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9/11 & Katrina prepped pastor for Irene

EDISON, N.J. (BP) — Disaster relief ministry is nothing new to Michael Chance, who was in New York after Sept. 11, 2001, and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, he now is ready to minister to flooding victims in New Jersey.

While the church he leads, Raritan Valley Baptist Church in Edison, N.J., sustained two inches of water in the basement Sunday, ruining the carpeting, Chance feels blessed that the congregation was spared the brunt of the storm. The church has finished cleaning its building and is looking to help those in North Jersey who weren’t as fortunate.

“We’re just on the beginning edge of discovering who needs help, who needs ministry,” Chance said. “To my knowledge, in our congregation we have not had anyone to experience anything major. Here at Raritan Valley Baptist Church, we are grateful. We look like we escaped a bullet.

“What little bit of challenge we experienced was nothing compared to what others went through.”

Chance, who serves an ethnically diverse congregation of 60 members, predicts their post-Irene service will involve such benevolence ministries as food and financial assistance to those in need.

“I told our people before it hit, be prepared to be on mission and to serve as the Lord gives opportunity,” Chance said Aug. 30.

Chance’s ministry is part of the Baptist Convention of New York’s outreach to Irene victims in New York and New Jersey who were subjected to flooding, downed trees and power outages. News reports count at least 40 deaths along the East Coast from Irene, which came ashore in North Carolina as a Category One hurricane but weakened to a rain-laden tropical storm by the time it reached New Jersey.

Michael Flannery, disaster outreach coordinator for BCNY, said a team of nearly 35 volunteers is scheduled to begin serving meals Wednesday at noon from a BCNY feeding unit stationed at Grace Community Church in Washingtonville, N.Y. Flannery had hoped to begin serving meals this evening (Aug. 30), but the American Red Cross changed the schedule because flooding has hampered the delivery of food supplies and the arrival of volunteers.

“The need of food wasn’t as dire as they thought it was initially,” Flannery added.

A team of 13 volunteers from the Pearl River Baptist Association in Mississippi, who began Monday morning driving from Mississippi, has experienced delays because of flooded roadways, including interstates, Flannery said.

In the neighboring Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, disaster relief coordinator Karlene Campbell was awaiting a report regarding Noxem Township, a small Pennsylvania community where 60 homes reportedly have flooded.

“It’s a little early for us as far as flooding is concerned,” Campbell said of potential DR ministry as she awaits reports from the New Jersey portion of the two-state convention.

Campbell had mobilized a feeding unit to minister at emergency shelters in Vineland, N.J., but emergency personnel withdrew the request as need dwindled.

In Edison, Chance canceled Sunday services at the BCNY congregation as the storm came ashore but found a measure of enjoyment as a team of church members cleaned their building of floodwaters that afternoon.

“It was a pretty significant day for us,” Chance said. One of his joys, he said, was the work of a new believer who spent the day helping clean the church basement.

“This is one of his first opportunities to serve as a new believer,” Chance said of the young single father. “We’ve been praying for young men particularly to come and join our fellowship. We have just been blessed by having him there.”

As to why God keeps placing him in disaster areas, Chance joked that he hasn’t a clue.

“I think it has prepared our church to be better prepared to serve,” he said.

After the tragedy of 9/11, Raritan Valley Baptist Church lodged disaster teams from across the country who went into Brooklyn for ministry, and the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, where he served 17 years, housed chaplains and other volunteers.

Chance moved to Ponchatoula, La., in 2004 and was there during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He and his wife Linda helped his brother Tommy open a donut shop in Hammond, about 60 miles outside New Orleans, and were able to minister via food and Scripture to victims and volunteers, Chance recounted.

“Our little donut shop became a donut shop on mission,” the pastor said. “Every day in the days after Katrina, we were talking to people who had left the Ponchatoula area. Our little donut shop became a place where people could come and find a word of encouragement and peace.”

On the sixth anniversary of Katrina, Chance had moved back to New Jersey but still retains part ownership of the donut shop in Ponchatoula. He’s not complaining about the many opportunities God has given him for ministry.

“We’re just as happy as ticks on a hound dog living in New Jersey,” Chance said of his family.
Diana Chandler is a freelance writer in New Orleans.