News Articles

Along oil-marred coast, chaplains to deploy

GULF COAST of Louisiana (BP)–The Louisiana Baptist Convention will begin dispatching disaster relief chaplains to the oil-beleaguered Gulf Coast areas of the state beginning June 7.

“We received a request June 2” from emergency management officials “and we are sending 12 DR chaplains a week for the next few months or as long as needed,” said Gibbie McMillan, disaster relief director for the Louisiana convention. “They will be in Grande Isle, Venice, etc.”

James Carson, the convention’s DR chaplaincy coordinator and director of missions for Caldwell, Deer Creek and Richland Baptist associations, followed up June 2 by contacting the regional DR chaplaincy coordinator, Joe Arnold, who is director of missions for Bayou Baptist Association just north of the Gulf, to alert DR chaplains in the area to prepare to be called out the week of June 7.

“Everyone is engaged in vigorous conversation,” said Duane McDaniel, executive director of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. “Everyone recognizes that there is a disaster unfolding, and we’re just seeing the tip of the wellhead [of need]. We’ll be dealing with the devastation for the long term.”

A gathering of SBC disaster relief coordinators from the entire Gulf Coast region has been called for the week of June 7.

“We know what to do with hurricanes, but this manmade disaster has hidden victims,” Arnold said. “This is going to be a long-term thing — we’re talking years…. Right now the tension is so touchy down there [at the water’s edge]. There’s a lot of frustration.”

“Everything is just too fluid to see how it’s going to play out,” said Eddie Painter, commercial fisherman and pastor of Barataria (La.) Baptist Church. “Everybody’s pretty tense.”

The oil spill resulting from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20 has affected an estimated third of the fishing waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is not an overwhelming-crushing-moment crisis; it’s prolonged,” said pastor Craig Ratliff of Celebration Arabi Church in St. Bernard Parish. “You wake up tomorrow and wonder if it’s going to be worse than today.”

Thus, ministry to help alleviate that tension has become the initial way Southern Baptists are responding to the disaster, say Louisiana Baptist DR personnel, pastors and directors of missions, disaster relief, several of whom did onsite assessments of the situation over the Memorial Day weekend.

McDaniel and David Maxwell, disaster relief coordinator for the New Orleans association, met May 28 with Painter; Steve McNeal, pastor of First Baptist Church in Venice, the farthest-south town in Louisiana; and Lynn Rodrigue, pastor of Port Sulphur Baptist Church.

The “situation” includes a 1,500-person tent village being built for oil spill workers.

“The infrastructure is not designed for that many people,” Maxwell said. McNeal talked about the possibility of acquiring exercise equipment and using First Baptist Venice’s building as a fitness center. He also suggested showing films in the church at night.

Rodrigue mentioned the possibility of providing facilities for volunteers in future DR-related efforts as they evolve. The men determined a feeding ministry is not needed at the present time. Block parties and other children/family activities are possibilities.

Various ways of connecting with the fishing industry families and with those coming to the region’s rescue were discussed.

“Southern Baptists care, and they want to show they care,” McDaniel said. “It’s in the long run — through the relationships built — that we show we care. The pastors there are talking about the psychological and spiritual well-being of the families. The tensions are there and it could be an explosive powder keg situation down the road.”

Logistics and health/safety issues need to be worked out before large groups come to minister along the Gulf Coast, Maxwell said.

The big need, all said, is for trained disaster relief counselors who will sit and listen to people talk about losing not only their livelihood but also their heritage, who will sit and listen to people talk about the uncertainty, the dashed hopes and dim future, and who will remind people that with the strength of Jesus in their hearts, this too they can get through.

Southern Baptist DR-trained counselors have waited to get involved in the disaster until being asked by emergency management officials to do so, McMillan said. According to the DR charter, SBC DR personnel always respond to requests rather than initiate action unsolicited.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.