptist Church in Excelsior Springs, Mo., and they began volunteering with SBDR several years ago.
“We feel very blessed as a couple that we can serve the Lord and communities in need,” Sheila Gatlin said. “Fay has such a spirit of knowing that the Lord is in control and He’s going to provide.”
Emotions after the flood run from one extreme to the other, Christy said. Some, like McDowell, draw comfort from their faith. Others are struggling. Christy carries orange pens bearing the words, “Jesus loves you.” When he said those words to a flood survivor during Sunday services at Zoar, she wrapped her arms around his neck and began crying. Minutes passed as he held her, absorbing her pain as she sobbed. She never spoke.
“She needed to get that out,” Christy said. “We are here to give people hope and help. We always feel when we go home that we were the ones who were blessed.”
Disaster relief efforts are ongoing as assessors traverse the state, looking for people in need. So far, more than 96,000 individuals and households have registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As for McDowell, she said she knows now that she will be okay. She renewed her flood insurance, just in time. And SBDR is on the scene to provide not only labor but also the emotional and spiritual support she needed.
“My faith was strengthened beyond belief when I saw those yellow shirts,” McDowell said. “They gave me hope the minute they came in and said, ‘Jesus is with us. We came to help.’”
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit 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.”
Carmen K. Sisson is a freelance writer reporting for the North American Mission Board.
Ronnie Floyd said at a recent gathering of Southern Baptist Convention leaders it may be time to consider merging the International and North American mission boards into a single “Global Mission Board” overseeing the entire SBC mission enterprise.